About seven months ago, when I still was a young, green and eager-to-please writer, I wrote my very first hip-hop album review. At the time, this was a big departure for me — while a long-time hip hop/rap fan, I had yet to stray from the near and dear garage-y guitar bands I felt so comfortable analyzing (but mostly judging) in my writing. So, naturally, this nervousness propelled my perfectionist self to new levels of neuroses. I listened to the album like a deranged scholar, meticulously double-checked all the dates of the rapper’s incarceration — I even started writing it more than 24 hours before it was due. I was reasonably happy with how it turned out. But this is college life, and once it ran, I promptly forgot about it. Until now.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend jokingly told me that he had read my hip-hop review when it was published, and how he had scoffed at my gangster references and hip-hop lingo and written off my credibility — because the only thing he knew about me (at the time) was that I was a girl, specifically a white girl. And what could a white girl from the suburbs possibly say about Gucci Mane?
Now that he knew me as a person, he explained, the article seemed much more legitimate because he knew that I knew my stuff and wasn’t just a wannabe poseur putting up a front. Annoyed, I countered with a petulant, “Well, what if my name had been Joe? Would you have taken it seriously then?” He looked puzzled for a minute, as if realizing his own inadvertent sexism, before finally admitting that yes, he probably would have. After dousing him with all the Jewish guilt I could muster, I thought I was satisfied, that I had made him pay for this little mishap. But then I kept thinking about it. And I got really, really pissed.
I know my friend wasn’t trying to be sexist. I know it’s easier to believe in a writer’s credibility if you know from personal experience that the person is dedicated and well informed, regardless of whether it’s boy or girl, rap or rock‘n’roll. But seriously … what the hell?
So I did a little research.
Of the 42 Pitchfork staff music writers listed on the website, a measly two are female, while others had ambiguously unisex names (curse you, Sam and Alex). Now, I’m no mathematician (or even passably number-competent, for that matter) but that seems to be an awfully small percentage for such a widely-read website with such a sizable staff. But that’s only one snooty, self-righteous music publication.
All five major section editors at Paste Magazine are male. The Chicago Tribune’s music critic is Greg Kot, one of the New Yorker’s main music writers is Alex Ross (male) and the Seattle Times’ longtime reigning music critic was Patrick MacDonald, until his retirement in 2009. On April 4th, only three out of the 15 most recent music articles on
The New York Times’ website were written by women.
I never grew up thinking that music was a “guy thing.” But then again, I happened to be raised by maniacal music connoisseur parents who considered it their primary mission in life to shape my taste in their holy image. Radio Disney and show tunes were universally banned from the car in favor of the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Big Star and Neil Young. I’m glad that my parents are into cool music, but it did take me a while to figure out that most other little girls didn’t receive Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for their 11th birthdays.
Retrospectively, I shouldn’t be that surprised. The first music criticism I ever read and loved was Lester Bangs’ “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung,” closely followed by Ian MacDonald’s “Revolution in the Head”; drastically different, yes, but both undeniably (deceased) dudes. In the arguably male-dominated world of rock‘n’roll in the ’60s and ’70s, with Creem, Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy being the forebears of contemporary music journalism, it is true that men have a long and fruitful (but hopefully surmountable) 40-year head start on us girls.
This isn’t meant to be a torch-wielding, Tori Amos-endorsing rant about sexism in music journalism, or an Ani DiFranco-style call to arms about the rights of “womyn.” This goes deeper than just the critics. If you think about it, men probably write more about hip hop and rock‘n’roll because the subject matter contains idioms typically geared toward, well, dudes. “Sex On Fire,” anyone? Or how about “Ms. New Booty?” “Bitches Ain’t Shit?” I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m not exactly getting the sense that these are the type of guys to chivalrously respect my female boundaries. But I also have no interest in writing about — or listening to — a sensitive, Taylor-strumming, floppy-haired falsetto-ed gentleman simpering about his precious first love, no matter how deferential his attitude toward my gender.
So maybe it really is just harder for girls to write about music that people don’t expect them to like, and we’re still in the process of closing that gap. Maybe I’m just a freak experiment of my parents, and such an outlier in this issue that I can’t possibly have a normal perspective. Maybe more men just want to be critics. I guess in the end, it doesn’t really matter — I still like Gucci Mane.