Gender Distorting Genre Distorting Gender: Exploring Women's Rock Musicking Practices in Contemporary Portugal
Alberto, Rita Sofia Grácio
Date: 15 December 2017
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in Sociology
This work explores the everyday uses of rock music by women rock musicians, fans and DJs (amateurs), in a specific place (Portugal) and time (1990s-2014). Drawing on the work in the two main fields of music sociology and gender studies and its performative perspective to both gender and music (but also taking contributions from ...
This work explores the everyday uses of rock music by women rock musicians, fans and DJs (amateurs), in a specific place (Portugal) and time (1990s-2014). Drawing on the work in the two main fields of music sociology and gender studies and its performative perspective to both gender and music (but also taking contributions from techno-feminist studies, science and technology studies, sociology of work, leisure and sports), this research takes a ‘music-in-action’ approach. This approach understands music as a social activity, as a network of connections between people, materials, discourses and activities. Rock music is best understood as a genre-in-action (not just as a semiotic text or reflection), as socio-material practice, in its collective, relational, performative, situated contexts of use - as rock musicking. As such, there are socio-material processes that constrain and enable women (as a minority group) doing and being in a masculinist rock music world. Taking a ‘mutual shaping’ approach to genre and gender, this research also takes into account how people use aesthetic materials in the processes of performative gendered identity making and relationship with others, as well as world building. The data consists of sixty in-depth interviews with Portuguese rockers (between 2012 and 2014), and supplementary field observations and follow-up interviews. The research found that girls and women’s musical opportunities are more restricted, but that they are also actively negotiated. Parental support and the presence of rock fathers in early years, as well as participation in male networks – whether or not a woman is romantically involved with ‘one of the boys’ – throughout the life course are pathways into rock musicking, as documented in other studies. Adding to the literature, this research highlights how not only in early years, but throughout the life course, rock musicking practices are dependent upon specific aesthetic (musical and visual) gender performances. From female masculinity to alternative femininities, rock music and its visual and material cultures are ‘active ingredients’ in doing and undoing gender. In Portugal, the absence of a strong riot grrrl movement and the lack of female/feminist networks, turns membership in male bands the norm. Consequently, either the “girl in the band’ or girl/female bands have to deal with their ‘novelty’ value. These rockers negotiate the labels of riot grrrl, feminist and grunge within a ‘girl power’ discourse, but mostly, struggling not to let their musical skills and value be obscured by their sex/ualization – developing high standards of musicianship, managing on-stage bodily disclosure, naming and praising their peers, aligning with an Anglo-Saxon rock female canon, but also othering female fans. In male bands, due to male skill ascription, women are segregated into traditional female musical roles, the singer, the bass player. On the other hand, women drummers get token value. At the expenses of instrument specialization, women undertake multi-instrumental pathways. Becoming musical agile selves and re-valuing (traditionally female) musical roles, playing conventions and body techniques. Women also appropriate mixers to spread their love for rock music. These women creatively expand rock music’s material culture, crafting it with clothes, acessories and even food. For rockers who are mothers, rock musicking becomes a technology of mothering. Taking Portuguese women rockers and their socio-musical practices, at both the everyday level and on the “spectacular” rock stage, this research adds to the international and growing body of work on gender and (rock) music across different disciplinary fields (sociology, popular music studies, feminist studies). It extends the traditional focus within popular music scholarship on Anglo-American rock culture, feminist mo(ve)ments, and subcultures, to place emphasis instead on an age group and place that has otherwise been overlooked.
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