Tag Archive: Feminism

staff card pic_200x300A Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

The Problem With the Music Industry: Where Women Fear to Tread…

By Denigrata Herself, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music and Contributing Writer, HorizonVU Music


Anybody who has read the above link (if you haven’t, please do) will be as shocked as I was at the content. I AM shocked, but not at all surprised. Whilst this is a different genre than the one I’m involved with, there are glaringly frightening parallels…10 Hottest Women in Rock or Metal or Indie…what does it matter what the genre is?! Why is this even a thing?! There is a system in place that protects abusers whilst the women who have to deal with shitty behaviour are often too scared to speak out (Dr Luke, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Saville, that Saudi millionaire who said he tripped and fell into a girl’s vagina http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/12/saudi-millionaire-rape-charge.html# ). Will we lose our jobs, will we get punched in the face or worse, will we lose everything we have worked for?

Simply put, the music industry has a serious problem with sexism and misogyny, anyone who has been following the Kesha situation can see that. Our society is engineered to believe men, to listen to men and to protect and defer to them. There is a terrible and very damaging ethos to not listen to women or believe them. It is systemic, it is institutional and it’s a massive fucking problem. I was stunned that Sony chose to hide behind their ‘contractual obligations’, rather than realise they are protecting a rapist. How can they be ok with this?! Sony, if any of you happen to read this, WHAT THE FUCK?! Seriously, what on earth do you think you’re doing? A woman should be free to have creative control over her art, without having to deal with her abuser. And yes, the clatter of the keyboard warriors shouting ‘what if she’s lying?!’ Because that’s easier isn’t it? To blame the victim rather than open your eyes to the far greater problem of a systemic and very well protected masculinist structure.

Honestly, I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of women being assaulted, of not being listened to, women not being believed and women having to prove themselves before anyone will take them seriously. We have to prove our musical worth, our academic worth and also be willing to play the sexualisation game. I just want to be me, play the music I love and not have to worry about being targeted at a gig or to worry for the women who come to the shows. At some point, men are going to need to step up. As Eve Ensler says. I’m tired of good men doing nothing.

It is far too easy to say ‘but I’m not like that, I don’t behave like that or treat women badly’ but when you look at the stats (97% of rapists receive no punishment, 1 in 3 women are murdered a week by a current or former spouse – here is a link to some more stats – http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/06/us/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-fast-facts/ ), then we have a very serious problem on our hands. In short, this is femicide and as provocative as this term is, we cannot shut our eyes to it anymore.

The following diagram demonstrates, in an echo Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, how something as throw away as a joke contributes to the damaging culture we are forced to exist within.
The Pyramid of Misogyny
The moment you start to debase someone through language, you start to chip away at their humanity. The more you objectify women (yes, dear Media, this rests with you), the more you turn women into objects. And when that happens, you can treat those objects any way you like, because they are nothing, they are worthless.

The hegemony’s job is to reproduce its own structures and ideologies consistently, so it gives the impression of an institution in perpetuity, that ‘it’s always been like this’. No. It hasn’t. And it needs to stop. Women should not have to worry about their safety because they are musicians, or journalists or audience members, or WOMEN. We are reaching a crisis point that will mean there is either a revolution or there will be no women left. At a rate of 1 in 3 women murdered a week that is precisely the direction we are heading in.

I am done with patriarchy, I am done with men not willing to step up and I am done with women who internalise the misogyny. Wake the fuck up. The time is now.

FEMINISTS VS. FEMINISTS So You’re a Celebrity Who Calls Yourself a Feminist. Now What? [Reposted from The Cut]

By Ann Friedman

February 25, 2016
1:21 p.m.


It’s been less than a week since Kesha became a celeb-feminist cause célèbre. On Friday, a New York court ruled that the glitter-strewn pop star would not be released from her contract with Sony — despite her insistence that producer Dr. Luke assaulted and abused her.

Famous feminists swung into action. Over the weekend, Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha. Kelly Clarkson, Fiona Apple, and Lady Gaga tweeted their support. Sky Ferreira ’grammed herself with a poster that read, “Kesha, I am so angry for you. They were wrong.” And then there was Demi Lovato, who tweeted “Take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about something and then I’ll be impressed.”

Swift’s fans cried foul, interpreting the tweet as a swipe at her hefty donation. On Instagram, Lovato clarified, “I didn’t shade Taylor… I’m just tired of seeing women use ‘women empowerment’ and ‘feminism’ to further brands without actually being the ones that have the uncomfortable conversations.” She later added, “All I want to see is women coming together and making a difference.” (Lovato, for the record, supports a dozen or so causes, most notably mental health and addiction, and recently met with the White House drug czar. You’ll have to decide based on your own feminist politics whether you feel she’s advancing the cause of “women empowerment.”)

This exchange was familiar to many non-famous feminists. Most of us have had our values, actions, or intentions challenged by someone who fundamentally agrees with us — a conflict that arises not in spite of the fact that we all embrace the feminist label, but because we do. I’d like to welcome pop stars to the wonderful world of low-key intra-feminist fighting. Most of us who call ourselves feminists have very different ideas about what that means in practice. It’s a natural consequence of feminism being an ideology rather than a formal organization whose members share agreed-upon tenets. Things get complicated quickly. Some feminists would even quibble with Lovato’s implied definition of feminism as centrally about “women empowerment,” preferring to prioritize a bigger concept like “gender justice” instead.

The stakes are higher for celebrity feminists, though. Their words and actions are closely tracked—which I’m sure feels restrictive at times, but also translates to more power. They’re the faces of charitable causes, the financial forces behind campaigns, and headline-makers who can attract media attention by merely walking to buy a latte. We all make decisions that contradict our beliefs in little ways, but celebrities are more subject to criticism for their missteps. Sure, I might listen to “Blurred Lines” in private, but I’ve never had to decide whether to rub my butt up against Robin Thicke on national TV. With great power comes great responsibility, as they say.

“It’s been disturbing to see how much blowback Demi Lovato got for her tweets because I think she was right on,” says Andi Zeisler, author of the forthcoming book We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. “If you’re going to be all about female empowerment, it’s not always going to be cute. It’s not always going to be convenient. For the most part, feminist celebrities are engaging with feminism not as an ethic that is complex and evolving, but as this static brand identity.”

Over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable uptick in celebrities talking about feminism. At the 2014 VMAs we watched Beyoncé power-pose in front of the word “FEMINIST.” That same year, we listened to Emma Watson address the UN about gender inequality. We heard Miley Cyrus’s proclamation that she was “one of the biggest feminists.” Even some famous men have embraced the term. Fashion magazines run features like “25 Inspiring Women Who Changed the Face of Feminism” alongside links to articles about “diet pills that work.” By now, the label is mainstream. But, as Lovato seemed to be asking, what about the politics that go along with it?

I’m not interested in the inevitable beef over “who is the real feminist.” I’m not interested in making sure all celebrity women embrace the label or live their beliefs in a specific way. I love that it is cool for celebs to speak up in defense of women. And I agree with Roxane Gay that stars like Taylor Swift are more like brand ambassadors who provide soft introductions to feminism, not the movement itself. But at what point is the mainstream feminist conversation sophisticated enough that we start expecting more from people who embrace the label? And what does “more” look like?

Perhaps it looks like old-fashioned political activism. It’s easy to tweet #FreeKesha. It’s harder to educate yourself about the policies that harm domestic violence survivors in your state, and to use your fame or wealth to demand your legislator improve them. This week, Lena Dunham penned a vociferous defense of Kesha in Lenny Letter, connecting the singer’s plight to that of non-famous abuse victims who struggle to keep their jobs and houses. She also praised the chorus of celebrities supporting the singer. “It wasn’t long ago that women in the public eye didn’t have a loose-enough leash to reach out and support one another, for fear of losing all they had worked so hard to create,” wrote Dunham. “Instead they quietly watched on their televisions, hoping they wouldn’t be next. Those days are over. They are fucking done.”

Indeed, thanks to social media and a generally more feminist culture, they’re free to speak up. But those celebrities still have to work within industries renowned for their sexism and racism. After Watson’s much-lauded 2014 UN speech, the actress’s next role was announced: She would play Belle in an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast — a Disney-fied fairy tale about a kidnapped woman who falls in love with her brutish captor. “How deep can celebrity feminism really go if it has to stop short of interrogating the systems that create cultural products that are influential?” Zeisler asks. If Dunham is to be believed, individual celebrities have more freedom than ever to speak out about injustices within their industries. But one also has to assume that there is still some price to be paid for calling attention to predatory producers or racist casting choices. Watson hasn’t said much about stepping into the historically fraught role of a Disney princess, but some of her fans made the feminist leap for her. “There is no doubt that this adaption of Beauty and the Beast will portray Belle as a powerful, strong, independent woman,” wrote an optimist at Bustle. I suppose we’ll see for ourselves soon enough.

As the stigma of the feminist label fades, we’re at a turning point. The mainstream press is less interested in who’s calling herself a feminist, and has turned its attention to infighting, like the perceived squabble between Swift and Lovato. Bobby Finger, who blogs about tabloids for Jezebel and co-hosts the Who? Weekly podcast, says that when you see feminism pop up in Us Weekly or InTouch, “it typically happens only if there’s a feud about feminism between two women.” His co-host Lindsey Weber adds, “It’s turned into FEMALE vs. FEMALE with ‘feminism’ coming into play when they don’t agree. Or when they ‘subtweet’ each other.”

Celebrities’ task — and ours — is to turn the conversation toward questions of action. How does feminism inform their professional choices? What does feminism look like in their daily lives? What specific issues or problems are they actively working to solve, and how is that work influenced by feminism? We’re watching the first generation of mainstream-famous feminists figure out how to live their politics in real time. Of course it’s going to be conflicted and messy, heavy on the rhetoric and light on the action. That’s how it was for me as a newly minted feminist, and I’m grateful that there is no tweet-trail of my evolution. But if there were, it would include prompts — not unlike Demi Lovato’s — from friends and mentors who encouraged me not only to think deeper about my politics, but to act on them decisively.

A Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

4 0ctober 2014

Mastodon and the Meat Market: how the mighty have fallen

Metal has always defined itself in antagonism to the mainstream, and consequently does not speak from inside it. It has sat on the margins, the periphery, and created itself a space to critique the symbolic order. It has used philosophy, bigotry, consumerism, politics and other concerns in its art, its lyrical form and video. As such, metal has always strived to embody a different way of doing things, not always successfully but it is widely acknowledged that it is different from the mainstream. As a result, its acolytes also embody a different ideological perspective and these issues together, manifest a space that is freer to create, to be, to exist.

This has often meant that the rebellious human spirit has found a welcome home in metal, allowing like minds to forge a path that is not prescribed by the hegemony, that is more open and free thinking. This is certainly one of the reasons I love metal. It is the musical form, the ideological position and that space for self-expression that has supported my evolution as a person, as a woman and as a musician.

As with any music genre, as it has grown, certain specifics that were once archetypes become embedded as ‘the way to do things’ in metal. Sometimes these are not particularly helpful, such as the patriarchal, white demography of the music but existing inside this, is arguably a less constructed space than we find in mainstream hegemonic society. As I was growing up, I found this mainstream a too prescriptive place to exist. I was not prepared to be a palimpsest, to have my own narrative rewritten by society because I was expected, through socialisation, to be one kind of woman only. My ontology was more expansive. So, metal became my home, as a fan and eventually as an extreme metal performer.

We become astute in gauging what constitutes metal, musically and aesthetically. Precisely because we position ourselves in antagonism to the mainstream, we have defined ourselves accordingly. When a signifier presents as ‘un-metal’ we are pretty quick in identifying it and analysing it. This can be a riff or a vocal style or it can be how a band looks and their how their artwork somehow fails to embody metal principles. Perhaps I am being too generous but I hope not.

Through my own developing feminist ontology, I have always worked very hard at being an extreme metal guitarist and vocalist. You have to if you’re going to be good, gain respect for your art and carve out a space for your own performance. I am still doing this, ten years later. Whilst there is sexism in metal, that I tackle as much as I am able, it is a sexism that is more readily identifiable than the complexities of the mainstream and therefore, for me, it is a more tangible realm to navigate. However…sometimes metal fucks up, gets misdirected for any number of reasons and sets us back.

It is also important for me to say this: my feminism, my ontology and my way of being a woman is no more or less important than anyone else’s. Women should be free to do anything they want and to engage with their bodies, with society and music however they wish. That is my feminism. So to see women twerking in Mastodon’s video is actually not my problem. My problem is women being objectified for the purpose of selling a song. My problem, to break it down even further, is ethnic women dancing within a white male context for white male pleasure. That to me is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable because metal knows better than to be so lazy, stereotypical and trite.

So it comes as a surprise to no-one except perhaps Mastodon, that their new video for ‘The Motherload’ has poked a bear. That is, a fucking angry feminist bear that would rather take a shit in the woods than have to endure watching that video again. It has also riled the metal community because we have a history of trying to be different from the mainstream, rather than riding on any trending coat tails that happen to be fashionable at any given moment. But before we all get riled up in a swarthy social media hot mess, let us examine the evidence…

The video begins in a typically Mastodon artistic style, where one can easily read the symbology of the white man bent double under the weight of a huge bell, chiming the death knells for our existence. Are we being primed for an existential engagement within a musical context? Well, this is certainly where it seems to be going. There is an obvious Western religious engagement here, with an apple and a man reaching for the forbidden fruit which is nothing new for metal but interesting nonetheless. Metal has never been the shy or retiring genre unwilling to engage with grand theory, religious dogma and philosophy. The band is playing and something is scratching at the corners of my mind although I’m unsure just what it is yet…

Then boom, at 45 seconds in, as the man carrying the bell, who we encouraged through the positioning of the camera, to identify with, walks behind a line of ethnic women twerking. Wait, what?! I rewind the video just to double check what I’m seeing and low I am greeted by lyrca-clad female bodies thrusting. As the video progresses, the song meanders along and the twerking bottoms dominate not only the screen but the space for the song itself. I am unsure what exactly I’m being encouraged to give my attention to. I thought it was supposed to be the music…

There appears to be some kind of competitive twerk-off, the band obviously debated whether or not the psychedelic fractals should disappear crevice-wise and decided against it (because that would have been too much right?!), everyone hugs and then presumably goes home for a nice cup of tea. So what is it exactly that is troubling me? Well, a number of things as it goes. Let us focus on the music first. Now I’m not sure at what point over the last couple of years I began to realise that Mastodon, that mighty, hungry and well-respected band who released some game changing albums and reinvigorated metal by infusing it with energy, seriously good fucking riffs and THOSE DRUMS faded to what I now see before me. I have seen them live, bought their albums, learnt the whole of Remission and Leviathan on the guitar because I was fucking entranced by their song writing and not that it is possible to always write the same music for a entire career but there is one vital thing I have to question with this song – intent. Did they feel that compulsion to write this? Did they wake up at 3 in the morning with that burning inspiration? What is the drive behind this because quite frankly the song sounds like a young, newly formed band who really really want to sound like Mastodon but aren’t good enough at their stagecraft yet. I’m not criticising the playing, I am however criticising the composition. Why is intent so important I hear you ask? Well I’ll tell you. You cannot force the creative process. You cannot paint, for example, if you do not want to and whilst the pressures of being in a band with labels requesting you stick to a release schedule, you cannot compromise your art, particularly if you have such an impressive back catalogue like Mastodon. There are a great many bands who have managed to strike a balance between song writing and label concerns. However, what I see with ‘The Motherload’ is a band grown bloated on their success, so much so that the hunger seems to have been sated. The riff, whilst it has echoes of their previous contrapuntal style, seems like it is missing the passion and whilst there is nothing wrong with common time 4/4 drumming, it seems like the lazy option for such an accomplished performer. If you can write like Bach for example, why would you choose to write like One Direction…

Consequently the song comes across as bland, it is boring and even the band look bored playing it. So one begins to wonder, is this why there are twerkers? To detract from the banality of the song? To refocus the audience to not pay that much attention to a half-arsed bit of writing?

And so to consider the function of power differentials in the video. To tackle the twerking first seems to make the most sense. Let me be perfectly clear – I have no problem with twerking. It is not for me to have a problem with twerking because women can do what they like. I don’t know a lot about the cultural intricacies of twerking but I do know about metal and there is a race dichotomy to apply here – twerking is black and metal is white. Now what is the most incongruous part of this video is precisely its inclusion in a predominantly white male popular music video. It is not an intrinsic part of metal culture and women do not, generally speaking perform like this in metal videos. Instead, we are usually relegated to poles, strippers and other simply fabulously objectifying practices so race and diaspora aside, women are no better off in terms of our representation. However, why Mastodon have agreed to cultural misappropriation in this video is what we should be questioning. The video looks like two separate genres squashed together and whilst there is nothing inherently bad about this, in fact I rather relish the collision, this is a really bad example of how to do it. Like when Fear Factory tried to ‘do techno’. Nope. It’s shit. Stop it.

It is important to acknowledge some glaringly obvious and tired gender binaries that this video enshrines and perpetuates. We have a typically white male band, invested with their own agency, performing at the apex of masculinity, with autonomy and independence. Nothing new there right? Male – subject. We then have ethnic female dancers (yes, classically trained according to http://sexpoleandmma.tumblr.com/post/98998006844/mastodonopinion and how wonderful that is! Better that than a bunch of women just falling over their own, er, arses). The women in this video are performing for men – for the band and for the fans. And the assumption is that the fans are all male. Oh right, but I am a fan, what about me? How is this video hailing me? How is it interpellating me? The simple fact is that it isn’t. It isn’t acknowledging me as a female fan at all, unless I am to look at the wobbling bottoms, at Mastodon’s suggestion, as a paragon of female agency? I think not. So, annoyingly, we have female – object. How very boring. How reductive, irritating and boring.

Now also according to this blog, all the women were treated really nicely, were respected and made to feel welcome. Well, good, I’m glad about this but what were they expecting exactly? What preconceptions of metal did they harbour for them to be pleasantly surprised by their good treatment?! News flash – this is how human beings are supposed to be treated. Don’t be surprised by it, expect it! Why shouldn’t you be treated well?! Were you expecting to be treated like meat? Like objects? I wonder…Another issue that comes up in the blog is the acknowledgement of the women’s good education, as if this fact is meant to counter the use of their reified bodies in the video. Oh you’re all really well educated and doing PhDs?! How phenomenally useful that is because that really comes across in the video. That arse in my face and I’m thinking, oh I bet her Cultural Theory will be applicable here so she can deconstruct just how many fucking layers of subjugation this functions on…Barthes would be proud. If the twerking in this video were meant as some kind of rebuttal (boom!) at white women doing it (ahem, Miley!) then I really think Rihanna nailed it in her video for ‘Pour It Up’. That surely was the end of that particular ownership argument.

But I hear the clatter of keyboard warriors caps lock shouting ‘but they were paid to do it!’ and yes indeed, they were and they did a fine job. It is not with the twerkers that I find the problem. It is with Mastodon and the patriarchal structure of metal. Dearest boys, you have been lazy in assuming this video would pass as something nearing even ok metal standards, particularly given your previous excellence. Resorting to cultural misappropriation, sexism, racism and the promotion of tired power differentials to carry a shadow of your former glory is not going to wash. Dom Lawson’s piece in The Guardian this week identified some of this rather well.

And no, ethnic women twerking for white men is just not ok because white men are the rule makers and controllers. They are the hegemony. They are the ones in power. For those who do not fit this remit, we are the marginalised, the other, the culturally disenfranchised. So simply by having the big three, race, gender and class in one video, Mastodon have managed to fuck up everything they may have wished their video to convey. That is of course, unless what they wanted to say was ‘white male musicians are the best, black women are there to be objectified and exocitised and their arses are more important than their right to agency and we’re better than everyone else because we’re men with guitars’ then yeah. Great. Well done. I’m impressed.

Mastodon, you could have done something great here but instead you have opted for this. Girls, I’m jolly glad you all had a smashing time and were treated like human beings coz ya know, we all belong, but just spare a moment for the women in metal who work fucking hard based on our musical abilities, not the cultural and sexual currency of our naked arses. Given the patriarchal structure of not only metal, but the music industry in general, it is important that women occupy space for themselves, not to be used in the means of production to sell white male music to other white males.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com

google-site-verification: google0eca8f6b62d9ec8d.html