Alternative Girls

What music do you listen to?

How are girls represented in your favorite songs?  

Have you ever thought about it?

Alternative Girls considers the impact that girls and women have had on current and past music scenes and the alternative ways of viewing themselves that their work has made possible. Looking beyond the front-woman of the music stage, we explore the work of women behind the scenes in the music industry in the male dominated roles of sound technicians, promoters, and CEOs. You will glimpse into the public and private worlds of the alternative music scene and the different ways of viewing our experiences as girls and women through one of the most powerful cultural products: music.

We highlight women from across the world for whom music is a passion and a career, from promoters to photographers, academics to sound technicians. While female artists have always provided female audiences new ways of thinking about their experiences and lives, much of the behind-the-scenes production remains dominated by men. As part of Alternative Girls, we brought together these different voices and experiences to provide a space for exploring what it means to be a girl or a woman in terms of making, appreciating, sharing and experiencing music.

We hope this exhibition introduces you to new musical heroines, from the stage and beyond.

Meet the Alternative Girls

There are female singers and musicians in all genres, from hip-hop to classical. These women have inspired and continue to inspire girls across the world, many of them breaking out from the traditional expectations of girls to be quiet or well behaved, tidy or pretty in pink. They have re-imagined what it means to be a woman and shown what girls with a passion for music can achieve.

The histories of music have been written down and made into numerous films and television programmes, yet many of these either ignore female musicians or only offer one or two examples. Even the presenters seem to be all men! Our timeline shows only a fragment of all the amazing women who have changed the world of music forever. We think it’s crazy to leave them out!

To discover more women who have changed the face of music, check out our podcast on Women in Music History (March 2017):

We hope that you find someone new among these Alternative Girls, and that they inspire you to pick up an instrument, listen to some music, and to share your new discoveries with your friends.

Junior Girl Lauren Payton interviewed Portuguese hip-hop artist Capicua (aka Ana Matosfernandes).  Capicua’s music addresses sexism in the music industry and violence against women. Unlike many hip-hop artists in Portugal and around the world, Capicua raps in her native language rather than English, and includes regional slang in her work and exploring her identity as a Portuguese artist. Her song ‘Medusa tackles violence against women. Read on for an exclusive interview with Capicua!

This interview is presented in Portuguese, Capicua's native language.  To read the interview in English, view this PDF.

Capicua

(Image credit: Mário Pires)

Em qual momento que você poderia dizer que você tinha a certeza de que estava interessada no mundo musical? Como que você começou a se envolver nessa área?

Eu comecei a fazer graffitti com 15 anos e esse foi o meu primeiro contacto com a cultura Hip Hop. Comecei a frequentar as festas que havia na minha cidade, onde a "tribo" se encontrava e passei a ouvir Rap (sobretudo as bandas da minha cidade). O meu interesse foi crescendo progressivamente, primeiro como ouvinte de Rap e depois enquanto aprendiz de Rapper. Até que no final de 2004 resolvi fazer uma banda com uns amigos e tornei-me Rapper militante. Até hoje!

Porque que o rap em português é uma parte tão importante do seu ato?

Eu sempre gostei de palavras e a escrita revelou-se muito cedo como uma vocação. E portanto, quando descobri o Rap, tudo fez sentido e acabei por encontrar nele o veículo perfeito para a minha escrita. Com a música, as palavras chegam mais longe e têm mais impacto. Mas a origem de tudo é a palavra, o meu gosto e devoção pela palavra e sobretudo pela palavra em português. Eu amo a língua portuguesa e sou imensamente grata por tê-la como matéria-prima para a criação!

 

Quais são alguns obstáculos que você já teve que enfrenta como uma mulher em uma indústria que é normalmente dominada pelos homens?

Acho que nos primeiros anos é muito duro. Porque há uma desconfiança. Temos de provar que não estamos ali porque gostamos de Rappers, mas sim porque gostamos de Rap. Mas no meu caso, depois de passar pelos anos de afirmação e de ter provado que tinha mérito e dedicação ao Rap, o facto de ser mulher acabou por jogar a meu favor. Porque como há muito poucas mulheres no Rap, acabei por me destacar! Esse "exotismo" sempre me deu visibilidade e é sempre um bom pretexto para falar de feminismo e patriarcado.

Como que você lida com a misoginia que existe no mundo do rap?

Provando que se pode fazer diferente! Mostrando com o meu trabalho e a minha atitude que posso chegar longe com o meu Rap e que não preciso da aprovação dos meus pares para isso! As minhas conquistas são só minhas e isso só por si é um statement. Além disso faço questão de me mostrar sempre espontânea e orgulhosa do meu trabalho (duas coisas pouco estimuladas culturalmente nas mulheres).

Quais artistas musicais que você curti ouvir?

Gosto muito de ouvir música em Português. Desde Rap a Fado, passando pela música popular brasileira. Mas se tiver que destacar as minhas grandes influências diria que são: Amália, Laurin Hill, Erykah Badu, Sérgio Godinho, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Bob Marley e Dealema.

O que te inspira?

Tudo. Os livros, os filmes, as conversas, os sonhos, a vida em geral.

Que mensagem você tem para as meninas que aspiram a estar na música, particularmente o rap?

Sejam vocês próprias e façam a música que querem realmente fazer. Dá muito trabalho, mas é a única forma de nos divertirmos no processo.

(Viver para cumprir expectativas alheias é uma prisão). Muita força e boa sorte na missão!

 

The Girls in the Boys Club

by Katie Rochow

Katie Rochow is a music enthusiast, globetrotter and curious ethnographer who has lived, worked and studied in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and New Zealand.  She loves to read, think and write about music, people, cultures and places and is interested in visual research methods such as photography and map making.

Her presentation is featured at left.

She Shreds LogoShe Shreds

She Shreds magazine is the only print publication in the world dedicated to women guitarists and bassists. They want to change the way that these women are depicted in traditional music industry media forms and popular culture by ‘creating a platform where people can listen, see and experience what it means to be a woman who shreds’.  The ultimate goal is to break down barriers like gender and genre to support radicalism, respect and revolution.

There are regular sections of the magazine, like a historical ‘scene report’ that gives an overview of different musical genres. There is ‘The Legends section where notable female guitarists or bassists of the past are given the spotlight. These are mainly in biographical form with YouTube videos included in the website for the reader to listen to.  This fits alongside other content with a historical theme such as a piece on the fifty most influential guitarists who shaped the nineties, and another on the Kalamazoo Gals. The magazine also contains a regular slot for the “Gear Guide”. This featurette talks to current female musicians about guitars, music equipment, and their favourite gear. The rest of the magazine is filled with music harmony tips for beginners, song chords, and reviews of albums and music gear.

The publication is unique. It offers female musicians from all over the world the opportunity to discover more about fellow guitarists and bassists and celebrate them as they should be. Through the magazine, these key figures no longer fade out of sight. Magazine features carry numerous potent messages for readers as well. They shout out that women guitarists and bassists are equal to their male counterparts within the industry, and are just as talented. As Marissa Nadler says, “I’m a musician, not a female musician”.

Women in the Music Industry

What roles are available for women in the music industry?  What is it like to work in a field dominated by men? This is a common experience for women across a range of jobs in the music industry. The reasons are complex, but gender stereotypes and expectations play a part in the comparatively lower number of female music industry professionals, particularly in the management or technical sectors.

This section has been supported by Sound Women a network that encourages and promotes women in UK radio. In the UK, over half of radio employees are women, but men still hold most presenter and management positions. Sound Women supports its members and aims to help women get more out of working in radio, and to help the radio industry get more out of women.

Groups like as Sound Women are providing a supportive space for women in the music industry, and a network of people that encounter the same issues and want to change the industry. They work to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to develop their skills and move forward in their career, playing their part to highlight and address gender inequalities.

Mazzy SnapeMazzy Snape: Music PR and Events,  Birmingham (UK)

How did you get into music PR and events?

I was an avid record collector from a young age and one day a pal said to me, ‘You love music so much, why aren’t you in a band?’ I said that I have no musical talent, to which he replied ‘Start DJing then!’ And I thought, why not?! Although, at that time I didn’t know how!

The Sunflower Lounge was a new venue just opened and the owner gave me a chance and my first DJ set, he even showed me what to do. Later on, I started to put club nights on there, then I started doing weekly gigs at the Jug of Ale in Moseley, soon this escalated into bigger events, my networks grew and people started asking me to use my connections for other things such as marketing products and so on. It was all very natural progression.

What role has music played in your life (particularly girlhood)?

Music means everything to me, it has helped me get through tough times, and to celebrate the good times. It offers escapism, from boredom, from bad things going on personally or in the world at large. Just like working class northerners that started the Northern Soul scene off looking for something to relieve the boredom of factory work, I suppose.

Which female musicians have inspired you and why?

As a child I was a big Pretenders fan, I loved the music of course but there was something about Chrissie Hynde that had a massive appeal, she was the first female musician to really inspire me. Back then I didn’t know why. I absolutely loved Debbie Harry and Madonna but I kind of preferred the way Chrissie seemed one of the boys, like she was leading the gang rather than being out on her own. Both are incredible though.

Later PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Karen O and Beth Ditto all had a massive impact on me. I’ve always loved female musicians that pave their own path and really take control. On the flip side I have always loved what people commonly refer to as ‘Divas’, to me that’s soul and disco, incredible voices, over-the-top outfits and lipstick that’s practically dripping off their lips. Not all of them wrote their own songs, but they made a big impact. People like Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin.

Has your experience of the music industry been gendered?

Massively so. I’ve worked in the music industry for about 15 years and it is very male dominated/focused. DJing has resulted in endless comments such as ‘your boyfriend has some great records’ or ‘loved your boyfriends set’ as soon as a male companion stands next to me. On a good night it will be ‘oh wow a female DJ, well done love’, on a bad one a derogatory sexual comment.

I’ve also experienced sexism working in music venues, radio and so on. It’s not always men though, women can be sexist too, perhaps because of the society we have grown up in. Saying that, I have been helped and supported by others a lot, it’s not all bad! After all, the owner of the Sunflower Lounge gave me a chance to try out DJing.

What do you hope for in terms of the development of the music industry?

More women need to get involved so that other women don’t need to put up with the kind of sexism – and those women need to be supportive and encouraging of other women. Men need more educating too – some sexism I’ve encountered more recently has come from left wing men who think they are feminists, and that is very hard to address. It’s not enough to have women involved to make up the numbers – they need to be nurtured and encouraged to lead.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in music PR and events?  

Get work experience, even if it’s a few hours a week it will help with skills, knowledge and connections. Do your own thing, having your own enterprise/project whether it’s a promotion brand, PR, events agency or whatever – it looks so good for future employers and you will learn so much more being in control, just don’t take too many risks financially and use the guidance and support network you have around you. Former lecturers, work placement contacts, friends etc.

Go for clients / areas that you can really get behind, if you have an interest in hip hop then specialize in that area. Look at the competition, but don’t be obsessed by it, just do your thing and do it well and don’t present yourself in the same way as everyone else. You’re you and no one else, that’s the best thing you can sell.

Ruth BarnesRuth Barnes: Radio presenter/Podcast producer, London (UK)

How did you get into the music industry?

I am a radio presenter by trade. I started a show called The Other Woman, which supports female artists and female fronted bands as a means to tackle the disparity in the industry, what I have heard on radio playlists, and seen on festival bills. This way I’ve been a supporter of independent artists and labels as many women artists operate in the indie sector. I’ve seen artists I’ve supported go from being bedroom singers to playing festival stages, which is highly satisfying! You can’t underestimate the importance of media supporting the independent music industry; we need more people doing it. It in turn leads to a thriving live music scene and more great new music which eventually influences the mainstream pop market.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Creating a platform for female artists and female fronted bands from all genres. A place where they feel supported and encouraged to reach their full potential. As a radio presenter, my greatest achievement is presentign programmes on BBC Radio 4, about women in music. Also reporting live from Glastonbury Festival 2010 on BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC World Service at the same time; my biggest audience (millions!) by far!

What are your hopes for the future of the industry?

I hope that it diversifies further than simply male/female. We need to see many more kinds of people on stages around the country reflecting how diverse our population is. I’m not saying we need a complete end to well off white boys with guitars, but less of them would be much healthier! And the music press and journalists influence that. As more different kinds of people write about music, the more diverse the industry has to become.

Who within the music industry inspires you?

Without wanting to sound too cheesy, the artists I’ve supported. They are all artists who’ve battled with what it is the mainstream wants them to be and then have firmly pushed to do things their own way. Not an easy achievement when you’re often young and inexperienced. They are people who have trusted friends and family who support them no matter what, that’s hugely important too.

For more, follow @ruthbarnesmusic on Twitter!

TanyelTanyel Gumushan: Freelance Music Journalist, Birmingham/Leicester (UK)

How did you get into the music journalism?

When I was fourteen I made my own music blog, and named it after a song by The Smiths with a lame pun. I wanted to share all of the great songs I was coming across, and have an excuse to be nosy and ask the musicians some questions. From this I started writing for local publications and blogs, took up work placements and began building my contacts – that crucial word! I became the music editor of The National Student, and my confidence grew so I fired off emails to editors and picked up the phone with pitches. Now I am honoured to see my words, online and in print, in the likes of NME, DIY, Clash, tmrw, The 405 and Gigslutz.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

I’ll always remember sitting at my best friend’s house when we were thirteen, flicking through her older sister’s copies of NME and declaring that it was our bible to being cool. When I got my first piece commissioned by the magazine, I remember letting out a small yelp on the train. It’s those moments where all of the email refreshing pays off because somebody trusts that feeling you have when you love a song, and wants to share it. That, and holding a magazine with my cover story on the front!

What are your hopes for your future and the future of the industry?

I hope to graduate with a degree in Media and Communication (Music Industries), and continue writing alongside work with the campaign that I’m working on, BAND ON!. I’m currently trying to encourage young people to engage with music and make the live music industries a safer place for them, and for venues. It uses the standardised wristband routine that exists at live music events in the UK, but involves the use of different coloured bands to signify the age of a gig-goer to discourage underage drinking and the use of fake ID – putting the focus back on the music, and venues’ safety. The campaign captures my hope for the future of the music industries where more young people support and engage with local music and collaborate creatively. I’d love to take all that I’ve learned in my experiences to work in digital marketing at a record label, where I can offer guidance, creativity and my crazed social media addiction.

Who within the music industry inspires you?

The pop goddesses of Charli XCX and Tove Lo are currently inspiring me to stand up against the norms in the music industries, by telling it how it is from within. Last year Charli released a documentary called ‘The F-Word and Me’ where she explored the relationship between feminism and pop. Tove Lo too, challenges her listeners to talk about subjects that are considered taboo and to embrace femininity in all of its shapes.  It’s great that many musicians are acknowledging the challenges in the industries and making an active change!

Click on the following publications to explore some of Tanyel’s writing:

The National Student

NME

tmrw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Over Blogger

Tanyel is our Take Over Blogger for Alternative Girl. Click on the following blog titles to read the full article!

Riot Girls Part One: Who were Riot Grrrls?

Riot Girls Part Two: The Original Riot Grrrls 

Riot Girls Part Three: Today’s Riot Grrrls

Experiences of a Music Journalist

Interview with a music journalist, Leonie Cooper, at NME magazine

Musicians and Mothers 

Photographing Women in Music

Making and enjoying music has been a vibrant and interesting subject for photographers and artists alike for many years and plays a large part in forming the ways we think about music history and culture. For example, image of the mohawk-wearing punk with a safety pin earring has become an icon of the Punk genre of music.. However, girls and women have long been invisible or sidelined as iconic representatives of the music that they love. This is especially true for ‘alternative’ music genres such as punk and rap.

Girls and women are often photographed as audience members, or listening to their music in their bedroom. Whilst these experiences are important to girls, they are often one aspect of how girls and women engage with music. Girls also form bands, they learn to play a range of instruments, they DJ with records, CDs and electronic music files, they show their musical passion through their clothes and their hair, through where they go and who they spend their time with.

Music is important to girls and they like to express this in a range of ways. Photographers Maggie Shannon from New York (USA) and Bethany Kane from Birmingham (England) share their work, documenting girls and women in music. Maggie’s ‘Noise Girls’ moves beyond the expectation of women to be fans, documenting a range of different women who make experimental music in New York. Bethany’s ‘Women in Subcultures’ make their mark in music scenes that are typically expected to be masculine, from punk to northern soul. Both Maggie and Bethany address the stereotypes of female music fandom.

Youth Club

 

Youth Club Logo

This section was supported by the Youth Club archive. Youth Club is based in London and works to preserve, share, educate and celebrate youth culture history through a passionate network of photographers and creatives. Bethany is one of the contributing photographers to the Youth Club archive, and we were given the permission to use three images for this Girl Museum exhibition.

As an online museum that is passionate about preserving, sharing and celebrating girlhood, we are proud to work with Youth Club and look forward to their future projects.

Maggie Shannon‘Noise Girls’

by Maggie Shannon

Maggie Shannon is a photographer based in New York. Through her 2015 ‘Noise Girls’ project, she captured the lives and passions of women in the city’s experimental music scene. The project was inspired by the frustrations of Maggie’s friend in the lack of media and photographic interest in female musicians within the scene (for more on this read David Rosenburg’s interview). Considered a masculine genre of music, Maggie was keen to show the role that female musicians played and to move beyond the expectations of women to be fans rather than the creators of the music. Each musician photographed was happy to provide Maggie with several more contacts, and the project grew and developed through these networks.

Here, Maggie talks about the ‘Noise Girls’ project and her experiences as a photographer.  All images are the copyright and property of Maggie Shannon.

Your project, ‘Noise Girls’,  focuses on women of the experimental music scene. How did this project develop?

My project Noise Girls started as a conversation between my good friend Megan Moncrief (who's also featured in this project!) and I. We were sitting outside of a show she was hosting at her apartment, chatting and catching up. I was feeling a little lost at the time and trying to brainstorm a new project. A friend of ours, a fellow artist and musician, had recently dealt with some nasty sexist comments from a group of male musicians. We were both so angry at the situation and shocked at the lack of respect shown towards women in the music scene. A lightbulb went off then and I decided to do a portrait project documenting women in the noise scene in New York City, a way to celebrate how strong and talented they are.

Why do you think women in experimental music have been overlooked?

I think it's a number of different things. One factor might be that they don't feel welcome. The experimental music scene is dominated by white male musicians and those are the people that play and book the majority of shows. I've talked to a number of different musicians about this and when they're putting together a show they usually go with people they know or have heard before, which is fair. Yet this practice doesn't really leave it open to new people and isn't inclusive to minorities. No one is taking risks or doing research.

I've heard all the arguments on this topic. That noise music just doesn't draw women or that women should be more aggressive if they want to book more shows and get attention for their work. I really feel like these are all excuses and just an attempt to avoid a bigger problem. It's a lot easier to just go with the flow and not push for change.

What do you hope to achieve through your photographs?

I hope to draw attention to the incredibly talented and diverse musicians that are living and working in the New York noise scene.

Why do you think that it is important to document women and their passions for music?

It seemed like an area that was lacking in documentation and I was eager to fill the void. I also think it's important to keep track of the women pioneering in this scene.

What does music mean to you in both your role as a photographer and you personally?

Music was a way for me to find my place in New York City as an artist. The town where I went to college has an incredibly vibrant experimental music scene and I was drawn to this type of music in New York as well. It made this big scary city a little more familiar.

For me personally, music is so many things. It can really pick me up when I'm not feeling great and be a source of meditation and relaxation. On the other side of that, I run a lot faster when I'm listening to Taylor Swift at the gym! A lot of my friends are musicians and it's so inspiring to hear the different ways they express themselves creatively, either through composing a jingle for a grocery store on the piano or coding something on a laptop. I guess listening to music makes me feel more creative!

Beth Kane‘Women in Subcultures’

by Bethany Kane

Bethany Kane is an independent photographer based in Birmingham, UK. Bethany aims to reveal aspects of identity, focusing on music scenes such as punk, skinhead, Oi! and northern soul. Her work has taken her all over the UK, but as she prefers to take photographs of people that she knows and who trust her to not misrepresent them, much of her work was created in the Midlands. For Bethany, the stereotypes and assumptions placed upon young people in subcultures, particularly punk and Oi!, has inspired her to represent the full diversity of experiences and the passion of these music fans, in particular as women in music scenes traditionally considered to be masculine. Bethany also contributes to the Youth Club archive, based in London.

Here, Bethany talks about photographing women in music scenes and her experiences as a photographer.  All images are the copyright and property of Bethany Kane, unless otherwise stated.

Attendees at the Rebellion Festival

Rebellion Festival 2016, Blackpool (UK)

How did you start photographing music subcultures?

I have always had a great interest in music since as long as I can remember. Aged 13, I started listening to Punk music and took a real interest in its sound, lyrics, attitude and style. I began to watch every documentary relating to the 70s Punk scene I could get my hands on and started to go to gigs on a regular basis. I started taking photos at gigs of bands and friends. Since then my interest in music scenes has grown and expanded and therefore my photographic subjects have too.

Two girls at a meetup

Birmingham Skinhead Meet Up, The Crown Pub, March 2013. Image used with the permission of Youth Club.

Why do you think that it is important to photograph girls in subcultures?

I was tired of people suggesting that women were introduced to music scenes through their male partners, when I knew from my own experience that this was too simplistic. From my teenage years, I have been fascinated in the Skinhead scene (both Ska/Reggae and Punk/Oi! influenced), but in England there didn’t seem to be many female scene members in comparison to male. More recently, I decided to photograph and interview women and to explore how they became a part of the scene and what attracts them to it. The most common reason for taking part is the sense of camaraderie and loyalty within the scene, with many people describing it as ‘one big family’.

Girl standing in front of a brick wall

Missy Baker for Brutus. Birmingham. 2015. Image used with the permission of Youth Club.

What does music mean to you in both your role as a photographer and you personally?

Punk and its DIY ethos encouraged me to express myself and to go out there and do it. By going to many skinhead events, I felt that I had developed a lot of knowledge and understanding that other photographers documenting the Punk and Skinhead scene hadn’t. For this reason I decided to cover it on behalf of a scene that I feel so passionate about.

Girl in a clothing factory

Birmingham, December 2015.

Which female musicians have inspired you and why?

Poly Styrene and Kathleen Hanna. I feel they truly uniquely express themselves within the punk scene whilst making important comments on society that are still relevant in modern times. Kathleen Hanna encouraged women to believe in themselves and to speak out about topics they feel are so important through their individual creativity, through music, poetry, zine-making, art and photograph etc.

Girl sorting through music records

Stoke-on-Trent, October 2015.

Pictures of women are rarely used to illustrate stories of music scenes. How do you hope that this will change, and what role might female photographers play in this?

I hope that women get the respect they deserve within the writing and documentation of subcultures. I hope to bring down the generalisation of women being only ‘scene participant girlfriends’ and instead emphasise their roles as important individuals who actively dedicate time to their scene, with opinions and views integral to its documentation.  

Being Part of a Music Scene

The term ‘music scene’ is used to describe a community that brings together people who enjoy a particular type of music. Lots of people across the world are so passionate about music that they spend their weekends and evenings listening to it, dancing, talking to other people about it, and making their own music. Some people are dedicated to just one type of music, but others enjoy being part of several musical communities.

Of course, women and girls engage with different aspects of being in a music scene. For some music scenes, an ethos of ‘Do-It-Yourself’ (or DIY) is very important, and this is central to the production of home-made posters and ‘zines’. For others, collecting and playing records is a key part of being a member of a music scene, especially those that enjoy music from a time before CDs and the internet.

When we talk about music, it is also important to think about dancing, an action which requires us to listen to and engage with the music in a variety of physical ways. Members of different music scenes dance in different ways, in styles that have developed over many years and that seem to fit with the type of music. Certain dance styles that have become associated with male dancers, and sometimes this means that women are excluded from the activity. In this section, we celebrate girls in music scenes who made it their own and didn’t take no for an answer.

From Dada to Riot Grrrl: Women in Photomontage

by Bethany Kane, independent photographer and zine creator, Birmingham (UK)

Women holding a magazine cutout to cover her face

Linder Sterling, ‘SheShe’ (1981) Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Many artists have adopted photomontage as a technique to free their feelings. Through the use of images and/or text, they aim to comment on the current state of society. Hannah Hoch was the first pioneer of photomontage and part of the Berlin Dada movement who used art to demonstrate their anti-government feelings. She cut and pasted images together from popular magazines, illustrated journals and fashion publications, making links between them. Another influential female artist, Linder Sterling, used photomontage to challenge ideas surrounding the objectification of women and their role within society, placing images of flowers or household items next to the female body.

Riot Grrrl zines used text and imagery to make a wider social comment on the expectations of women within society. Like Sterling’s work, the zines challenged beauty standards and how women are perceived in media whilst also commenting on female stereotypical societal roles.  Like these artists, you too can make a comment on something that is important to you, whether it is something you love or something you hate. Try to express this by cutting and pasting images and text.

Alternative Girl contributorMegan Sormus has put together a zine activity. Take a look at the Alternative Girl education guide for instructions on how to make your own grrrl zine!

Alternative Girls Education Guide

Megan SormusCreating alternative identities through the grrrl zine

By Megan Sormus, PhD student at the University of Northumbria

Riot Grrrl…. Is because we must take over the means of production in order to create our own meanings…

(Click the toggle below to read Megan's essay and scroll down to see images of zines.)

Click to read Megan's essay

Can you imagine a time without social media? Instagram is unheard of. The words ‘face’ and ‘book’ have not yet not been joined together to make the billion dollar corporation that Facebook is today, and “tweeting” is just something birds do. Welcome to the early 1990s. WhatsApp? What’s that? There’s not even such a thing as Snapchat. Want to complain, compliment, or create? Got a message to share to a mass audience?   Back then, the quickest way to communicate was to telephone (via a clunky landline), by picking up a pen and writing, or through designing and photocopying hand-made posters, notices or fanzines (which will be the focus of this piece), and getting them out into the world by mail or spreading them by hand.

This may all sound rather unbelievable and in a few senses quite unattractive when looking back from the comfort of our present day, with its many modes of communication and its popular ways of sharing ideas, images, and music. But what I’m describing is not some alien world. While it may all seem pretty old school and opportunities may appear stifled, it was a time when individuals and, importantly for you readers of Alternative Girl, young women, used their creative input without the aid of mobile phones, the internet, computers and all of the other advanced technology existing at present that we all hold to our hearts and rely upon so heavily.

Despite this apparent ‘lack’, groups of young women used all opportunities of this era to their advantage. They became active cultural producers, as opposed to passive girl consumers. These young women felt a drive to create, a passion to protest, and to ultimately draw attention and form alliances based on the inadequacies and inequalities that they faced. With this, they built a self-sufficient community called Riot Grrrl, which then grew into allied networks all over America, as well as England (all done without the aid of Facebook!).

Along with music, a popular method riot grrrl used to spread their message was fanzines (or ‘zines’). Zines are small, self-published booklets that contain drawings, writings, photos (either original or appropriated from magazines) and covered either a single topic or a variety of topics. They can take the form of fan fiction made about a favourite band or celebrity, they can be personal like diaries, or contain examples of poetry and literary writing. Zines were originally part of the punk movement, and they reflected punks’ do-it-yourself spirit that was, in turn, copied by riot grrrls. Through the DIY creation of zines, paper cuts undoubtedly ensued, ink was spilled, and there was a guaranteed mess of cutting and pasting to create work that was (to say the least) rough around the edges. Forget posing with the very best filters available on Instagram. The aesthetics produced by riot grrrls were poor quality photocopied images that, in part, made up the crude and imprecise cut-and-paste collages of their zines.

To return to our present day, the question is: why would young women want to come back to these messy methods of creation? The answer lies in the fact that it is about maintaining that original grrrl spirit of seizing the tools available to become active girl agents. In our modern day, this can be strengthened by the technology that now lies at our fingertips. As noted by Mary Celeste Kearney, author of Girls Make Media, the creation of zines is vital as they ‘allow young females to develop other interests through their creative abilities, while also providing a space to explore their identity’.

With the growing interest and obsession with body image in the twenty- first century, zines, much like a visually noisy diary, give young women the opportunity to play with and try out alternative girl identities. To explore ‘alternative’ girl identities in this way means the zine acts as an empowering tool in the way that it reconstructs and reclaims mainstream images. To most girl consumers, these mainstream images of ‘perfect’ girls and the harmful goal to ‘be perfect’ is unrealistic and unattainable. Therefore, riot grrrl networks originally created zines that were specifically girl centred, called ‘grrrl zines’ by academic Mary Celeste Kearney:

The emphasis on femaleness is evident in the multiple female-specific discourses that appear in the pages of zines, including female bodies and health, female beauty standards and body image, female sexuality, female reproductive issues, violence against females […] and female representations in commercial popular culture.

Grrrl zines are a creative practice involving fantasy, facilitating girls’ explorations of different forms of identity, particularly those that subvert the established stories of girlhood.  

Mary Celeste Kearney, Girls Make Media

The riot grrrl community ran on a specific technology that cost nothing, and better still, was already inbuilt. This was their creative agency, and with this, the ability to make certain modes of production work for you and to, importantly, create your own meanings through following the ethos of DIY (do-it-yourself).

Does this sound impossible in our present day? No, it just needs a little more fine tuning. The most integral point of creating the space to ‘try’ out creative processes and practices, and for young women to explore identities is that they do not have to look, or be, perfect. Rather, creating alternative girl identities through the grrrl zine is about making a mess and presenting a clear clash of ideas. This makes the experiences and images of young women more realistic, and stands outside the restrictions of social media rules. So, next time you filter an image on Instagram, type a status on Facebook, or tweet your thoughts in 140 characters, remember to tune in to your inbuilt technology first, get old school, and be creative grrrl style.

Wall of zines
Zines on a vine
Hero Grrrl zine

Being a Female Vinyl DJ

by Sarah Raine, Girl Museum & Birmingham City University

Image credit: bass_nroll

When I am not working for Girl Museum, I am a researcher at Birmingham City University in the UK. My research considers northern soul, a music scene that started in England in the early 1970s, fuelled by young people who had a passion for what they named ‘rare soul’. This music was created by African American musicians in the 1960s and arrived in the UK in the form of vinyl records in a time before CDs and electronic music files. It was very different to the popular music played on the radio and on television at the time and offered new experiences of listening and dancing, and access to a new and exciting place- America. Young people travelled across the country to attend events, to dance, and to hear DJs play these records.

The northern soul dance floors of the 1970s were filled with young men. Teenage girls and young women were not expected to stay out dancing all night, far from home. While some rebelled against these expectations, men largely held the important roles of DJ, event organiser and record seller. These soul fans are now in their fifties and sixties, but still organise and attend events in the UK and in other countries that have developed a northern soul fan base. Alongside this older generation are younger people who also enjoy listening and dancing to northern soul. These newcomers have sometimes been introduced to the scene by family members or friends, or have been inspired to attend an event by watching the most recent film, Northern Soul (Elaine Constantine: 2014). Like their male friends, young female soul fans want to dance, collect records and have the opportunity to DJ, but while younger male DJs are given a helping hand by the older generation of DJs, women are not offered the same opportunities and have to rely on a do-it-yourself attitude in order to be successful.

Take a look at a trailer for Northern Soul: The film to learn some more about this scene and to hear some of the music.

Northern soul is just one music scene that encourages people to collect and listen to music on records. Like northern soul, many of these scenes are interested in music from the 1960s and 70s. Mod culture developed in the early 1960s but it carries on today, playing R&B music recorded in the USA and the UK. Skinhead DJs also play soul, ska, rocksteady and early reggae records.

As a researcher, I have spoken to young people who are part of these music scenes. Some of them have decided to share their record collection by DJing at event.

I have noticed that women especially find it difficult to be taken seriously. Most of the well-known DJs within these music scenes have been men, and both record collecting and DJing are generally seen as related to masculine interests. This means that people at these events expect a male DJ, and equally that boys will want to spend their time collecting records and learning to DJ. However, as we at Girl Museum have shown in our exhibitions, girls do not always do what they are expected to by others.

Drop files to upload

Records for sale at a northern soul event in the UK (photograph by Sarah Raine).

As part of their interest in music, some of the young women that I have spoken to have developed a record collection and started asking for opportunities to DJ. They have found that their experience is very different to young male DJs.

From the very beginning of their career, they are offered the worst slots (such as the very beginning and end of an event) and expected to share their time with another DJ. Faced with the sexist assumptions of event organisers, other DJs and even audience members, female DJs have to work against the expectation that they will be either using their husband’s/boyfriend’s/father’s record collection, or that their record selection will be basic. They feel the need to work harder than their male peers to ‘prove themselves’.

For some female DJs, this has meant that they have become strong personalities within their music scenes, known for their individual sound and excellent record collection. Though for others, this has meant that they have decided to stop DJing.

Image credit: David Zellaby

Like the under-representation of women in other areas of music production and fan experiences, this is a very complex issue. The assumptions of society and the power held by men in in these music scenes often makes it more difficult for women to establish themselves as skilled and respected individuals.

However, the younger northern soulies, mods and skinheads are more supportive of female DJs and they don’t automatically assume that the DJ will be a man. For female hip-hop DJs, online communities such as Females wit’ Funk support and promote female DJs. As there are so few female DJs within the music scenes that I study, this level of organised support has not yet developed, but women are starting to help each other, offering advice on records, how to get a slot at an event, or how to develop an individual sound.

Stereotypical expectations of what women do and don’t do in their engagement with music is being increasingly tested by women and girls who want to collect records and DJ, and by other music fans who support them regardless of their gender. As a researcher, and as a member of Girl Museum, I aim to highlight the experiences of female DJs that are so often ignored or undervalued, and to give them a voice to express both their frustrations and their hopes for the future.

Discover more of Sarah’s research here.

Beat Freaks: Breaking into a male dominated dance form

‘Beat Freaks’ is an all-female break dancing crew that was created in 2003. Each member of the crew had achieved individual success dancing as renown ‘B-Girls’ before entering the group at various different intervals. They are all dancers who have appeared in music videos, films and tours with world-renowned artists such as Britney Spears, Madonna, and Miley Cyrus. The majority of the crew were active in the underground hip-hop dance movement before coming together as kindred spirits with their love of dancing and determination to learn and inspire others.

The Beat Freaks

Image credit: The TK Times

The ‘Beat Freaks’ were featured in the MTV hit series America’s Best Dance Crew and were the first all-female crew to make the finals. They showed the world that female dancers could break dance too - and with style! - as the judges sang their praises each week. The performances these women gave on the show have inspired the next generation of female break-dancers to step forward. In 2010, the group went on to be voted the Best Female Dance Crew at the World of Dance awards, and they are the best representation of women in the hip-hop movement today.

Check out their performance on America's Best Dance Crew here.  Check out the next two tabs to meet some members of the ‘Beat Freaks’.

Image credit: BDBGG

Bonita Saldaña  (aka B-Girl Bonita)

2001 - Present

USA

B-Girl Bonita was one of the founding members of the Beat Freaks all-female break dancing group in 2003. She has since become an iconic example for female dancers everywhere. The group aimed to show that break dancing was not just for men, and that women could dance too. This they did, and the group inspired many women to take up break dancing as a result of their appearance on the MTV show.

Bonita went on to focus on teaching and launched a workshop series called Rock with H.E.R in 2013. These workshops brought together some of the most hard hitting females in the hip-hop dance business to inspire, honour and share their love for the dance style through classes, discussions and performances. She hopes to see the younger generations of female break dancers rise up and level out the male-dominated dance stage. Bonita actively encourages women to set a standard different to the traditional stereotypes of how women ‘should be’. After all, “we are all in this game together and should been seen as equal”.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rino Nakasone

2003 - Present

Japan / South Korea / USA

B-Girl Rino is originally from Japan and moved to the USA when she was a young girl. Over the years she has performed as a backup dancer for superstars like Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. She is now one of America's premier dancers and was chosen by Gwen Stefani for the role of ‘music’ in her Harajuku Girls song.

In 2004, Rino appeared in the 2004 film You Got Served, and has since started a career as a choreographer. This path has seen her work with many high profile K-Pop bands whilst in South Korea, such as Shinee and Girl’s Generation. Rino looks to help others use dance as a form of expression and to be more original.

Viewing Girl- / Woman-hood Through Music

Music is a powerful thing. It makes us feel a range of emotions, recall memories of people, places and events, it has the power to take us back in time and shoot us forward to the future. Music can also influence the ways in which we think about what it means to be a girl and the roles that women are expected to play in the world.

Music videos in particular have not always provided their audiences with positive role models, showing women to be sex objects or accessories for men, rather than intelligent and important individuals within their own right. Particularly for younger children, these limited and sexist ways of thinking about women can be highly influential and potentially damaging.

However, there are a range of inspirational musicians and singers who demonstrate that women are much more than a body. They are intelligent, passionate, creative, strong, and play their part in changing society for the better. The power that music holds means that we need these women at the helm to make sure that the messages it spreads are those of equality, solidarity and a celebration of diversity.

Here scholars who specialise in popular music consider the ways in which girls  from across the world engage with music, and how music offers new and liberating ways to be a girl or a woman. Have a think about the sort of music that you listen to. How are women represented?  Does this empower women or force them into certain roles?

Our February 2017 podcast, Girls and Bollywood, explored how women and girls are represented in Bollywood musicals.  We also talked with girls who are part of the Indian diaspora, shedding light on how Bollywood influences real life girls and women. Click the player below to listen.

African-American Girls and Music

African-American Girls and Music

By Rana A. Emerson, Lower Eastside Girls Club, New York

Because our culture doesn't make them a priority African-American girls don’t get the chance to see people that look like them, and have lives like theirs in popular culture. Racism and sexism limit these images and also set up barriers for black women who want to create music, art, film and other culture that tells their stories. Despite this, music has been a space where African-American girls could find reflection, expression and connection.

Billie Holliday At The Downbeat Club by William P. Gottlieb
Image credit: Wikimedia commons.

Bessie Smith Holding Feathers by Carl Van Vechten
Image credit: Wikimedia commons.

In the early 20th century, the songs of blues singers Ma Rainey, Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith were about the struggles and joys they shared with everyday Black women working long hours to support their families, dealing with romantic relationships and pushing on through life in the face of racism. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is only now receiving the credit she deserves for pioneering rock and roll guitar.

Josephine Baker in the 1920’s and Eartha Kitt in the 40’s both rose from rural poverty to achieve legendary status and international stardom on stage and screen combining musical and dance talent. The two included their identities as black women within their creative work by using their platforms to enable the success of their political activism. Baker, having permanently relocated to Paris, secretly helped the French Resistance of the Vichy occupation during WWII. Kitt openly took part in the Civil Rights Movement, protested the Vietnam War and was a supporter of LGBT rights. In the 1960’s Kitt starred as Catwoman on the popular Batman television series.

The Knowles sisters, Beyoncé and Solange, represent and reflect the leadership and centrality of young women in the new civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter while channelling the personal emotional lives of African-American women and girls in their music. On one level, Solange’s single, (feat. Sampha), “Don't Touch My Hair”, is about one of the most common seemingly small, yet powerfully hurtful insults black women have to deal with regularly: the frequency with which perfect strangers feel entitled to reach out and touch natural black hair as if it was a curiosity. The music video suggests another, less literal level of meaning, a commentary upon the importance of hair for black women and their identity, self-expression and self-esteem.

When it was released in 2013, Beyoncé’s Formation song and video, featuring an interlude by bounce artists Big Freedia and Messy Mya, received as much attention for layered references to black southern culture, police brutality, Black Lives Matter (of which she and her husband Jay Z were active supporters) and still-recovering post-Katrina New Orleans. Commanding “all her chicks to get in formation” to dance and move together in sync, Beyoncé signals community and mutual support among black women and girls.

The 2016 independent film, The Fits (LINK: http://www.thefitsfilm.com/), directed by Anna Rose Holmer, while being the rare case of a film focusing on a black girl’s experience, also shows African American girls’ connection with music and dance from an unusual angle. Like Beyoncé’s “Formation”, The Fits also calls upon a sense of community, sisterhood and belonging that is expressed through music and dance.

As the film opens, we see Toni, an 11-year-old black girl (played by actress, Royalty Hightower) training to be a boxer alongside her older brother at the Cincinnati community centre where he works. The “fits” of the title has two meanings that connect with each other: the series of mysterious seizures that the older dance team girls begin to experience; and the desire and pressure to fit into the social group of girls built around the dance team.

While the parents in the neighbourhood suspect an environmental cause for the seizure, the film suggests another cause related to the way that teenage girls bond with each other. At first, athlete Toni is out of sync with the exact movements of the established dance team members, and we feel as frustrated as she is as she struggles to master the steps. But as we see, her determination to be “fit” enough to qualify for the dance team is less about competition than it is about belonging, connecting, and being part of a community.

The Fits is not only important because it depicts music and dance and their significance from the point of view of a young black girl, but also because it was made in the spirit of collaboration and community that it represents. The production team collaborated with a real-life Cincinnati, Ohio dance team, the Q-Kidz who participated in the film as non-professional performers, and the film’s star Royalty Hightower, (Toni) is also a long time member of the dance team and shot the film at their home-base community centre. The remainder of the cast was recruited from the neighbourhood surrounding the community centre. More importantly, the director and her crew consulted with Royalty and the rest of the cast about the situations in the script and their dialogue in order to check their authenticity and ensure that the filmmakers weren't imposing their own imagined idea of what young black people’s lives are like.

For more information on The Fits, read this article by David Fear at Rolling Stone magazine.

Rana

Rana A. Emerson, Lower Eastside Girls Club, New York

Discover more of Rana Emerson’s research here.

Body Positivity and Burlesque

Body Positivity and Burlesque

By Gemma Commane, Birmingham City University (UK)

Girls who identify with alternative femininity (e.g. non-mainstream femininity) can experience diverse, creative and exciting ways to express who they are. The alternative girl can use her creativity, her personal style and her body as a platform to voice who she is, as well expressing what she wants to change about the world. For many years, young women have been using the stage or theatre to tell their stories, and to reclaim certain aspects of their gender and identity from narrow social opinions about what girls can do, what they can achieve and how girls should look. One example of this is the rise and popularity of burlesque. Burlesque performances are engaging experiences for performer and audience member alike, with music playing an important role in creating a celebratory, fun and entertaining atmosphere. Burlesque has a long history with connections with the music hall, mime, dance, cabaret and theatre. Some of the well-known artists through its long history include Lydia Thompson and The British Blondes (late 1800s), Bettie Page (1950s) and Dita Von Teese (present day). New forms of burlesque, or ‘neo-burlesque’, have re-emerged in the last decade or so, in alternative clubs, in the media (advertising, music videos, etc.) and in film (e.g. Burlesque starring Cher and Christina Aguilera). What is interesting about burlesque is the range of music styles used. The musical styles can be anything from classical to rockabilly, but pop music can also feature too. The music accompanying performances is dependent on the type of burlesque, what the performer wants to communicate, and even the theme of the event. Burlesque creatively engages with music, as performances use different musical styles to express different meaning (including humour), feeling and empowerment.

Image credit: Jenya Kushnir.

Although some people may think that burlesque is crude, or that mainstream images of burlesque reinforce ‘beauty’ as thin, white and heterosexual, if we look more closely at the reasons why some young women do burlesque, we can see some very important themes. These themes connect to developments in feminist thought, particularly the third wave feminism which developed during the 1990s. Girl power, female empowerment and the independent woman all link to attitudes found in neo burlesque. There is a massive emphasis on body positivity in contemporary burlesque as all body shapes are celebrated, as well as the celebration of different bodily styles, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation. What this can mean is a safe, likeminded and tolerant space for young women to self-express and identify with alternative femininity. Contemporary burlesque also features women with tattoos, piercings, and different hair colours.  The presence and visibility of women of all shapes and sizes, with tattoos and other body modifications, is important as it shows that femininity is diverse with lots of possibilities. Many performers and academics in media and cultural studies have argued that burlesque can be seen as feminist as it can be used as a platform for young women to self-express and to challenge narrow or negative representations of femininity. Even audience members can feel empowered when watching a burlesque performance, particularly as a lot of burlesque events are mostly attended by women. The support from women by other women, is positive and it challenges wider norms in society that see alternative women as damaged or objectified.

Image credit: Mark Turner

Some performers admire early burlesque performers as ‘proto-feminists’ or original examples of feminist work. Many performers do identify as feminist and use their image, body and performance art to comment on and reject ‘mainstream’ representations of feminine identity and feminine beauty. The reason why performers do this is dependent on their own personal experience and why they choose to perform; if you do not identify with mainstream representations of femininity, burlesque offers one way to show the world that other kinds of femininity exist. Even though there are certain styles associated with burlesque, if you look explore the burlesque community, you will see that performers and performances are diverse. This diversity is exciting, but also diversity comes with some issues when one style or depiction of ‘burlesque’ is seen to be more genuine or cool. It is easy to criticise mainstream representations of burlesque particularly as the they do not always reflect the diversity you see on the burlesque scenes in your local towns and cities. However, we also have to be careful of standards and norms being created by alternative women too in alternative scenes and spaces. What the alternative girl stands for varies and changes depending on the person, their experience and their life course. Alternative girls and women alike have always challenged social norms, and in the example of burlesque we can see how diverse femininity is. What this means is that there are many possibilities to express and to be who you are.

Gemma Commane, Birmingham City University

Discover more of Gemma Commane’s research here.

Girls Speak: Favourite pop artists in South Africa

Girls Speak: Favourite pop artists in South Africa

By Sherine Van Wyk, Stellenbosch University (South Africa)

According to researchers Ntebaleng Chobokoane and Debbie Budlender, fifty percent of young people living in cities and towns in South Africa spend about 135 minutes per day listening to music or the radio. In another 24-hour diary study by Sharmla Rama and Linda Richter, a 13-year-old rural girl stated that she spent about 90 minutes per day listening to music or the radio. For this Girl Museum exhibition my students and I decided to talk to a group of twenty Grade 7 girls of mixed ethnic descent, aged between twelve and thirteen years, who similarly reported that they “loved” listening to music and dancing. These girls live on wine farms about 50 kilometres from the centre of Cape Town, where their parents are farm workers. They were part of two community groups, which provides girls with a safe space where they can talk about issues that they are concerned about. The groups, organised by two trainee psychologists and two students in psychology, met weekly during the 2016 academic year. These girls talked to us about what music they listened to, how they accessed and used the music, who their favourite artists were and why they liked these artists’ songs, demonstrating that music plays an important role in shaping young, South African girls’ understanding of themselves.

On one of our hikes with the girls.

The girls stated that they liked Kwaito (a South African genre of music), Hip Hop, R&B, Rap, and various songs by international pop stars. Their favourite pop artists that they talked about were Rihanna, Fifth Harmony, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Eminem. Most of the girls downloaded their music from the internet, watched the music videos on YouTube, Channel O and they shared their music files with each other via their mobile phones and also on Facebook. 

Listen to some Kwaito here. To understand the lyrics, click here.

When we asked who their favourite pop artists were, both groups of girls all shouted out Rihanna’s name and some of them started singing her song Work, Work. They liked this song because girls in South Africa have so many chores at home and singing this song helps them to get through the chores. One of the girls said that the song also motivated her to not give up, but to work hard, “because if you stop working then life also stops”. Related to the idea of working, they also liked the song, Work from home by Fifth Harmony. This song also appealed to them because they liked the dance moves, the clothes that the dancers wore in the video and the men’s muscular bodies. Jennifer Lopez’s song, I ain’t your Mama, was also a favourite among the girls because they thought that “men are lazy and women must do all the work at home”. The girls also wanted to talk about Jennifer Lopez’s appearance, and admired her “nice curly hair”, high heels and “that blue dress”.

When they started talking about Nicki Minaj and her dance videos, particularly Anaconda, the girls became very excited because they had different opinions about Nicki Minaj. Some of the girls identified with Minaj and admired her self-confidence. One girl said that Minaj does not “worry what other people say about her, because if you worry, then you’ll never develop self-confidence”. Some also liked her “big butt because men like girls with big butts”. However, others in the groups found Minaj’s music “disgusting because she reveals too much skin” and her music is just “too much”. These girls felt that artists who show “too much flesh, don’t respect themselves and their bodies” and that this “leaves nothing for men to wonder about”.

A picture from one of our group sessions.

It is interesting that the girls mainly liked female artists and only referred to Lose Yourself of Eminem because his rise from poverty and that he previously lived in a caravan was something that they could understand through their own experiences. The girls that we spoke to based what they liked and disliked about popular music on their experience of living in South Africa.  South Africa is a society that is still dominated by men and where being a girl is about behaving like a ‘lady’,  looking respectable, being a ‘good girl’ and one day becoming a good mother and wife. What do you think about these artists and songs? How do your likes and dislikes relate to the culture and society that you live in?

Sherine Van Wyk, Stellenbosch University (South Africa)

Discover more of Sherine Van Wyk’s research here.

Negotiating girlhood, music and Islam in Indonesia

Negotiating girlhood, music and Islam in Indonesia

By Suzanne Naafs, Hilversum, The Netherlands.

In Indonesia, the Southeast Asian archipelago with a population of over 260 million people, young women grow up listening to lots of different types of popular music. Alongside popular local and nationally produced music genres sung in Indonesian languages (such as dangdut, pop Indonesia and Islamic pop bands), they are enthusiastic followers of Western and South Korean produced pop music (K Pop).

Like other places in the world, Indonesian girls enjoy their leisure time, express their personal identities and create subcultures through tastes in fashion, music, novels, TV dramas and films. Islam is by far the largest religion in the country, with over 85 per cent of the population identifying as Muslim. The kinds of music girls listen to and the artists they connect with offer a window into what it means to be young, female and Muslim in contemporary society.

Click on the names to listen to some Islamic pop music, Indonesian pop music, and K Pop. In what ways do they differ? Do they have similarities? Is it like the music that you listen to?

Young women’s engagement with pop music and other forms of popular culture is influenced by wider changes in Indonesian society. During the three decades that strict President Suharto was in power (between 1966-1998), media and popular culture were regulated by the government, and Islamic organizations contained. After President Suharto stepped down, government regulation of the media is greatly reduced but has not altogether disappeared. Indonesia’s movement to a democracy (since the late 1990s) has also increased political freedom and allowed greater religious expression. In pop music, local bands in genres such as indie rock, punk and reggae created dynamic subcultures and promoted lyrics that were critical of Indonesian politics. At the same time, young Indonesians, who now rank among the most active Twitter and Facebook users in the world, have rapidly adopted new Internet and cell phone technologies.

Taken together, these developments have created new opportunities and pressures for girls when it comes to gender representations in pop music and beyond. Muslim girls encounter a range of different and sometimes contradictory messages about youth lifestyles, pop culture and appropriate behavior for young women. Compared to previous generations, girls experience a longer period of time between finishing school and marriage, while also exercising greater degree of independence due to better access to internet and cell phones. For some, there are increased possibilities for dating and socializing with boys, wearing tight clothes, and hanging out at cafes or student boarding houses especially in urban areas. In the big cities Nonetheless, many girls are warned to dress modestly, guard their reputation, focus on school and not to have sex until they are married.

Image credit: IIP Photo Archives.

In the media and among more traditional Muslims who have become more influential in recent years, there are widespread worries about ‘free sex’ and ‘unsupervised socializing’ among young people, as well as the potentially corrupting influence of Western pop culture, including pornography on the younger generation of Indonesia. One example of this is the international controversy that developed in 2012 when Lady Gaga had to cancel her concert in Jakarta after pressure from strict Islamic groups.

Whilst strict Muslims are calling for greater control of the sexualized nature of music available in Indonesia, girls are able to creatively and selectively adopt a range of different aspects of pop music into their lives, some of which might have been unthinkable until recently. Although sex appeal is an important part of an artists’ image, it is not necessarily the most interesting element for girls. For example, many girls appreciate well-known pop Indonesia singer Agnes Monica first of all for her trendy and independent style that has led her to become successful overseas, rather than her sexy style. Although looking good and being attractive probably plays a bigger role for fans of Korean boy bands, some of the girls I asked about this were equally fascinated by the determination and years of training that lead up to the successful careers of some of the biggest Korean pop stars.

Image credit: Adam Jones

In the past decade, Islamic youth culture has generated a range of well-liked films and pop songs that explore values and desired paths of success in life. Some of these songs are part of the soundtracks of commercially successful Islamic films in Indonesia, including box office hits such as Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love, 2008) about young people who overcome life’s difficulties through religious principles. Yet, exactly how young girls understand these songs are difficult to predict. Rather than seeing ‘Western’, ‘Asian’ or ‘Islamic’ pop cultures as very different to each other, most girls quite easily mix aspects of each in their lives. Sixteen-year old Nisa, a high-school student in a provincial capital in West Java, is perhaps an example of this. Wearing a headscarf and trendy glasses, she insists on her love for Islamic pop songs, Korean TV drama and Japanese comic novels. The key, according to her, is to follow her curiosity, stay positive, and balance faith with fun.

Suzanne Naafs is a cultural anthropologist researching the implications of education and labor market changes for young people’s futures in Indonesia. She has previously written about youth and pop music in Indonesia.

Finding alternative femininities in mainstream media

Finding alternative femininities in mainstream media

By Hazel Collie, Birmingham City University (UK)

I am a media researcher, and my research looks at how people remember their favourite television programmes, and to think about how this has been important for their identity. As part of this research, I interviewed women aged between 42 and 95 about their favourite programmes, and a lot of the women talked about the music shows that they enjoyed watching as teenagers. They particularly liked to talk about how much they admired and wanted to be like two of the female presenters of these programmes; Cathy McGowan who presented Ready, Steady, Go! A music show that was broadcast between 1963 and 1966 on ITV, and Paula Yates who presented the Channel 4 show The Tube between 1982 and 1987.

Cathy McGowan.
Image credit: Ashley Bovan.

Paula Yates.
Image credit: Wikimedia commons.

The women talked about this period of their lives and these shows as a time of ‘trying out’ femininities. Cathy McGowan and Paul Yates were described as strong, confident female presenters who helped them to construct their own ideas of what it means to be a woman.  The presence of young women acting with a confident and modern femininity on television and presenting alternative ways of being a woman on mainstream television made them important role models.

This got me thinking about my own role models while I was growing up, about the women who I saw in popular culture and who made me think about the sort of woman I wanted to be. Looking back, I realise that there were two performances of alternative womanhood that have influenced me. Like the women in my own research, these also came from the world of music and, also like the women I interviewed, my love of these women emerged from the fact that they were totally different to the older women in my own life. I grew up in a very traditional home, with parents who had different expectations of behaviour for me and my younger brother. I had to be ‘good’ and I was expected to behave in what they considered an appropriately feminine manner.

The first of these representations was Madonna in the 1987 film Desperately Seeking Susan. It’s a comedy starring Rosanna Arquette as Roberta, a bored housewife who through a series of events ends up taking on the persona of Susan, a Bohemian young woman with a kooky dress sense played by Madonna.  I first saw this film at a friend’s birthday party when I was about twelve years old. I was familiar with Madonna as a music star, and was already a fan of her. In the late 1980s she used her popularity as a musician to launch a film career, and my favourite of her films is Desperately Seeking Susan. My favourite part of this film, the part which I watched with fascination the first time and many, many times afterwards, is when Susan dries her armpits on a hand dryer in a Port Authority public toilet.

Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).
Image credit: Liquid Sky Arts.

I still don’t really know what my fascination with this was, but I think that a lot of it was so different from how women were portrayed in the films that I had watched before. In my film watching experience up to this point, women had been shown as fragrant, beautiful, good women who kept clean and looked pretty. Watching Madonna (dressed in clothes that I would have loved to wear, if only my mum and dad had let me) do something as skanky as drying her sweaty armpits on a hand dryer in public was transformative for me.

My second transformative female representation happened at a similar time on the BBC chart show Top of the Pops. In this particular episode, the Swedish singer-songwriter and rapper Neneh Cherry performed her song Buffalo Stance while visibly pregnant and flaunting her pregnant belly in trainers, a cropped bustier, short skater skirt and gold bomber jacket.

Click here to watch Buffalo Stance for yourself.

This was still a time when pregnant women didn’t really appear on television, let alone be so provocative in their dress. To me, she looked amazing. She was (to my young eyes) an older woman, who dressed youthfully, fizzed with energy and owning her pregnancy so publicly, performing the act of pregnancy in a playfully defiant way. My mum and dad were appalled, which I’m sure added to my own hero worship.

These representations in mainstream media were important for me as a girl who didn’t yet have access to more alternative forms. They helped me to realise that women can perform their identity in any way that they choose, and that it doesn’t have to be gentle, clean and ‘feminine’. For me, as a twelve year old, there was a glamour and defiance about both Madonna and Neneh Cherry that I wanted for myself. I’m pleased to say that even now, as a 40 year old with two daughters of my own, I feel free to dry my sweaty armpits on a hand dryer if I need to…although I always make sure that there’s nobody else in the room when I do it. I’m not quite as immune to society’s judgement of women as Madonna’s Susan is.

Who are your role models and what is it that draws you to them? Do they come from the worlds of music, film, television or celebrity culture?

Hazel Collie, Birmingham City University, UK

Discover more of Hazel Collie ’s research here.

Music and Friendship

Music and friendship

Stephanie Fremauxby Stephanie Fremaux, Birmingham City University (UK)

I am a media researcher with an interest in writing about popular music culture. I feel really lucky to have a job where I can research and teach about popular music, because music has always been an important part of my life. My parents often tell me the story about how at the age of two I was able to find the “on” button of the stereo hi-fi. I knew at that young age which button to press to be rewarded with music coming from the speakers. Some of the first words I could read were song lyrics printed on album covers. I remember all my musical firsts: record, cassette player, CD, gig with my parents, gig without my parents, musical instrument, and portable music player. I am often reminded of how important the ways I listen to and access music are to my identity and who I am. But more often than not these days, I am faced with problems; as I read books about music fandom and musical identity, I reflect upon my musical memories and how my music tastes have changed, but so many of these books are written from a man’s perspective and they just don’t tell a story that I can relate to. Though introduced to music by my parents, my friends played an important role in how I found new music that was different. Music was always the soundtrack to our adventures.

Also absent from these books is the role of friendship in sharing music and musical experiences. Some authors write about the community of festival goers, or the relationship between musicians and fans, but most overlook the role friendship has in how we discover new music and how we share and experience music with our friends. But these stories exist and create a rich picture of the ways in which music has played a part in some of the most important friendships in our lives.

Music can link us to our friends – we share headphones, we sit around listing to music, we play instruments, dance, and sing our own music. When we aren’t with our friends we post music videos on social media of the tracks we are listening to, or photos from the gig we were at, so we can still share those special experiences.  Music has become an important way in which we share our emotions – a language itself – whether we compose our own songs or make our friends playlists and mix tapes.

Mixtapes. Image credit: Stephanie Fremaux.

The mixtape is still an important gift of my friendship today. Now that I live in England and have moved away from friends in the US and even moved away from friends in the English cities I used to live in, the mixtape still allows us to continue our friendship, still keeps us in touch in ways that status updates and photographs on Facebook cannot. We started out recording songs off the radio onto cassette and then when the technology advanced, we were able to make a mix tape of songs from CD onto cassette. Again technology allowed us to record mp3s onto CD and even our old cassette tapes onto CD through a computer.

When I moved to England, I started sharing music with friends the old fashioned way – sending them CDs in the mail of new music I was hearing in England. This is how I introduced my friends in the US to British acts like the Arctic Monkeys and Amy Winehouse. Most of my favourite bands were all men, but Amy Winehouse really caught my attention – she had a great, soulful voice that reminded me of 1960s Motown/Northern Soul music I would listen to growing up in Michigan, but she didn’t conform to the normal airbrushed, fashion magazine definitions of “beauty.” She had a unique look for a girl at that time, she had her troubles, and sadly these were often public. But I was growing up too, making mistakes too, and questioning why I felt pressured to dress a certain way or look a certain way. It was a time when I embraced my femininity but on my own terms.

Amy Winehouse.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Though my friends and I now share Spotify playlists, they are still snapshots of who we are and title them after each other using names or nicknames in the playlist title. The playlists I receive are often filled with bands and songs I’ve not heard before, some are themed around artists from a particular scene or country, and some are themed around particular feelings or even seasons. These mix tapes contain a whole conversation of friendship, happiness, and missing each other. Care and effort has been spent putting together just the right songs and making sure one song flows well into the next and that there are enough shared favourites as well as new surprises of discovery.

Today, digital streams and downloads are more popular ways of listening to music than CDs or records. I see a lot of pre-concert selfies on my Facebook page – friends that take photos of themselves in the car on the way to a gig or at the gig with the stage in the background. By sharing the fact that you are at an event, by capturing it, and saving it on social media, you are able to include friends in this experience, particularly those friends who for whatever reasons aren’t there or can’t be there.  We might not all sit on the floor listening to vinyl records with our friends, thumbing through album and CD collections, but the thought, care, and traditions of music still exist as part of that friendship we develop over the years. We make new friends, we always treasure our old friends even when the years pass and our lives take us in different directions, and sometimes we lose friends. One constant always remains in these friendships and these memories – the musical soundtracks that take us back to those moments in time to the extent that these songs and albums become ways of remembering these stories, and they in turn become important friends to us too.

DIY Women: Safeguarding for the Future

The women safeguarding popular music’s material past for future generations 

by Sarah Baker, Griffith University, Brisbane (Australia)

A passion for music is not just the domain of young people. I began my studies of popular music with a focus on young girls’ consumption of mainstream pop music. Almost twenty years later my focus has shifted to the musical engagement of a much older cohort of women. These women, most of whom are well over the age of 65, have taken on the role of custodians of popular music’s material past. They volunteer in community-based archives, museums and halls of fame that are dedicated to preserving popular music heritage for future generations. These are women who are committed to a do-it-yourself approach to heritage, in which popular music’s material past is managed, preserved and curated by ordinary people in extraordinary ways.

Heart of Texas Country Music Museum

Beth, Liz and Ivell, volunteers at the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in Brady, Texas (United States). Photo by Sarah Baker.

I visited the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in April 2014. Beth, Liz and Ivell have been volunteers at this museum in Brady, Texas, almost since its inception. With the Museum’s founder, they travelled across the United States visiting country music museums to find out what worked and what didn’t when curating music displays. Back in the mid-1990’s, Beth and Ivell were co-Chairs of the museum’s Building Committee and Liz was on the Board of Directors. They continue to be involved with the museum. As Beth said:

“Had it not been for [the museum] we would all be sitting at home looking at four walls wondering what we were going to do tomorrow. [It] has kept us very busy”.

Beyond this personal value, these volunteers believe that museums of music heritage are central to how music will be remembered in the future. For Beth,

“I think it’s important for the history of the industry. I don’t think the [traditional country music] industry will keep going unless people do things like this”.

South Australian Jazz Archive

Eileen, a volunteer at the South Australian Jazz Archive in Adelaide, South Australia (Australia). Photo by Sarah Baker.

Eileen has a long history with jazz having “just lived with jazz music ever since I first married”. Her key responsibility in the South Australian Jazz Archive in Adelaide, Australia, is preserving the magazines and periodicals that are donated to the archive. She started volunteering at the South Australian Jazz Archive not long after it was established in 2003 and has been working with the print materials since then:

“I put them into sleeves and then put them into folders and then designate a place for them”.

Finding a place is becoming increasingly difficult due to space constraints at the South Australian Jazz Archive. When I visited the archive in June 2013 Eileen explained:

“I’m desperately running out of room. I mean I’ve now got things stuck on top of things because I just had no more room for more folders”.

Sarasota Music Archive

Barbara, a volunteer at the Sarasota Music Archive in Sarasota, Florida (United States). Photo by Sarah Baker.

When I visited the Sarasota Music Archive  in April 2014 I was welcomed warmly by Barbara, one of the volunteers who works the front desk. This archive is housed in the Selby Public Library in Sarasota, Florida (United States). Barbara had only been at the archive for a couple of months when I spoke with her. When she signed up to be a volunteer, Barbara was asked about her musical background:

“I told them I played the accordion when I was 12 years old. It’s a very long time ago”.

But Barbara does have a love of music and so volunteering at the archive has lots of benefits:

“If I want to I can listen to anything in the archives that I like. … And it’s nice when people come in and they request certain songs and you look it up and find the songs. … When you find it it’s really exciting”.

Barbara, like the other volunteers I spoke to at the Sarasota Music Archive, sees great value in the work of the archive:

“You have to have this stuff otherwise it disappears. … It’s a wonderful collection. Somebody told me they have more sheet music than the Library of Congress in Washington”.

Australian Jazz Museum

Irene and Mavis, volunteers at the Australian Jazz Museum in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia). Photo by Sarah Baker.

Irene and Mavis are among a significant number of women who volunteer at the Australian Jazz Museum. Both Irene and Mavis have a love of jazz and had been involved in Melbourne’s jazz scene for many, many years before they started volunteering at the Museum. When I spoke with Irene in October 2013 she described her role at the archive as one involving “dogs body things”, the tasks that other volunteers may not be so eager to do but, as Irene said, “somebody has to do them”. On a typical day that might involve answering the phones and taking messages, helping out in the kitchen, cleaning the toilets, emptying the dishwasher. Though these tasks may not be considered to be the core business of an archive, Irene’s contributions are essential to the smooth running of the Australian Jazz Museum. Irene also assists Mavis in organising fundraising events which bring in the much needed cash that helps the museum continue its mission of proactively collecting, archiving and disseminating Australian jazz.

Thoughts

Sarah Baker, Griffith University, Brisbane (Australia).

The work women like Mavis, Irene, Barbara, Eileen, Beth, Liz and Ivell do in these DIY archives, museums and halls of fame contributes to our collective memory of the popular music cultures being preserved and to the democratisation of popular music heritage. Whether they are involved in the core business of their archives, museums and halls of fame (e.g. managing the collections, curating exhibitions) or in supportive roles that help these places function smoothly (e.g. cleaning the premises, covering the front desk), these women, and others like them, are making critical contributions to the way future generations will remember popular music’s material past.

Discover more of Sarah Baker’s research here.

Alternative Girls

From the political activism of Billie Holiday during the Civil Rights Movement to Paradise Sorouri’s inspiration for aspiring Muslim artists, these ‘alternative girls’ have inspired us to rethink our capabilities and options as women, to reimagine what might be possible. They have pushed against the boundaries of what girls are expected to do in order to provide a way forward for the rest of us.

The work of these ‘alternative girls’, of musicians, music industry professionals, managers, producers, journalists, researchers, photographers, artists, and many others, continues to make a significant mark on the music that we love. They empower us and offer us the tools to be understand the power that music wields and the responsibilities we all hold in providing positive representations of women and girls.

As many different contributors have noted, the history of women in music has not always been part of the books that we read, the movies and TV shows that we watch, and the music that we hear on the radio. Through the work of people like Sarah Baker and many different groups, we are able to record and share the amazing work of women in music with future generations. As one of the main aims for Girl Museum, we are so proud to be able to do our part in recording and sharing all these ‘alternative girls’ with you.

Get Involved

If you want to get involved, organise to do something on Women in Music Day on the 28th of March and investigate the different campaigns that champion women in music, like the Maroon Ribbon Campaign.

Educational Guide

What did you learn?

Download our Alternative Girls Education Guide for fun activities related to the incredible women in music featured in this exhibition.  Designed for classroom or home use, this guide is aligned to US and UK educational standards.

Credits

This exhibition was brought to life by:

  • Claire Amundson (curator),
  • Emily Chandler (podcast),
  • Michelle O’Brien (curator),
  • Hillary Hanel (education),
  • Johannah Lord (education),
  • Lauren Payton (curator)
  • Sarah Raine (lead curator), and
  • Tiffany Rhoades (supervising curator/podcast).

We would like to thank Sarah Baker, Ruth Barnes, Hazel Collie, Gemma Commane, Rana Emerson, Stephanie Fremaux, Tanyel Gumushan, Bethany Kane, Ana Matosfernandes, Suzanne Naafs, Katie Rochow, Maggie Shannon, Mazzy Snape, Megan Sormus, and Sherine van Wyk for their contributions to this exhibition.  

Special thanks to all the academics, researchers, artists, girls and women in music who continue to forge ahead, making history and supporting each other. We hope that by introducing our viewers to new musical heroes and by sharing your experiences, we will inspire another generation of Alternative Girls.

Additional Resources

Want know more about women in music? Check out these great books, websites, and media:

Television and Movies

  • The Sapphires
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • The Fits
  • Janice Joplin
  • Dreamgirls
  • Flashdance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Chicago
  • The Get Down (Netflix series)

Photography Books

Academic research

  • ‘It's Not Only Rock and Roll: Popular Music in the Lives of Adolescents’ by Peter G. Christenson and Donald F. Roberts.
  • ‘Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth’ by Gayle Wald.
  • ‘Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s’ by Jacqueline Warwick
  • ‘Growing up girls: Popular culture and the construction of identity’ by S R Mazzarella & N O Pecora (1999)
  • ‘Pop in(to) the Bedroom: Popular Music in Pre-Teen Girls’ Bedroom Culture’ by Sarah Baker (2004)
  • ‘Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory’ by Catherine Driscoll (1999)
  • ‘ “Where My Girls At?” Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos’ by Rana Emerson (2002)
  • ‘Representations of femininity in popular music’ by Nicola Dibben (1999)

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