Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This
submit to reddit

Women Musicians Change In British Popular Music Media Essay

Over the years, the manner in which society has been portrayed can arguably be described as patriarchal in its structure. The term 'patriarchy' refers to the establishment of male dominance in positions of authority, including those within the government, the workplace, and extending into family life and the home. (Johnson, 2005, p5) Johnson also expresses the oppressive nature of patriarchy towards women, a sentiment echoed by Whiteley, (2005, p45) who provides a female insight into the ideology of a patriarchal society, establishing it as a male creation in order to 'sustain male power and female subordination'. Expanding upon this, it can be argued that the adoption of a male dominated structure has resulted in the expectation of women to fulfil certain roles within society. Holloway (2005, p178) states that before the outbreak of the Second World War, the role prescribed to married women was usually domestic, given the duty of housekeeping whilst her husband earned the income on which they would live. If a woman was employed, it was usually the case that it would be for less pay and on a lower level of the hierarchy than her male colleagues.

However, the outbreak of the Second World War gave women the opportunity to experience a change in roles. (Holloway, p178) Due to a large proportion of the male population conscripted to serve in the armed forces, employment opportunities opened up for women, many of which were established in order to aid the war effort, whilst also giving married women the opportunity to become head of their household in the absence of their husbands. (Lee, 1996, p339) However, Lee also states that the roles in which women were employed were 'not men's jobs at all' or simply 'men's jobs which were heavily downgraded'. This highlights the continued existence of patriarchal ideals despite the new freedoms given to women, suggesting that those in positions of power (namely males) felt that women were incapable of performing duties at the same level of expertise as a man. However, male musicians of the era also faced the same issues as women. Tucker (2000, p42) attributes this to some sectors of work becoming 'feminised as ideas about masculinity became unwaveringly affixed to military service'. This may be seen as a step towards equality between the two genders in the workplace as it highlights that men who did not enter military service were facing similar prejudices to those experienced by women.

The popular music industry can also be perceived as patriarchal in its structure. Akin to other industries, men have traditionally occupied the higher-ranking roles Bayton (1998, p2) illustrates the existence of male dominance within the industry by stating that 'the careers of female musicians are dependent on the decisions of a series of men in key positions', a view reinforced by Whiteley (2005, p3) who also acknowledges that 'within popular music, there is little doubt that inequality still persists'. Stras (2010, p6) provides a further supporting perception, somewhat bleakly referring to women in popular music as 'footnotes to male-centred histories of popular culture and popular music'. These authors suggest that the issue of inequality between males and females has been a recurring problem within the industry which, despite changes in the times and society, has yet to be dispelled.

As is observed within society outside the industry, women within British popular music have traditionally been expected to conform to certain roles, positioned in the hierarchy as 'consumers and fans' and in 'supportive roles rather than active music producers'. (Bayton, 1998, p1) There may indeed be some truth to this; Within the Telegraph's 50 best British songwriters (2008), a mere 10 per-cent of the list is populated by women. This does not necessarily mean that males are considered better songwriters than females, but instead may suggest that females have been given less opportunities to become songwriters due to the expectations upon women to fulfil the roles assigned to them within the patriarchal music industry. One particular case that illustrates women's adoption of the supportive role within popular music is that of Marianne Faithfull, who abandoned a potentially successful career in 1966 when entering into a relationship with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Whiteley (2005, p24) argues that Faithfull then became 'more famous for her sexual image', an issue which was commonly faced by women of the 1960s due to the idealised representations of women brought about by a shift towards an era of counter-culture, a time which fought against the conventions and ideals established within previous generations. (Braunstein, 2002, p8)

Indeed, the transformation of society into a counter-culture within the 1960s brought about new freedoms for women priorly extended exclusively to men. The development of the contraceptive pill granted women sexual liberation, which allowed heightened control over relationships and their own bodies, providing women with a freedom that had been available to males for years. (Lee, 1996, p341) However, this newly obtained sexual promiscuity led to idealised representations of women within popular culture, with women now being expected to conform to the new role catalysed by their sexual liberation. This was a common theme found within pop music produced during the 1960s by male musicians, the subject matter of which was often based around females, taking the shape of either an 'idealisation of women as unattainable objects of longing or disparaging them as sex objects'. (Middleton, Manuel, n.d., para 77) One genre in which this is particularly evident is rock music, the masculine nature of which is examined by Bayton (1998, p40) who highlights that part of the reason for the gendered nature of the genre is the notion that 'women who play rock music are considered to be putting their femininity at risk'. This may be an idea imposed by men in order to keep rock music male dominated, but could also express the viewpoint of women who adhere to the stereotypical image of femininity in acknowledging that rock music is primarily a male domain. Nevertheless, it brings to light the roles that females were to adopt during the era of counter-culture.

Women performers in the 1960s were also subject to role changes brought about by the counter-culture era. Many authors on the subject identify Dusty Springfield as one of the key female figures in British popular music at the time, as reinforced by Stras (2010, p114) who states that Springfield 'seemed to embody the postwar generation's experience of profoundly changing gender roles'. However, Whiteley (2005, p24) hints that much of Springfield's success can be attributed to her image rather than her prowess as a musician, claiming that her image 'defined the face of the 1960s, yet she struggled to establish herself a strong, soulful singer'. Stras (p115) also speculates that Springfield's sound 'had not wrapped in a pretty package to ensure sales, may never have reached a broad public'. It can be argued that Springfield embraced the image, shaping it into a parody of itself as a statement against the role assigned to women performers, as examined by Smith (1999, p107) who provides analysis of the image presented on the cover of Springfield's first British solo album, A Girl Called Dusty. The image portrays Springfield dressed in typically masculine clothes, sporting the hairstyle and make-up that defined her image. Smith describes this as a 'parodic' representation of the female image, and can be viewed as an attempt to go against traditions established by the counter-culture in order to draw focus towards her music as opposed to her image.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that the roles of female musicians in Britain had not shifted significantly in comparison to previous decades. O'Brien (2000, p1406) highlights that since the 1950s 'women writers and performers have had to struggle against sexism and segregation to establish a place for themselves'. This may be viewed as to a return to roles affixed in the pre-war years, as women were pushed out of the workplace to return to domestic roles. (Lee, 1996, p339) Music produced during the war years by women often contained optimistic subject matter in order to provide a morale boost to the troops on the front line, outlining the roles that women musicians were to adopt during the period. In Britain, this role was adopted by such singers as Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn, Lynn often referred to as 'the Forces' sweetheart' (Christopher, 1999, p133) The use of the term 'sweetheart' conjures images childlike in nature, an issue explored by Holtzman (2000, p89) who states that such terms are a 'diminutive' representation of female artists. Though the term may have been applied affectionately, it bears some similarity to the representations of an idealised nature that faced women of the 1960s, bringing to light the possibility that roles since the 1940s had not been drastically altered.

Springfield's attitude towards the music industry embodies the sentiments of many women performers of the era, who were attempting to break away from the 'ethos of light, romantic, dollybird pop' in order to establish themselves as respected musicians. Some managed to succeed; Stras (2010, p151) provides Sandie Shaw as an example, stating that the trademark she established was her 'warm, dark voice' which 'exudes maturity and confidence, that of a confident, knowing woman'. This could be viewed as an attempt to shift the perceived role of women musicians by utilising vocal techniques, establishing the importance of musicality over image. However, Whiteley (2005, p41) expresses the opinion that the efforts of female performers who were attempting to establish themselves as independent performers was hindered by those who adhered to the traditional female roles of 1960s popular music, questioning the possibility of establishing a 'progressive woman's perspective' when Clodagh Rodgers could sing 'I'm still a little pussy cat, come give me some milk'. This particular lyric expresses connotations of male dominance, conjuring images of domestication and placing the female in a submissive role, the type of representation that female musicians of the time were attempting to dispel.

The traditionally established role of women performers in the production of music is as a vocalist. Bayton (1998, p13) attributes this to the fact that female musicians 'have often been steered into it', boldly stating a possible reason that this is the case is that 'women are believed to be naturally better singers', however the truth of such a statement is debatable. Many of the female artists who did manage to achieve some degree of success within the 1960s have been singers, British examples of which include the aforementioned Springfield and Shaw, with Cilla Black and Lulu also being identified as key figures in counter-culture popular music. (Whiteley, 2005, p41) However, the presence of women in other roles in music production, including songwriting and as instrumentalists is less frequently documented. Both Bayton (1997, p37) and Whiteley (2010, p262) address the issue, both authors questioning why women electric guitarists were less frequent than their male peers during the 1960s. Bayton attributes this to the fact that female roles were generally tied to specific genres:

Women performers have been more prominent in commercial 'pop' and 'folk' than in rock, but their place in all these worlds has been predominantly that of vocalist rather than instrumentalist. Where women have been instrumentalists they have tended to be keyboard-players. Whilst women folk singer-songwriters have played the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar has been left in the hands of the boys.

Though this further emphasises the segregation from rock music experienced by women, it also provides evidence that women did adopt instrumental roles within other genres. This may be attributed to the period of folk revival that Britain experienced at the time, in which artists such as Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny were given the opportunity to carry out songwriting and instrumental roles, however her activity with the band occurred in the final years of the 1960s, which may mean that these opportunities were due the transition into the 1970s. (Brown, 2008, para 13)

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the dawn of a new era in British music history brought about by the emergence of a new genre known as punk. It may be argued that the punk movement of the 1970s had more of an effect in changing the roles of women musicians than experienced in the 1960s. Fahey (2010, para 5) supports this view, stating that 'in the wake of punk rock, girls were desexualised and we felt more equal'. This could be perceived as an attempt to overthrow the ideologies built up during the 1960s due to women's sexual freedom, which as argued previously resulted in oppressive representations of women. This view is also reinforced by Leblanc, who acknowledges that 'British punk women were no longer ornaments, but served as lead singers, drummers, bassists and guitarists'. This further highlights the desexualisation of women musicians during the period, allowing them to adopt new instrumental roles previously predominantly held by males.

From the points discussed above, it can be concluded that the roles of British female musicians of the 1960s had altered slightly in comparison to previous decades, due to new freedoms brought on by the second world war and the counter-culture era. However, the role alterations were not always positive, stemming from the idealised representations within popular culture that women in the public eye were to live up to. It can be argued that though women in instrumental roles did emerge near the end of the decade, the decades following the 1960s brought about a more significant change in roles for female artists, with a rise in women instrumentalists, songwriters and women within rock music, which was previously perceived as a male-orientated genre. Nevertheless, an aforementioned point made by Whiteley (2005, p3) expresses that 'within popular music, there is little doubt that inequality still persists', highlighting that some elements of the patriarchal ideology still exist within the music industry despite any role changes that female musicians have experienced.

Print Email Download Reference This Send to Kindle Reddit This

Share This Essay

To share this essay on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ just click on the buttons below:

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

Request the removal of this essay.


More from UK Essays