Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Every Music Fan Community Ever

I honestly don't know if this is one of those blog posts that should be an email or a blog post, and it will probably cause ruffled feathers either way, but it's still bothering me days later, and that means I have to write it out. The main reason I don't want to make it a private email is because I don't want it to look like I'm singling *one guy* out for censure when it's a way larger and more recurrent problem than that, and I'm not saying "you as an individual are being sexist" so much as I'm saying "the entire culture around this phenomenon is so riddled with deep and engrained sexism that I just wish someone would, you know, even *notice* it."

And there's the whole thing where people shrug and say "but I'm just laying it out the way it is!" And it's weird because those same people, they are the ones that have definite PINIONS on The Way It Is and why it shouldn't have to be that way, when they are talking about X-Factor or Heavy Metal or shit pop or shit culture or even dynamic range compression in modern mastering. But suddenly, turn the conversation to engrained sexism and there's this shrug of "I'm just describing things the way they are."

It's frustrating, because this stuff, this "that's just the way society is" stuff (and the refusal to problematise it) is just that - abstract discussion - to men, when, to women like myself, it is this huge barrier to participating in parts of culture.

Add to that, it's never *just* telling it like it is. Because it is really telling, the things that *are* enumerated, or even considered worthy of being mentioned, and the things that are left out, either as not possible, or as not even needing to be noted. (This is one of those things that comes from Feminist linguistics - that English has the phrase "woman doctor" but does not have one for "man doctor" - because the idea of a doctor being male is simply not extraordinary enough to require its own epithet.)

It's a jokey list thread on ILX (Yes, I know it's a toxic place for me now, and I should just leave it alone, but it's hard, when you have a ten year investment in a place, to just walk away.) called "on every artist-specific message board ever." Which is, you know, a topic I know quite a bit about. I've left - and in some cases, been driven off by a lot of the behaviour I'm going to detail below - more music messageboards than most people have ever been on.

I mean, look at this one.

Middle-aged women with kids who seem to spend all their time ignoring their kids and following said band around the country to every gig in some attempt to reclaim their youth.

I'm not denying the existence of this phenomenon. But you know who isn't mentioned? The middle-aged men who do exactly the same thing. You know what else isn't mentioned? The way that, when a heterosexual couple have children, the man carries on in his fandom, almost exactly the same way as before (dependent only on how much money is available) but the woman just disappears from her fandom. Because that's just expected. A woman's fandom, hobbies, career, her entire life, is expected to just end when a baby arrives, but the man's just... don't. In fact, it only becomes a notable *event* when they do.

Yes, I know quite a few women who, once their kids get old enough to fend for themselves, or maybe they've been through a divorce, get back in touch with who they were before marriage-and-babies, and part of that is a return to obsessive fandom, perhaps because they're catching up on all those concerts they missed during the diaper years. But for each one of those women, I know easily half a dozen men that, when I go to a club, or a gig, or a forum meet-up and I ask "where is your lovely missus?" the answer is "home with the K.I.D." THAT is something that happens in every music community ever, but that is not considered noteworthy enough to even comment on. Only the "misbehaviour" when women fail to conform to the motherhood-is-everything expectation that is not expected of fatherhood.

So far, so straightforward in terms of engrained societal level sexism.

And now is the next one which is much more complicated.

Poster A: 65. New girl who tries it in with various prominent male form members in an attempt to go in ever decreasing sexual circles towards the singer.

Poster B: 65b. This results in a complete bitchfest amongst the more established various prominent female forum members

It's hard to untangle why this provoked such a furious reaction in me. Partly because, in a fast-moving thread, it took nearly an hour before an even remotely similar problematisation of *male* sexuality was posited:

Predatory male poster who repeatedly targets emotionally vulnerable female posters for sex. Eventually marries one who has a baby with him.

(Note also, that dudes who circle bands and their entourages, the ones that ingratiate themselves not through sex, but through drugs or claiming to be from a fanzine/club night/record company that doesn't exist anywhere except on paper, or other assorted favours - the hanger-on dude who's always backstage, always on the guestlist, cadges rides on the tourbus, tries it on with girls in the audience with the old "do you want to get backstage?" line, who drinks the rider, wears a free tour t-shirt, who behaves in every other way, short of sucking the singer's dick, *exactly* like that circling girl - he's never problematised as a "groupie" even though that's exactly what he is, bar a couple blowjobs.)

((Not to mention that, if a male interloper attempted to join a new community by attempting to sleep his way through prominent men's wives and girlfriends, would the resulting complaints be trivialised as a "bitchfest"? I think not. The words "taken out back and shot" spring more easily to mind.))

But mostly it's because of another set of unspoken "in every music fandom ever" rules. I would add:

65c. "Groupies" are universally despised by all members (both male and female) of the community.
65d. Male musicians who enjoy the sexual favours of female fans will be lionised for it by young, male fans and excused or pretty much blind-eyed by all others.

From these two unspoken rules follow on another set of behaviours. The form it will take usually depends on the number of female participants in the fandom and the number of high profile female posters on the forum, but it will always take one of these two options (and sometimes aspects of both at once) in which the threat of "groupie" status is used to denigrate or control the behaviour of female fans.

65e(i) On forums that are predominantly male, "groupie" becomes a stick used to beat female fandom of *all* types, therefore all "feminine" coded aspects of fandom will be discouraged and disparaged.

This includes not just the expression of sexual or romantic interest in male musicians, it also covers stereotypical "feminine" concerns such as photos, haircuts, clothes, families or relationships. Any female poster will be subject to censure for "fangirling" - and the few female posters may even censure themselves and other female posters to avoid the taint of fangirl. To survive as a woman in this kind of fandom means, often, erasing any part of your identity that might code as female.

Note: this prohibition does *not* extend to the discussion of female musicians. In this case, the discussion of the appearance, sexual attractiveness etc. will be considered completely appropriate, even obligatory. This double standard can result in such bizarre states of affairs as a forum running one thread for the posting of pornographic photos of female celebrities, and at the same time a fangirl-ish thread devoted to photos of the changing hairstyles of the (male) musician whose forum it was, being swamped with posts decrying the female threadstarter, and calls to have the thread closed/poster banned.

65e(ii) On forums that are more gender mixed, or predominantly female, "fangirling" will be tolerated, even encouraged (there may even be "teams" allocated for fanciers of particular band members.) However, a sharp distinction will be drawn between "fangirls" and "groupies" - with women policing themselves and other women far more than men ever do.

This is one of the weirdest and most frustrating effects of the Patriarchal demonisation of female sexuality, and the endless madonna/whore dichotomy of women into "nice girls" and "sluts." It is bizarre to see women - even women who have had sexual relationships with the musicians they admire - bend over backwards to invent new categories whereby *they* are just "with the band" while it is those other women, those nasty women, who are the "groupies." And it is precisely because of these patriarchal strictures on female sexuality that *women* have the most to gain (or lose), assigning themselves to the "nice girl" category by thrusting other women into the "slut" one. So this is where the "it's not sexist because women do it, too!" thing really is no excuse.

I could write a whole nother post on the problematisation of "Groupies" within fandom and music culture.

The thing is, my objections to groupie-demonisation revolve around two contradictory ways of thinking. This isn't necessarily a flaw of *my* logic - it's a flaw within the whole messed-up contradictory expectations of women and perceptions of female sexuality.

The first is the idea that Groupie-Sex is exploitative. It revolves around the idea of unequal power dynamics - older, more powerful, usually very spoiled (women throw themselves at them, after all) and over-entitled men, with young, powerless, naive, often exploited women, coerced, in the liminal zone of "on tour" into fulfilling sexual acts they would never normally countenance, seduced, used and discarded by the lies of romanticised rock'n'roll mythology. (Because, of course, all women *only* want relationships, marriage and babies, and never ever want just hott sex, for one night only, with a Dionysian love-god embodiment of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Never. At all. Honest. Not even if said dirty dronerock boy is wearing leather trousers and eyeliner. Nope.) And yet, in this dynamic, despite the fact it takes two people to have a heterosexual encounter, it's the *girls* who are demonised, problematised, and used to justify the exclusion or second-class-citizenship of female fans in the *whole* of fandom, not just backstage.

The second is, as you've probably guessed, an *objection* to the Paternalism expressed in the above problem. The idea that women are passive, exploited nonentities in their own sexual experiences rings really false in comparison with my memories of *being* a teenage girl. Aged 17, I was a simmering maelstrom of hormones and sexual urges, and the pop idols of the day served as a locus for those desires. And this is probably closer to a deeper truth of why groupies are so demonised in musical mythology - because the *idea* of actively sexual women who are the agents of their own desires, rather than passive receptacles for male passion, threatens to bring down the "nice girl"/"slut" dichotomy, male supremacy and the whole patriarchal house of cards on which not just fan culture, but general culture rests.

I don't even know that those two things are contradictory. It's entirely possible for both of them to be true. That yes, there are young women who are exploited (the heart-breaking tales of women who think they're in a real relationship when they are just tour playthings) - and also that women whose groupie sex experiences are more Germaine Greer than Pamela Des Barres scare the *shit* out of more than just the teenage boys on music forums who have never actually had sex with a woman whose surname wasn't .jpg.

So that's why I'm troubled by the enumeration of the "sexually circling female" and the "bitchfest" that accompanies her arrival. The stuff that gets left out, as much as the stuff that gets mentioned. And it's the stuff that *really* gets missed out when these conversations become all male, often *because* of the dynamics described above.

There's so much more here that I don't have space for. The unwritten assumption that, by default, bands = male and groupies = female is, obviously the massive elephant in the room that I haven't even touched on. (Someday when I write my memoir, I'll blow a hole in Louise Wener's assertion that male groupies don't exist. They do, and I've fucked them.) The utterly heteronormative assumptions with regard to this dynamic stink like a week old fish, but that's another blogpost, too. I am countering stereotypes with more stereotypes, but if I didn't, this would be a PhD rather than a blog post. And that has to wait for another lifetime.


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