Cohen, S. 1997. “Men Making a Scene: Rock Music and the Production of Gender.”

Cohen, Sara. 1997. “Men Making a Scene: Rock Music and the Production of Gender.” Pp. 17-36 in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, edited by Sheila Whitely. New York: Routledge.

“Within Euro-American cultures there tends to be a general assumption that rock music is male culture comprising male activities and styles. Women, meanwhile, tend to be associated with a marginal, decorative or less creative role, hence the common stereotypes of glamorous women who act as backing singers for male groups or feature on their videos and other merchandise, and girls as adoring fans who scream at male performers” (17).

In study of Liverpool indie rock scene – genre/rock is produced as male (masculine) through everyday activities, emotions, ideas that inform scene — contextually, discursively, relationally, institutionally.

In study, scene is predominantly men – in bands, in production, as disseminators (DJs, radio hosts), record company owners, promoters, venue owners and venue/band management.  Women in scene varies on performance venue, style, band notoriety — Cohen still focuses on women predominantly as fans — due to small number of women performing within scene.

Social networks are built through primarily homosocial activities – social norms within major venue observed in study include: scene members referring to “each other by nicknames, use technical and in-house jargon and share the jokes and jibes, the myths, hype and bravado surrounding bands and band-related activity. In addition they regularly circulate and exchange information, advice and gossip; instruments, technical support and additional services; music recordings, music journals and other products” (20).

Spatially exclusionary to women – popular study venues located in back alleys, away from main streets – deserted areas within otherwise populated city centers, “cheap” districts – touring, performance, and production schedules may divert women who have childcare or other household responsibilities – men are primary determiners of these schedules/systems/locations.

“For some men involvement in the scene might offer close and intense social interaction and male companionship free from the pressures of relating to women; for others music promises status, identity, success and the possibility of attracting women; for many music represents an escape or retreat from women and a way out of domestic obligations, and many come from backgrounds where the division of labour between men and women is marked and single-sex leisure activity commonplace. Women are thus very much present in the scene despite their absence” (21) – women posited in background, facilitative positions; inferred as the means by which men’s participation is enabled, however, also cast as barriers to participation – drawing men away in other, domestic pursuits?

Sexism as prevalent within these scenes: “The conversation within the scene’s male networks, for example, is frequently ‘insider-ish’, involving nicknames, in-jokes and jargon that discourage women newcomers from joining in, and it is often sexist. In the everyday conversation of male band members women are often treated as objects of sexual desire, conquest or derision, or linked with the domestic sphere of family and home” (22) […] “They [men who work at primary observed venue] suggest that the women differ from male employees in terms of their priorities, interests and ambitions, but they and the women also mention problems concerning the attitudes of male staff and customers, their sexist banter, and the one or two men who continually make sexual advances towards the women. In addition, women are often perceived by male musicians within the scene as a threat to their relationships with other men in the scene and to their creativity. Female partners of male band members, for example, may be seen as a threat because they are likely to make demands that direct a musician away from the band, because their presence disrupts the pattern of interaction established between the men, and because they are associated with the home, domesticity, conventionality and the responsibilities of life outside rock culture (Cohen 1991a). Meanwhile women musicians in Liverpool complain about derogatory attitudes towards them expressed by the scene’s men, and the fact that they are generally not taken as seriously as men musicians (see Cohen, 1991a)” (22).

Access to scenes/shows determined by primarily male bouncers – acting as gatekeepers.

Gendered division of labor informed by sociocultural and political contexts – men’s role within criminal activities/funding scenes, women’s encouragement to develop community access to scenes – in additional to inter/national music industries’ sexual division of labor (see also Negus 1992; Frith and McRobbie 1990), and wider genre/rock norms establishing information/capital/discourses (Finnegan 1989) – for example, mainstream or popular rock magazines directed toward ambiguous gendered consumption;  however, trade and technical journals focusing on male readership; women presented to pay more attention to personality and appearance (see also Frith and McRobbie 1990).

Walser 1993 – heavy metal musicians’ articulation of masculinity through use of instruments, lyrics, visual effects, clothing, symbolism, audial presentation.  Here, “Heavy metal doesn’t necessarily reflect any real power on the part of the men involved in making or listening to the music. Rather, [/end 28] t presents a spectacle of male power and offers a musical means through which men can demonstrate their manhood” (28-29), usually through demonstrating ability to use variety of forms of control over women (kx^ – and self, other men?) – Walser continues – metal’s rejection of androgyny, visual stylings that may be read as feminine (i.e. wearing making up), though defended through masculinist discourse of outstanding performance, or “guts” to do masculinity in innovative ways.

Groups consisting of women frequently diminished in popular scene texts – for example, “as if there were already too many such bands, or as if having a ‘girl’ singer was a well- worn gimmick, thus illustrating how different ideas and values may be attached to the music according to whether it is created by men or women” (30).

“The music does, however, contribute to the continual process through which categories of men, male and masculine are produced, contested and redefined, and rock and pop have typically involved exploration of both behaviour and ideas concerning gender and sexuality” (30).

Scene as source of control, resistance to everyday lives and activities (which may be disempowered through economic, political, and social change associated with working class town), a means to individual and collective identities, relationships and networks, status, knowledge and opportunity to use symbols of men’s sexuality/power, opportunity to convey emotions safely and in sanctioned ways, means of gaining income, but with possibility of other forms of inter/national success

“All of this indicates how complex the production of rock as male can be, involving multiple, diverse and contradictory masculinities, and male power that is ambiguous and precarious” (33).


Cohen, Sara. 1991. Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music in the Making. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnegan, Ruth. 1989. The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frith, Simon and Angela McRobbie. 1978/1990/1991. “Rock and Sexuality.” Pp. 371-389 in On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word, edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. New York: Routledge.

Negus, Keith. 1992. Producing Pop: Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry. London: Edward Arnold.

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

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