The Gender Gap In Heavy Metal Journalists

Hello and welcome to the beginning of a brand new work week. There is a major holiday stateside this week, but that is in no way slowing our efforts to bring you every bit of information you need in order to conquer the modern music industry. For today’s post, we are running a guest blog from seasoned metal writer Lauren Wise about the gender gap in today’s hard rock journalism scene. If you have any questions about developing as a writer/blogger in music, please do not hesitate email and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, a vocalist, a fan or a journalist; if you’re a chick in metal I can guarantee at some point in time you’ve heard the question: “why are you here?”

Women’s role in heavy metal music is rooted deeply in mystery, lust and temptation; the one thing that could overcome a male’s self-control. Immediately this has made us women either sexually objectified or looked down upon as not able to understand heavy metal music. The misogyny that runs wild in the scene since Black Sabbath days will never disappear. 

But even though women have to work twice as hard to be accepted on some levels, things have come a long way since the 1960s. As stated in one of my favorite books, “Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music” by Robert Walser, “Heavy metal revolves around identification with power, intensity of experience, freedom and community.” 

Women and men slam through the same mosh pits and can belt the same guttural screams from stage. Women who thrive on heavy metal often dash the normal idea of femininity; you’re more likely to see her in an Exodus t-shirt at a show rather than in a bikini on Instagram. She might go to the mall on occasion; but it will only be to refill her corpse paint supply at Sephora. And she can usually drink more whiskey than you and is totally fine that her hair is dreaded out after headbanging. 

However, there’s always going to be an undercurrent of male chauvinism, along with guys who feel that there’s no reason to have women on tour unless they are there to have sex. 

Well, when I’m there, it’s for a job. I’m a journalist and heavy metal columnist. Some of the musicians I interview and review may be cute, yeah; but I’ve never once been tempted to have any type of interaction with them on that level. Serious women journalists know that if you ever once put yourself in that position, you will never be treated with any respect. 

I established a rule for myself a long time ago: It’s of the upmost importance to keep myself (somewhat) collected, professional and, for lack of a better word, indifferent when dealing with the musicians in person. Sure, when I was 18, interviewing local bands comprised mostly of my friends, we would hash out music philosophy over a bottle of Jack Daniels. But times changed quickly when I realized that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a woman in the heavy metal business, I had to make it clear that my intentions were always purely professional. 

When I was 12-years-old listening to Pantera and Metallica in my bedroom, I would’ve never believed it if someone told me I’d eventually interview Phil Anselmo and speak with Lars Ulrich one day. As a child I competed in classical piano competitions, reveling in compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Vivaldi. These composers that led me to heavy metal, are the very same composers that helped spawn the genre’s best guitarists. I graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, and for a decade I’ve built my career and I’ve been blessed to interview other influential figures, including Alice Cooper, Tom Araya, Buzz Osborne, Zakk Wylde, Al Jourgensen, Corey Taylor, Dani Filth, and James “Munky” Shaffer. 

I’ve also spoken to many women on the issue of gender in heavy metal. It’s a never-ending fight for females, from Joan Jett to Wendy O, Otep to Angela Gossow, Maria Brink and the Butcher Babies’ Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd. The latter two and I have had extensive conversations about their struggle as attractive female metal musicians. In short, it’s a no-win situation: you’re going to get shit for something, whether you’re not attractive enough, too attractive, wear too little clothing, wear too much clothing. If you’re a fantastic musician, fans tend to pick you apart even more closely than your male counterparts. Sometimes, the same goes for womens’ roles elsewhere in the genre. 

The majority of professionals I work with in heavy metal are woman, and damn good at what they do. Women take a lot of risks putting their opinion and knowledge out into the world of heavy metal, and I’ve personally been discriminated against for it: I’m too young, I’m a woman, I don’t like enough black metal. Hell, I’ve even had people say that because I’m a Christian I can’t fully appreciate the depth of different metal genres. 

While we can say that the gender gap continues to close, I can’t help but wonder… why is it that a majority of established women heavy metal journalists are still treated differently than males? Is the stigma of “girls are backstage only for one reason” really that hard to shake?  

After being backstage enough for show reviews and interviews, it’s easy to spot the groupies; mostly because they portray themselves that way. Plus, word spreads quickly between dudes. They gossip more than women; I swear.  But even though I can throw on my Chucks, torn jeans and Led Zep t-shirt, hold some conversations with a member of the band about work, and show zero sexual interest—I’m still be seen as competition for these girls. 

In 2013, a certain bad-ass third generation musician toured through Phoenix. As a heavy metal writer it appealed to me because this particular artist was known for bringing a healthy dose of metal into his repertoire. One of my favorite PR companies was handling the tour, and when I went to will call my press pass read “all access.” That wasn’t really common for my press passes, but who was I to question the logic? 

My photographer for the show was a girlfriend of mine whose full-time job was in managing production crews and VIP events for a major concert production company. A few songs into the show, we headed to watch from side stage and get a feel for the environment. Surprisingly, we were the only people back there. In a flash, a big burly guy approached us, demanding to know who we were. I showed him our passes and explained that I was reviewing the show. Skeptically, he questioned if we had made or stolen the passes. Finally he gave up, and returned a few minutes later with the musician’s road manager and guitar tech, who proceeded to try and feed us booze and joints in abundance. Finally we slipped away from the conversation that had turned from light-hearted banter to coaxing and creepy. We literally snuck out of backstage in order to enjoy the show. 

Half the time I go to shows I am greeted with skepticism that I’m on the “press list.” One time, a security guard didn’t even look at the list. I reiterated that I was reviewing the show, and finally he sighed, looked at the list and was surprised to see my name. When I asked him why he was so defiant, he said that there have been girls in the past that say that and are just trying to get into the show. Okay; well that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to do your job. 

There have even been times where a musician didn’t want to be interviewed in person by a female journalist. I can only assume that this is because they themselves don’t want to cause any issue for a girlfriend or wife, and it’s just a personal rule. This type of situation is rare, but still astounds me. Nothing can be more frustrating for a writer then trying to build a career on talent and knowledge, with the double whammy of having to prove oneself as a woman. I believe in my craft, but there are times I have to force certain thoughts out of my head: Am I here because I’m talented, or because there’s an inkling in a guy’s mind that he might get laid? 

For example: I have a male friend; a very talented writer; who began writing professionally about a year ago. In that time span, he has hung out with more of the musicians he’s interviewed far more often than I have. They invite him on the bus for a beer and a shot, accepting him immediately as one of the guys. He’s never seen as a threat. But when I get an invite to meet an artist for drinks or lunch, I’m left wondering if my acceptance is going to be read into as a flirtation. 

In the end, my goal has always been to show society the positive intelligence of the heavy metal genre.  All I can do is help increase the credibility and visibility of female heavy metal journalists; and one day, it truly won’t matter if you’re a musician, a vocalist, a fan or a journalist. As long as you’re a chick passionate about metal and loving the music, there won’t be any questions about why you’re there. 

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.