Why Make QoN?

Welcome to Queens of Noise!

Its mission: to honor women in the music industry and encourage girls who might otherwise avoid entering a male-dominated field.

Now, you might be asking, “Why just queens of noise? Why only focus on women? What’s wrong with dudes?”

First of all, it’s a Runaways reference, thank you very much. Second, nothing is wrong with dudes. I like dudes. They can be very cool. However, anyone who’s familiar with the music industry cannot deny that female workers tend to get the short end of the stick. If you only pay attention to the mainstream media, it appears as though a woman in music must fit these criteria to be successful:

  • Women in pop must sing while looking pretty. Playing piano or soft, mellow guitar can be okay occasionally. Female rockers should look hot in a tough chick kind of way. Vulnerability is generally discouraged in female rockers.
  • Pop singers must either (a) be skinny and willing to show off their young, attractive bodies (think Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, or Katy Perry); or (b) be skinny and willing to dress in a feminine way (think Amy Lee, Hayley Williams, or Taylor Swift). (Amy Lee and Hayley Williams may not be “pop” singers, but they get a lot of airplay in pop radio.)
  • A pop singer may perhaps write her own songs, but only if they’re about partying or heartache or young love or a breakup. (Breakups are the only context in which it’s okay to show anger.)
  • Female guitarists may rock as hard as they like, but the guys in their bands get to play the solos. (Think Joan Jett, or Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, or Nancy Wilson of Heart.) Of course it takes skill and talent to be a rhythm player, but girls obviously can’t be lead guitarists. Well, Lita Ford can, but only because she’s willing to show skin. Who would pay attention to a female guitar player without getting a healthy dose of cleavage? And when was the last time anyone heard Lita Ford on the radio anyway?

In fact, one might think from looking at the mainstream that no woman has ever become an exceptional guitarist. On rock radio we hear Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain, Kirk Hammett—no Jennifer Batten or Carrie Brownstein or Michelle Meldrum or Suzie Gardner or Donita Sparks or Kat Bjelland or Marnie Stern or Orianthi. Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists only acknowledged two women—Joan Jett and Joni Mitchell—ignoring at least dozens of other worthy females.

This lack of female representation wasn’t a problem for me at first; my seventh-grade self devoured music by Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Aerosmith as I learned to play guitar. But after entering high school, I began to wonder why all my guitar idols just happened to be men. I turned to the Internet and searched Google for “female guitar players,” “female rock guitarists,” “female metal guitarists,” “women in metal bands,” anyone who might serve to answer the question dwelling in my subconscious: “Can I do this too?” Could someone like me (that is, female) create something beautiful, something magical with a guitar?

The answer is, of course, yes. Someone can. I can. We can. We already have. We haven’t always gotten the respect we deserved for doing so, though. The Runaways were largely written off as a novelty act by the rock critics of their time. Joan Jett testifies, “There wasn’t anything that we got because we were girls that I remember in a positive sense. Everything was, ‘You’re weaker ’cause you’re girls. You can’t take it because you’re girls. You can’t do it because you’re girls. But you’re cute to have around, so come in and get drunk’” (qtd. in Carson, Lewis, and Shaw 5). Things have gotten better by far, but they’re definitely not equal yet. I see evidence of this in my own life and in my own feelings.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Animazement 2011 (an anime and manga convention), and watching a J-rock panel gave me a lot of great new music to listen to. However, while introducing the band GO!GO!7188, the male panelist added (a bit nervously, I thought), “And this is a female-fronted band, but these ladies know how to rock.”

Do ladies normally not know how to rock? Do they have something to prove? Does a lack of a penis make a musician automatically lose credibility? Perhaps in the eyes of some, if said musician is playing a traditionally “masculine” instrument. (After all, no one would need to establish while introducing a successful all-male rock band that, yes, they actually can rock.) While the panelist did show other bands with women in them, he didn’t make any overt references to their gender—those women were all singers who didn’t play instruments, whereas the women of GO!GO!7188 played guitar and bass. Rock tradition dictates that a woman singing is acceptable, but a woman playing an instrument is breaking some unspoken but generally acknowledged rule.

Paradoxically, another rule of rock is that rules are made to be broken, and tradition must be constantly redefined, else the genre go stagnant. And we are making progress. But the purpose of this zine is not to banish sexism in guys, although it would be nice if that lessened too as a side effect. (Male readers and listeners are heartily appreciated, of course.) This zine is intended to combat internalized sexism in girls.

As a member of my school’s jazz band last semester, I often felt somehow different and cut off from the guys. After seeing guys play fast AC/DC songs at the beginning of class and watching other guys cheer them on, I felt like I had to prove myself to be as good as them, as though my gender put me at an inherent disadvantage. I felt like I had to overhaul my own style completely and become a shredding genius in order to “play with the guys.”

But as I finally began to find the resources I needed—such as Gillian Gaar’s She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll and the book Girls Rock!: Fifty Years of Women Making Music—I realized I was far from alone in these feelings, and that I didn’t need to do anything to prove myself beyond playing well and loving what I do. I don’t need to “play like a guy” (whatever that means); I need to play like me. Lots of women have blazed the trail before me; all of them have changed at least one person. All of them have played in front of at least one girl who thought, “That was awesome! I wanna do that too!” And all of them have played in front of at least one guy who thought, “Well damn, she really does rock. Guess it was dumb of me to think she was only holding that guitar because she was tuning it for her boyfriend.” That’s where real change starts: with just one person. And I hope to change someone with Queens of Noise as well, even if it’s just one person.

By publishing the achievements of women in the music industry, I hope to hear someone say something like, “You know, that Sylvia Robinson quote made me think about producing.” Or, “Listening to Sandy West made me want to try drumming.” Or, “I listened to Ruyter Suys after reading your article on her, and her solo melted my face off. Seriously! I have to pay for reconstructive surgery now.” I hope to hear that the music I wrote about changed someone’s life in some small way.

I hope you find at least one artist on this site who inspires you, whether she simply makes an excellent addition to your iTunes library, causes you to look at female musicians in a different light, or, if you’re a musician, influences your musical style.

Alright, I’ve rambled on long enough. Read and enjoy,

Tessa Smith

Sources Used for This Page:

Carson, Mina, Tisa Lewis, and Susan M. Shaw. Girls Rock! : Fifty Years of Women Making Music. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004. Print.

Gaar, Gillian. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll. 2nd ed. New York: Seal Press, 2002. Print.

  1. Your writing is so clear and concise. I am amazed at your depth of knowledge of these musicians and the content of their music. Love, Mtn Gmas

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