On March 4, I took part in the San Pedro Armchair Art Walk. Following are the remarks I prepared on Women’s History Month, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Women Who Rock, and the problem with tokenism. You can watch the video with slideshow here. I was joined by two brilliant artists, Anne Daub and Monica Orozco.
I want to thank Linda Grimes, Sharyl Holtzman, and the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District for putting together this event. First Thursdays is one of my favorite things to do here in Pedro, and I can’t wait to be able to do it in person again: lobster rolls from the lobster truck, or sushi at Senfuku, wine and snacks and great art at Arnie and Ray’s gallery, all the galleries and restaurants and trucks and people. But I’m glad we have this to tide us over until those good times return.
Like all of us I’m sure, I have mixed feelings about Women’s History Month, because of course, half of the planet should get more than 1/12th of the year. But the fact is, we don’t. Women, like people of color, get disproportionately ignored the other 11 months of the year, so we better shout our achievements every second of the month of March, and keep shouting until it’s women’s history year, decade, century and millennium.
Interestingly, 1/12th is almost exactly the fraction of artists who are women who have been inducted into the rock’n’roll hall of fame since it was founded in 1986. It’s actually less than that: 7.63 percent. These appalling figures are why we need recuperative efforts such as Women’s History Month, or books about Women Who Rock: To set the record straight by shining a spotlight on the legions of women who get left out of the institutions, the history books, the archives, the museums, the playlists, the algorithms. Uplifting female musicians has been a mission for me ever since I was just a kid and heard Patti Smith singing about the sea of possibilities and Poly Styrene shouting Oh bondage, up yours! I created this book to celebrate what I call this rhythm movement, a century of female artists making great, glorious, gutsy music – some of them in the rock hall, most of them not. I hired dozens of women writers and artists to create portraits of these sheroes in words and in ink; here are a few examples . If you want to buy this book, it’s available here in Pedro at the Corner Store and the shop next door to it as well as the Cabrillo Aquarium Gift shop. And of course on Amazon.
But it’s important not just to celebrate women, but also to continually point out the way they are systematically disenfranchised, ignored, abused, and silenced by a male-dominated society and its institutions. We can’t stop with the ghettoization of dedicated history months; we need to be heard every month. That’s why for 10 years, in multiple articles, wielding statistics, graphs, historic examples, and suggested solutions, I have been documenting the Rock Hall’s abominable gender record. And I’m happy to say that in 2021, they listened, and acted. Women make up almost a quarter of the nominees announced last month, which granted, is not parity – but it’s three times better than 7.63 percent. Of course, these nominees – including Kate Bush, Mary J. Blige, and the Go-Go’s — have to get inducted. And the rock hall has 34 years of manhandling music history to make up for: the fact that every inductee gets a vote skews the rock hall voting body male. If every female act nominated – and only those acts – were inducted, the total percentage of women in the hall would rise more than one percentage point, to 8.73 percent – slightly more than 1/12th. That’s the best case scenario. In 2020, only one woman was inducted, Whitney Houston. As Janet Jackson said in 2019, Induct more women.
The industry, press, hall of fames, and history books have a long legacy of treating women musicians like shit. And they are increasingly getting called out on it. In 1994, the Grammys temporarily dropped the Best Female Rock Vocal category because they couldn’t think of any women to nominate for it – no PJ Harvey, no Ani Difranco, no Melissa Etheridge, no Kristin Hersh. A group called Strong Women in Music protested that year. In 2018, the Grammys were denounced for their failure to award women artists. When the Recording Academy president responded women need to “step up” to the plate – as if it was women’s fault their work was being shafted – he was forced to step down. This year, all the nominees in the Best Rock Performance category are female or female-fronted. That’s progress, and it’s progress caused not by women stepping up, but by women speaking up and demanding change.
So in March, we celebrate history, her story, our stories, but now and all year, we must also march, and protest, and demand not just our 8 percent, but our 50 percent. In the rock halls, in the history books, on the airwaves, on the streaming services, in our ears and in our hearts.