What Can We Learn About the Double Standard Toward Women in Rock?

As Loudwire reported last month, on a night intended to celebrate the latest and greatest in rock and metal, things were swiftly cut short when the Heavy Music Awards 2021 caught a righteous case of nip slips and fat bass rips that resulted in the Twitch stream being cut short.

Streaming live from the 02 Forum London on Thursday Sept. 2, fans enjoying a raucous performance from Trash Boat and Wargasm bassist Milkie Way — or some patiently awaiting Sleep Token’s headlining set — were left disappointed when Twitch removed the stream after Way’s nipples peeked out from under her chained vest.

Among the bewilderment and bosom talk across social media and in news headlines, what transpired in the aftermath of it all was the ugly reality of the stark double standards between men and women that sadly still exist in rock, and it may take longer than we think to erase them.

If it’s not trolls reporting nipples, it’s women across the creative field being quizzed on their expertise level, or condescendingly congratulated that they’re “good for a girl.” In 2021, here’s what we can learn from the double standards in rock.

Christ Almighty, that was quite a show.

Dawning a custom designed crucifix vest created by designer Anine Irdem, Way’s iconic outfit left jaws dropped from the red carpet to the queue for the toilet.

Chatting with the bassist herself, Way says “God forbid I wanted to dress up and wear an outfit that made me feel sexy and amazing after being locked away in our houses for nearly two years.” She goes on to explain that this isn’t the first time this has happened to her, in fact, she’s getting tired of it. “People are haters. I’ve had people at gigs and on live streams shouting/commenting for me to get my tits out and then this it’s like… what the fuck do you all want from me?!”

Though originally many fans and artists alike assumed that Twitch was at fault, a quick glance of Twitch’s Terms of Service revealed that any nudity of any kind is banned. It reads “Nudity and sexually explicit content or activities, such as pornography, sexual acts or intercourse, and sexual services, are prohibited.”

Twitch has a moderation team to oversee these ToS, but as stated in their “How To File A Report” guidelines “If you come across a broadcaster or user on Twitch whom you feel has violated Twitch's Terms of Service (ToS) or Community Guidelines (CG), you have the ability to send a report to our Moderation team for review.” This would suggest that the most likely reason Twitch took down the stream was because users manually reported it to their team.

One look at the tweets directed toward Way that night reveals a sea of trolls and their inappropriate comments. However, no such comments were directed toward Tobi Duncan of Trashboat who also had his nipples visible in a mesh vest.

Many of her fellow artists and industry peers vocalized their equal frustrations with this, including Alicia Taylor who said “nothing will send people into a frenzy like a woman’s body.”

While many came to her defense, the hate tweets became overwhelming very quickly.

One person wrote “I mean could've just followed Twitch's ToS and not ruined it for everyone by being selfish, but good for you I guess?”

Another boldly called Way a “selfish bitch” for her choice of outfit.

If nothing else, this debacle illustrates that the double standards we are so desperately trying to escape still exist between men and women in rock and metal and have just taken new forms. We thought we’d rid ourselves of them in the 2000s by hiring more women, but the spaces we’ve created for these women are still riddled with toxic ideologies that are stuck in the past. Just because there’s more women in rock doesn’t mean they’re being treated well.

This isn’t a prim and proper genre. It’s rock and metal! If someone hasn’t got their nipples out, sweaty, head banging and covered in dirt and grime, what’s the point?

This isn’t anything new, in fact, it’s getting kind of old.

This incident joins metal’s hall of fame for “times women did nothing and everyone got angry.” If you talk to anyone who’s a woman and into alternative music — photographers, tour managers, crew members and fans — they’ll share similar stories of their own experiences being shunned from this genre.

What was the 2000s if not ripping into Hayley Williams for doing the absurdly risky thing of simply being a woman in pop punk — gasp, how dare she?! In an interview with journalist Eve Barlow for Vulture, Williams brands pop-punk in the early 2000s as brutally misogynistic. "The pop-punk and emo scene in the early 2000s. It was brutally misogynistic. A lot of internalized sexism, and even when you were lucky enough to meet other bands who were kind and respectful, there was other shit that wasn’t. And I was really feisty," she explained.

Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

A more recent example that echoes the same concerns of double standards in the alternative music industry is Phoebe Bridgers smashing her guitar and getting hounded by elitists on Twitter.

In February 2021, Phoebe Bridgers closed her Saturday Night Live debut by smashing her guitar with the blessing of the company who makes it. Despite being a rock ’n’ roll cliche that numerous stars have partaken in — from Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Slipknot, Green Day, and more recently Machine Gun Kelly during his MTV’s VMA performance —  Phoebe Bridgers was massively criticized across social media for being “unprofessional,” “annoying” and damaging expensive equipment.

Again, this is an age-old rock cliche dating back to the 50s/60s, is it not odd that when a woman does it she is looked down on, but her male counterparts are still able to keep their edgy, bad boy images?

There’s a handful of instances like this in recent years that further the point, PowerPlay Magazine's “Clitoris Allsorts” incident springs to mind. The U.K. magazine did a feature of fantasy band lineups and relegated female musicians to an "all-girl" lineup called "Clitoris Allsorts."

These double standards are so deeply ingrained into the foundations of the genre, and yet many still choose to ignore it or bat it off as “overreacting.” How many more events like this need to happen before we admit women are treated unequally in our spaces?

Being “good… for a girl”

Two decades later,  knee deep in another pop-punk renaissance, and it’s glaringly obvious that the same sexist attitudes that hindered the likes of Hayley Williams and Avril Lavigne are now being projected onto rising stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Willow Smith.

JMEnternational / Rich Fury, Getty Images

Despite only recently making their debut into alternative music, the astronomical success of their careers is overshadowed by jabs that reduce them to nothing more than “budget Hayley Williams.” It’s one thing that rock and metal spent many years tearing down Williams herself, but to twist the knife into her back further, any woman who even remotely touches pop punk is doomed to face the comparisons against Paramore.

Sure, being compared to Hayley Williams is almost dreamlike, but most of these comments would not be made if these artists were not women. It’s the fact that they are women who make pop punk that they’re being compared to another woman in pop punk.

Not only does this suggest all women in rock sound the same — and overshadow the absolute success of two young women of color in still a very white, male-dominated genre — it just completely ignores the blatant repetition of pop punk’s catalog from 90s-2015, with most male-centred pop punk bands straight up copying each other like a strange game of pass the parcel, just with bouncy choruses and lyrics about hating your hometown.

These comments of being “good… for a girl” or being “like (insert only other female singer they can think of)” have gotten so annoying for women in music. Spiritbox’s Courtney LaPlante went to the extent of launching her own podcast “Good For A Girl,” to create a space where herself and other women in the industry can discuss their shared experiences.

From nip slips and fat bass riffs — it’s time we cut women some slack.

So why? Why are women cursed with the “name three songs” cliche, why are they belittled and provoked at any given point by elitists who can list every single band member's birthday, birth place and the last thing they ate for dinner.

It’s clear that this problem extends beyond the stages; women across the whole music industry echo the same frustrations. We sat down with TikTok creators Katie Pepper and Kyra Robinson, both young women who love alternative music but like to dress very feminine and fashionable. They’ve gained a large following and notoriety due to the unbelievable hate and backlash received for not dressing “alternative” enough.

“Nine times out of 10 all my hate comments are men; I get called fake etc.I don’t think I’d get the same negative comments if I was a man,” Kyra explains.

“I personally try not to let it affect me,” says Pepper. “But I do think it’s a shame there aren't more female creators, especially in the alt scene. It makes you wonder if more girls want to do it and maybe they’re too scared to put themselves out there in fear of the hate they are going to get about being a female and liking that kind of music.”

Brii Jameson, previously an Australian artist rep for huge artists and digital content manager for bands and outlets such as Rock Sound Magazine, echoes her own struggles that suggest ways we can begin to move forward. “I had an experience when I was the digital content manager at Rock Sound,” she explains. “A male publicist said to my colleague that he didn't like working with me because he saw me as a ‘fangirl.’ This kind of narrative is still pervasive in the industry — and is something that our male counterparts aren't subjected to. Wouldn't a publicist rather have someone who understands and likes the band to be pitching content for them, than someone who doesn't care at all?”

Much like Jameson, Svalbard’s Serena Cherry echoes a similar point of how differently she has been treated for being a woman in metal. Though a phenomenal vocalist who’s just getting her foot in the door, much of her career has been shrouded by sexist comments in online metal communities. “Whenever my band upload a new video, there will always be comments on how I look,  people debating if they would have sex with me. I never see comments of this shallow nature directed to the three men in Svalbard. Ever. They get treated as musicians, I don't. I get treated as a sex object.” Cherry issues her concern in how this behavior can often be overlooked as “joking around,” but she’s seen these misogynistic attitudes spill over into her real life. “I have had guys try to take upskirt photos of me on stage, guys groping me as I load out of a venue, guys trying to force me to drink alcohol they have purchased at the bar then calling my bandmates "cockblockers" for sticking up for me when I say no. The comments are horrible, but sadly they are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Sarah Shopdie, who works in PR, events management and journalism, explained that as a dark-skinned Black woman in this industry she struggles even more. “Rock and metal is where I have experienced judgement at the hands of the angry Black woman trope the most. Hanging out with bands or industry professionals where I am often the only Black woman there but there are half a dozen women there; I’ll make a joke and people will react as if it’s off-color or overly aggressive or offensive. But then a woman who looks more traditionally alt and is white will say something very similar or make a joke along the same lines and it’s received much better.”

Though it seems an impossible task, to create an equal playing field the women we spoke to offered many resolutions to the ongoing sexism and gender biases in rock and metal. While Serena suggests a need for significant change in how online abuse can be reported, and both Pepper and Robinson agree that we need to toss away any ideas of what a metalhead “should” look like, Jameson says that it can start with giving women opportunities to thrive, thus helping to break down those barriers. “Hire women,” Brii says. “Build them up. Someone once said to me that young women were riding my coattails — and that metaphor is so lame and incorrect. It's more like I'm a snowplow — and I'm happy to carve a path through the sexist shit to make it easier for the women coming up behind me. Now that I'm in a position to, I see it as my responsibility to hire female photographers, writers, journalists — and insulate them from sexism.”

Jameson finalizes our chat with a point best suited to close with, one that not only empowers young women to take up space but for men to recognize these biases, question their own internalized toxic masculinity, and use their privilege to call out this behavior. “Men in the industry also have a responsibility,” she explains. “To stand up to their colleagues and call out bad behavior. Be an ally. Show up for women. Show up every time — not just when it's convenient. Standing up for women can't be a publicity stunt — it has to be wholly part of your brand.”

Where Are These Iconic Album Art Cover Models Now?Filed Under: Hayley Williams, Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers, Wargasm, WillowCategories: Metal, News, Original Features, RockComments

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