22
Aug
08

The Girl Who Wanted to Be God: Gender and Music

Gender has been a fascinating concept for me, especially ever since I started university eight years ago. I’ve only taken two courses that actually dealt with gender directly (one on the Rhetoric of Gender and the other on Sexual Disguise in the 18th century), but they were enough, along with my general interest in androgyny, to give me a good sense of gender as a social construct. Even within the context of gender classes, where people should be most open to gender variation and ideas, I felt like a bit of a square peg because I’m not some militant feminist. To be particularly ornery, I would always twist my essay topics into ones that either dealt with androgyny or masculinity as a concept – the rest of the class likely had the feminist issues covered anyway. Admittedly, feminism is/was important, especially considering the track history of the world, but I figure that gender equality should work both ways when gender performance theory is concerned. Men are performing just as much as women are. And I generally don’t care for stereotyping and those who feel they must adhere to gender stereotypes. Then again, maybe this is because I don’t often fit into one very neatly.

One particularly irritating stereotype is the one that implies females cannot be involved in music the same way males can, whether it be as an artist or a critic or a fan. Sure, females can be artists, but they’ll always run up against some sort of crazy catch-22 where if they’re too masculine, they’re betraying their femininity, but if they’re too feminine, they’re just playing into female stereotypes. Just read Simon Reynolds and Joy Press’s book The Sex Revolts to experience this frustration (I disagreed with several points in the book’s argument, especially the chapter that dealt with The Clash and the Manic Street Preachers, which argued that both bands were so homosocial and “gang-like” that they deliberately excluded women from their worlds – anyone who actually knows anything about both bands couldn’t possibly criticize them for this borderline misogynist attitude). Additionally, sure, there have been female music journalists/critics, just not nearly as many as male ones, nor as many famous ones – I know that I haven’t ever been aware of being a fan of a female music journalist or critic. And as far as music fans go, most music magazines are clearly aimed at a male market as males are assumed to be the most fanatical and obsessive when it comes to loving music. Females are often portrayed as being less critical in their music choices and as lovers of popular music rather than alternative styles, that they are more suited for fawning, groupie-like behaviour than that of intelligent connoisseurs. It’s all ludicrous from my point of view, but then again, just by scanning through the MP3 blogs out there and The Hype Machine demographics, I would have to admit that the vast majority are written and consumed by males.

In the research I’ve done on blogs and general blogging behaviour, it seems more females blog than males, but that they are more likely to favour the diary style as opposed to the filter style, which is arguably more objective and usually about topics and issues outside of the blogger’s personal life (ie: politics, technology, etc.). When doing my own primary research about MP3 blogs, I noticed a plethora of styles that couldn’t be concretely linked to the bloggers’ genders. In many cases, bloggers, including myself, use pseudonyms that don’t readily reveal the bloggers’ genders. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought too much about whose blogs I was reading in relation to their gender identity – selection of music and writing style most often draw me to particular MP3 blogs more than anything else, which I assume is the case for most other MP3 blog readers. At least I hope so.

Interestingly enough, I received a comment awhile back on a post I wrote about not wanting to grow up; it stated that the feelings I was expressing were a “boy thing.” I’ve also been called a “dude” or “guy” in other places by other bloggers and once or twice in comments on my YouTube videos. I find this rather fascinating from a rhetorical standpoint – it means that something in my style or rhetorical presence connotes masculinity. At this point, I don’t quite know what it is since I analyze enough rhetoric without bothering with my own (I’d rather not be too conscious of the how in case it affects and influences my future writing). Admittedly, ever since I was younger I read books mostly by male authors, but did that really shape me and my future writing style, or was there something in my nature that drew me to them first? And why can I only share my musical fanaticism with males (most of the females I know get glassy eyes after I ramble on too long about music)? Is any of this related to each other? I hadn’t until recently realized how out of place I seemed in my attitude towards music (and several other things, mind), but gender performance and societal expectations seem to explain this issue.

Though the song, The Girl Who Wanted to Be God, was definitely not one of the Manic Street Preachers’ finest moments, it still holds some of Richey Edwards’ most cryptic lyrics as far as I’m concerned (okay, Revol is also a bit of a mystery). Having a history of writing songs that either criticized or bemoaned masculinity, Richey, and to a somewhat lesser extent Nicky Wire, seemingly wrote from a position of gender identity crisis. However, this song’s meaning, no matter how much I use my university-educated guesswork about metaphor and imagery, still eludes me.

There are no sunsets just silence
You could see that she was true and faithless
But see through the future and forget all the lies
Black out the words for the blind have eyes
I am the girl who wanted to be God
There are times when you feel hopeless
Just for once for no-one else we are blameless
The dawn is still breaking its heaven is so high
She told the truth, told the truth and then she lied
Hold me she said love me to death

These lyrics switch between third and first person positions, seemingly making its narrator both objective and subjective. Is the girl the narrator? Is the girl actually a male narrator? How much of Richey can be read into these words? Like with most literature, no one will ever concretely know the answer; everything is speculation. While Richey often appeared to identify himself with females, whether through songs about prostitution or anorexia, it all seems to amount to his feeling trapped into gender performance expectations, and perhaps that’s part of what made me identify with and love the Manics so much. As well-known as the Manics are for their comments and lyrics on politics, they are just as prolific in gender politics. Though the Manics did glam it up (and the Wire still does to an extent) in their beginning, emphasizing the artificiality of gender roles just as glam and camp acts always have, I think they had some of that more internal androgyny that Morrissey was so adept at expressing. My thinking is that androgyny of this sort would be a lot more helpful in creating a whole human than favouring one side of the gender spectrum in some global game of make-believe.

What came first, the gender stereotype or the behaviour? I suppose that’s more of a question of nature versus nurture, which, with only an introductory course in Psychology under my belt, is an issue I’m not prepared to debate right now. In my perfect world, none of this would matter at all anyway. Gender is just one of the many ways of identifying who one is. I would much rather classify people by the music they love than whether they are female or male, girlie or boyish. In the words of Depeche Mode, people are people. And music is bigger than that.

Gender Bombs – The Stills

The Girl Who Wanted to Be God – Manic Street Preachers

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4 Responses to “The Girl Who Wanted to Be God: Gender and Music”


  1. 1 ebony-creme
    August 25, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Hello there,

    I kind of stumbled onto your blog randomly today (I googled Mechanical Owl), but I was really happy to find this entry because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about myself lately. Especially about women in terms of being artists, since I am female (not that I exactly feel like one) and am pursuing art.

    The one thing you didn’t really seem to touch on in your entry is sexuality. I did a project on Gertrude Stein earlier this year, and found that she was a fan of some Austrian philosopher… I forget his name… but in any case, he said that women could not truly be geniuses unless they were lesbians (similarly, men that were too feminine could not geniuses). It’s not something I’ve given proper thought to, so I can’t make any bold and opinionated statements, but it’s food for thought anyway.

  2. 2 Urban Gypsy
    August 26, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    wonderful, wonderful post! you’re brilliant! incidentally, i also assumed you were male, i don’t know why! maybe just because it’s the default gender assumption? either way, keep up the fascinating posts, i really enjoy reading your blog! :)

  3. 3 zico
    August 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I agree, great post. I often lurk on your blog. And while TGWWTBG is not their finest moment, a great song nonetheless.

    I always thought it was about Sylvia Plath for some reason.

  4. 4 anglopunk
    September 3, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Thank you to all of you who commented. It’s nice to know I’ve got an audience out there.

    @ebony-creme

    You’re right – I didn’t mention sexuality. I didn’t primarily because I figured it could take up its own entire discussion. I figure sexuality is just as fluid as gender and can’t be constrained into strict binaries. I would suggest reading Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet for further discussion on the impossibilities of sexuality binaries. As for whether a person can only be a genius unless they are attracted to the same sex, or whether men that are too feminine can’t be geniuses, I would say there’s far too much evidence against both arguments and they are too rooted in a closed binary system. Whom people have sex with, whether with men, women, cars or themselves, or all of the above, only makes humanity more diverse and perhaps creates the conflict and difference that can inspire both great art and big thoughts.

    @zico

    Now that you mention it, I think I also read somewhere that TGWWTBG was about Sylvia Plath; however, the flip between first- and third-person still intrigues me, and I suppose I could speculate forever on what Richey was actually saying about Plath and/or himself.


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Photobucket

Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

Photobucket

You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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