Coates, N. 1997. “(R)Evolution Now? Rock and the Political Potential of Gender.”

Coates, Norma. 1997. “(R)Evolution Now? Rock and the Political Potential of Gender.” Pp. 50-64 in Sexing the Groove, edited by Sheila Whitely. New York: Routledge.

The paradox arises – women’s consumption of phallic, masculinist rock which excludes them – does this evoke a complicity to this system?

Rock as a space that discursively reinforces masculinity, masculine performance and centrality within its performance/membership

“De Lauretis [1987] appropriates the Foucauldian term ‘technology’, describing the way that power works productively to replicate and multiply itself, in order to explain how gendered social and cultural relations are reiterated and reinforced” (referenced here on 52)

“Consider, for example, the discursive and stylistic segregation of ‘rock’ and ‘pop’. In this schema, rock is metonymic with ‘authenticity’ while ‘pop’ is metonymic with ‘artifice’. Sliding even further down the metonymic slope, ‘authentic’ becomes ‘masculine’ while ‘artificial’ becomes ‘feminine’. Rock, therefore, is ‘masculine’, pop is ‘feminine’, and the two are set in a binary relation to each other, with the masculine, of course, on top. The common-sense meaning of rock becomes ‘male’, while ‘pop’ is naturalised as ‘female’. Real men aren’t pop, and women, [/end 52] real or otherwise, don’t rock” (52-53) — women require ‘gatekeeping’, and are ‘allowed in’ by men (kx^ – does not subvert hierarchies/mechanisms by which rock is built).

“’Rock’ is not so much a sound or a particular style of playing music, but represents a degree of emotional honesty, liveness, musical straightforwardness, and other less tangible, largely subjective aspects. ‘Pop’ music is allegedly slick, prefabricated, and used for dancing, mooning over teen idols, and other ‘feminine’ or ‘feminised’ recreations” (53).

Despite increased presence of women in rock, frequently labeled as “Angry Young Women” (53) – diminishing their membership within rock scenes, as well as diminishing their femininity – frequently “too focused” on politics, feminism, or communication of other “grievances” that other rock musicians use to distance their “non-normative” normative rock from a feminized Other

Riot grrrls use of “feminist praxis” to investigate/interrogate gender, sexuality, patriarchy, violence – while appropriating instruments that built their genre/scene marginalization (see also Gottlieb and Wald 1994: 269, here mentioned on 54).

“Although in doing so riot grrrls themselves retain some control over self-definition of the movement, this strategy ultimately results in a loss of control over representation of the movement in exactly those mainstream publications that they avoid. By losing control over their own representation, they thus reinforce their, and by association, other women’s position on the gendered margins of rock” (54).

Even performances of alternative/innovative/hybrid masculinities works to reinforce masculinity’s centrality within rock: “Because masculinity in rock is based on a fictive foundation, and in addition, because it is a particular style of masculinity which is being performed, it is crucial to expel and incorporate any threat to its (however tentative) stability. Otherwise masculinity in rock, and therefore rock itself, becomes incoherent. To maintain coherence, any excess must be contained. For the purpose of this essay, femininity is the marker of excess in rock [footnote 6 – sexuality, race, other axes could be substituted here, too]. Male rockers who literally appropriate ‘feminine markers’ do so in order to assert power over them, and over the ‘feminine’ or the female. It is no surprise, then, that heavy metal rockers, those with the biggest hair and the tightest clothes (including Spandex, outside of its usual use as female exercise wear), are often held up as the prime representations of excessive masculinity in rock [footnote 7 – see also Walser 1993]” (55).

Butler’s “abject” (1993) – what is expelled from body or discourse – the “Other” – “The abject is always contained in that which is excluding or expelling it. The ‘return of the abject’ radically destabilises that from which it was expelled, opening the site to reconfiguration and resignification. The return of the abject to a gendered formation or discourse is a way to question and open up terms, fields and formations. Further, it may be productive to see the ultimate goal of such work as disrupting the reiterative cycle which produces masculinity as the common-sense of rock” (56) – kx^ – thus, the transformative potential here is not to claim space or try to include women within the masculinist space of rock (“making room”), but to disrupt the mechanisms by which rock is discursively/interactionally/institutionally re-constructed as masculine.

The sexuality of rock has always centralized on men’s sexuality – never results in motherhood, etc., nor does it promote the [kx – genital interests/embodiments] of women through its symbols, material forms.

“Rock has played an important role as a fantasy site of unbridled male sexuality, undisturbed by the spectres of pregnancy, AIDS or any other consequences. In this way, rock becomes a redoubt of mythical white male power, regardless of social or economic circumstance” (58).

Women in rock disparaged both within scene and in mainstream – as “low-Others” (59) which stigmatize women for their “abnormal” participation in rock scenes – used as a foil to “upright, ideal” femininities — the “Otherness” that subcultural membership/scene participation celebrates to cultivate authenticity in response to fabricated (feminized) mainstream is not extended to women, who are doubly penalized by their Otherness.


de Lauretis, Teresa. 1987. Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gottlieb, Joanne and Gayle Wald. 1994. “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Riot Grrrls, Revolution and Women in Independent Rock.” Pp. 250-274 in Microphone Fiends: Youth Culture and Youth Culture, edited by Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose. New York: Routledge.

Walser, Robert. 1993. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.


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