We are social animals and becoming social requires a medium: language. Ever since their emergence, languages continue to change along with society. Knowledge and culture affect the evolution of languages deeply and since we learn culture through the languages, we are influenced by them in return. With this in mind, language can affect our lives negatively in two ways. The first one is that, one can be influenced by the words, not understanding the gravity of the things said. The second one is that the words one uses can influence thoughts and, hence, behaviour. These two things can affect how the society is shaped and how we perceive things such as race and gender. To give you a better understanding of the issue, the following example can be given: the word “mankind”. Mankind has been used for centuries but it is not an inclusive word as it only includes one of the sexes whereas the word “humankind” is inclusive of both sexes. The effect of language on race and gender is a very broad topic so with this blog post, I will focus on a problem I see in metal music genre.
In music genres such as classical, pop and electronic, it may not be so easy to notice a difference in number of female and male musicians. However, as someone who has been listening to metal music all his adult life, I cannot say the same for this genre. Unfortunately, the metal scene is mostly dominated by men and the number of women in this scene is quite low. Since its inception, metal music has been associated with extremes such as Satanism and church burnings. These extremes thought to be default for metal music have been mostly untrue. However, this image created in the early 80s, even though changed, was not debunked completely. In many minds, it continued to stay as an extreme genre that does not play by the rules of mainstream music. Since even these days, most of the society attributes “tough” behaviour to men, metal music has been thought of as a men-based genre. This does not mean there aren’t any female metal musicians; there are plenty. However, as I said earlier, the number of women in metal is comparatively low with respect to their male peers. This leads to a phrase, which I and many female metal musicians find awkward and demeaning: female-fronted metal bands. The phrase “female-fronted metal bands” is used for bands with female singers. It is highly probable that the lack of female musicians leads to this categorisation but therein lie two problems.
The first one is a musical problem. As one can imagine, the metal genre is not made of one type of musical style. This means, there are subgenres of metal based on lyrics, vocals, instruments used and execution. Some of these subgenres are trash, death, black, symphonic, metalcore and progressive. From this logic, one should put together the idea that we shouldn’t lump together bands from different subgenres based on the gender of their front people. So, if we use the term female-fronted metal band, this means that we do not think musically, which is what we should do since we are talking about music, but on the contrary, we think based on the gender of the musician. Let me give you an example using two different music acts named Epica and Myrkur. Epica is a symphonic metal band, which uses guitars and drums along with classical instruments and choirs. Myrkur, on the other hand, is an atmospheric black metal act which uses folk instruments along with guitar and drums with singer utilizing both clean and shrieking vocals. It is clear that these two subgenres, and accordingly these two music acts, are different from each other based on the way they are making music. However, since both of them have female singers, they are put into the so-called category of “female-fronted metal bands”. As this example suggests, putting all subgenres into one category based on something like gender takes the attention away from the music and for a musician, it is not nice for the attention to be on your gender rather than the work you do.
The other problem is about equality. It is easy to guess that if a group of people are categorised based on their race, gender, religion, etc., they might be singled out as outliers, which eventually makes them as “the other”. This can lead to inequalities inside the community. In this specific case, it can lead to the thoughts that, as societal norms already wrongly suggest, metal music can be performed almost exclusively by men. It leads to the idea that a few women who are doing this type of music are just outliers in this music scene. The resulting thoughts also feed these norms making them stronger, which in turn, creates a vicious cycle.
In order to create an equal society, we have to be able to think of each detail and act on it. The way we use our language, as can be seen with this example, can affect the thoughts of individuals and, accordingly, the society, which then leads to more and more divide between people. The solution I would propose for this is that we should ignore the gender of the musician and categorise them only according to their (sub)genre. This way, we can start making a change in this music scene and start making a small step of change in our society.
Let’s head bang a bit and scream for equality!