New York Times
August 2, 1999

Added August 6, 1999

An interesting New York Times article by Ann Powers called "A Surge of Sexism on the Rock Scene" appeared on August 2, 1999. This article is responding in part to the violence and rapes that occured at the Woodstock '99 festival. Tori is mentioned a few times in the article, and I found it an interesting and disturbing read overall. You can read this article at the New York Times web site or below. (The New York Times web site requires you to subscribe first, although it is free. Their version is better because it includes a non-Tori photo, better formatting, and related links.) I must thank Carol Wilkin & Joel Spitzer for telling me about it.


A Surge of Sexism on the Rock Scene


It seems that Woodstock '99 did bring back one custom from the classic days of rock: treating women like sexual toys, often against their will. Four rapes have been reported at the festival, including one said to have occurred near the stage during Limp Bizkit's set. This abominable news would be more shocking if not for the rampant displays of vicious male behavior throughout the festival weekend that began on July 23, from the lone fan who scrawled a demand for oral sex across his chest to the many who shouted at female performers like Sheryl Crow to expose their breasts onstage.

Sexy fun is one thing, but this was an orgy of lewdness tinged with hate. If only this were an isolated phenomenon arising from the primal state that concertgoers entered after three days in the dust and the garbage.

Sadly, though, boneheaded sexism is on the rise throughout the rock scene.

At the Warped Tour, which came to New York City a week before Woodstock '99 came to Rome, N.Y., numerous performers shouted nasty remarks at the "ladies" in the crowd, culminating in a suggestion by Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 that female fans come up to the stage and sexually service his band mates. A few nights later, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock shared the Hammerstein Ballroom stage. Both artists proclaimed they loved women even as they performed songs condemning them as whores.

At these shows, women screamed their adulation for the very stars hurling invective at them. They climbed the shoulders of their male companions and waved to the throng waiting to grope them. The women seemed to be reviving the role of the old-fashioned rock chick, who gained the right to be sexually expressive by running a gantlet of degradation and scorn. And the men were all too ready to debase them.

This is happening during the summer of yet another "year of the woman" in pop, when the music business is congratulating itself for the gains it has made.

VH-1 is promoting its five-hour special on contemporary music's 100 most notable women. Sarah McLachlan is leading her gynocentric Lilith Fair festival to a graceful finish after three years. Ms. Crow, Courtney Love, Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette continue to tour behind strong, career-building albums.

Across the stylistic divide, in rhythm and blues and in pop, the self-aware soul singers Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott and TLC rule, while the Backstreet Boys and their teeny-bopper brethren lay prostrate at the feet of the girls who are their fans. Even the Lolita-like Britney Spears sends a message mixed enough to be considered empowering by some of her teen-age admirers.

With all this evidence of "girl power" still abounding, what are those female rock fans doing getting clobbered, metaphorically, by the boys?

The answers are knotty. Foremost is the fact that so many young women consider the struggle for equality over. In society, that was their mothers' battle; in the pop world, it belonged to their older sisters. The remarkable gains made by the likes of Ms. Morissette in the mid-1990's, when loud, angry women selling millions of records seemed to be changing rock forever, are now viewed by many as part of a passČ trend.

The pop market feeds on novelty; rageful female rockers are several seasons old. Artists like Ms. Love and Polly Jean Harvey, who broke through during that moment, have refined their music. Their softer images suggest that successful women need no longer be aggressive, that all the shouting got boring and we need to move on.

In fact, women in rock in the 90's have only partly triumphed. There are great young female-powered rock bands, like Sleater-Kinney; veterans to emulate, like L7, Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde, and even singer-songwriters with rock-and-roll hearts, like Ms. Amos. But those artists are being forced back into the realm of the exception, kicking against the boorish male norm.

The new hip-hop-flavored hard rock that commands the mass market has no American female stars. Skunk Anansie, an English band with a black female singer, is esteemed in Europe, but so far has not gained many admirers in the United States.

Only one female-dominated band, the Lunachicks, was on the Warped tour, playing the third stage with several other journeyman punk bands.

The moment when women confronted male rockers on their own terms, displaying a sexual forcefulness and self-respect that threw the genre's historic chauvinism into question, has faded. In its place is the culture's new custom of either placing female artists and fans within a female ghetto, or ignoring them.

Two safe havens exist for women in pop. The Lilith-fair style singer-songwriter genre is the most likely to endure. After the success of Ms. McLachlan and Jewel, record companies began signing pretty, soft-voiced artistes in droves. Radio formats adjusted to this style, as did VH-1, which treats it as the present while celebrating male rockers in much of its historically oriented programming.

For those who embrace the trappings of conventional femininity, the Lilith style is a promising niche. But it has done little to change the essence of rock, instead confining mainstream female artists within the gilded cage of the pop songbird.

The hottest pop arena ruled by young women is teeny-bopper music. Hard rock's popular resurgence is partly a reaction against the emotionally submissive, romantic music that teeny-bopper bands like the Backstreet Boys produce. Male fans are lining up to buy and defend music that makes them feel the way boys are supposed to feel, according to sexist stereotypes. Angry boys are back, alongside squealing girls.

This gender split is reinforced within the union of hard rock and hip-hop. Any rock fan should be thrilled that the racial segregation common within the music industry may be breaking down as a new generation, raised on Snoop Doggy Dog and Nirvana, emerges. The white artists plundering hip-hop, like Kid Rock, seem eager to actually collaborate with artists of color; one can only hope that the racial exploitation that has marred rock history won't repeat itself.

But the potential of racial unity seems to be coming at the cost of women's dignity. Hard-core hip-hop is famous for portraying women in heinous ways, and in a misguided effort to prove their authenticity, many hard rockers have emulated that tendency.

Yet plenty of women also grew up loving hard rock and hip-hop. Sugary romance and feminine fluttering aren't going to satisfy them.

In the early 90's, they could hear their turbulent emotions expressed in the voices of female rockers, but they will look to male performers if that is what is offered them. They relate to the frustration expressed by Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, or the strutting pride of Kid Rock. When those performers direct outrage at women, these female fans mentally deflect it, just as their predecessors did when Mick Jagger sang "Under My Thumb."

The lure of the bad boy remains; he entices because he presents a challenge. A woman who adores Kid Rock can imagine herself as the one lover who could earn his respect by matching his strength. The Limp Bizkit fan dreams that once he got to know her, Mr. Durst would like girls again.

Personalizing their fantasies, fans do not always see the bigger messages that artists put forth. And so the young women, feeling free and charged with life, jump into the mosh pit. If only their confidence were not then crushed by the men they trust.

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