Women love metal
Heavy metal conference kicks off with lecture on female representation
When you hear of the words “heavy metal,” it is very likely that you think of hardcore concerts with lots of head-banging, heavy guitar riffs, and big dudes with long hair who wearing cut-away denim vests covered with spikes and patches. You probably wouldn’t think of a conference room filled with those same metalheads – and their female counterparts – critically discussing and debating the culture of their community in an academic setting.
But that is exactly what happened Sept. 19 in the Grand Ballroom of the Ramada Hotel. This free lecture served as an unofficial lead-in to Noctis 666, a conference and festival that is a celebration of metal culture and extreme music.
“It’s a bit scary,” commented presenter Laina Dawes on the decision by the organizer to include the lecture in the festival’s line-up. “For this particular conference, you have people coming because they’re just here to see the music… [It’s] a risk.”
In the aptly-titled lecture, Women in Metal, Dawes and Sarah Kitteringham, two scholars of heavy metal, sought to ignite a conversation surrounding the apparent stigma and recognized “otherness” that comes from being a female – and in Dawes’ case, a woman of colour – in the heavy metal community.
Kitteringham, a Mount Royal alumni and current graduate student at the University of Calgary, presented information that she gathered while working on her Master’s thesis, “Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses: The Rise of Women in Black Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, and Grindcore.” In her research – conducted from a Canadian perspective – she found that despite a noticeable increase in female representation in a flourishing metal community in Canada, issues associated with stigma are far from over.
She explained the issues of misrepresentation in the mainstream media, citing Revolver Magazine’s feature, the “Hottest Chicks in Metal,” as an example of a patriarchal bias that reduces talented musicians to just a “physical body image.”
Most surprisingly, however, Kitteringham also noted that her finding suggested that it was not necessarily the men of metal who were the issue, but rather the “combative attitudes” of women towards other women in the community stemming from the “Only One Syndrome,” or the idea that since there are so few females represented in the culture, women see each other as competition rather than allies.
In her presentation, Dawes focused more on the issues of finding an identity in the culture where she – as a woman of colour – was a part of an extremely marginalized minority, and discussed the research that went into her book, What Are You Doing Here?, which explores “a black woman’s life and liberation in heavy metal.”
For Dawes, heavy metal music was about freedom of expression, and helped her to navigate through her anger towards racism and internalized stereotypes.
“To exert anger in a positive way, use extreme music,” said Dawes. “I think it’s imperative. I’m focusing on women of colour – black women – because this is where I’m seeing there’s an issue in terms of internalized aggression and anger, and seeing the ramifications as to what happens when you don’t let it out. That’s one thing that I think can actually apply to anyone.”
This topic is not easy to deal with, and as evident in the lively and polarizing discussion that followed the lecture presentations, is not one that will be resolved any time soon.
“It’s frustrating because there are no clear answers and I don’t know if there ever will be,” said Dawes. “People have to do the internal work, and also really try not to take their issues and throw them onto somebody else to make them feel better.
“You just try to elongate the conversation, but it’s hard, because there are no easy answers.”
“People are thinking about it. People are even saying, ‘Hey, I have an issue with you,’ or ‘Please elaborate,’” continued Dawes, “so people are thinking about it.
“We’re getting there, but there’s still a ways to go.”