I had zero expectations when I cracked open The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper. I am an ardent music lover, particularly of punk rock, a genre Hopper also has an affinity for, but not since my incipience in music appreciation have I read a music review. I suppose if I examine this disinclination, it has roots in the fact that musical tastes are so idiosyncratic. None of us have the same mash up of preferred genres or favorite songs, nor do we find the same meaning in music and the “scenes” that accompany it. For that reason, maybe I never properly valued another individual’s point of view on this topic. Or maybe, what I love about certain types of music has always been beyond my own vocabulary, therefore I have found myself unable to recognize my preferences in someone else’s writing.
This unfamiliarity left me entirely unprepared for the articles and musings that are contained in this book. Hopper’s articles are academic, and she sinks her teeth into the psychological and sociological aspects of the music she reviews. She often glazes over what the music sounds like, preferring instead to dissect what the music means–not just to the artist that created it, but to those who consume it, exposing what the music says about the culture that bore it. The best part of these scholarly assessments? They are juxtaposed by a crass and blunt delivery that somehow serves as the perfect polish.
Hopper’s tenacious feminism is unavoidable in nearly all of the work featured in this collection. There are a handful of comments and observations made that are like post-workout muscles, inflicting a soreness you keep recalling with a mixture of satisfaction and pain. One such idea presented, which demands further attention, is how much of the experience of being a woman–the subtle sexism, the sexism that is so common it seems inherent–how much of this experience should a feminist expose?
One example of this commentary is found in “Things you’d tell another girl… about the private frustration of being a woman in a man’s world.” With gender issues, to be taken seriously, you have to pick and choose your battles. It is like you have a complaint punch card. You can only offer so many criticisms if you want to be seen as credible. Therefore, many women brush off much of what bothers them, what rubs them the wrong way, saving up their punches for the big outlandish provocations.
The reasoning for this is clear: there is a consequence for exposing this frustration. Women speaking up more and more about the imbalances of society can result in a feminist backlash. It seems that there is a segment of the male population that angers at the mere suggestion that sexism is an everyday fact for many women. Complaints can be met with what amounts to a verbal eye roll, the assumption that there is exaggeration, over-analyzation, or over-reaction at play. What baffles me when I am met with this reaction is that any man that would assume that he, as a male in society, has a clearer idea than a woman about the experience of being a woman, is proof of the point.
Within the first few pages of the book Hopper addresses a prevailing theme in music–making the observation that in music of all genres, woman are often treated as accessories, as something to be won or lost, adornments or villains to dress or torture the perpetually male protagonist. She suggests that perhaps this is partly what fuels the phenomenon of women tending to fantasize about being the guitarist’s girlfriend as opposed to the guitarist. She raises the stingingly poignant question of whether it is appropriate for a socially conscious woman to consume a product where she is treated as something to be consumed. In the context of the music that she is referencing–emo–women are not being verbally abused or outrageously sexualized in general, but are still being objectified and minimized into one-dimensional characters.
This is one of those issues that is difficult and risky to shine a light on too heavily. You run the risk of stifling art, of making artists overly aware of themselves, which would not be change for the right reasons. While reading, I contrasted her ideas in this context with a quote extracted from an album review that observes, “It is a brave act for her to admit that she quietly shushes the ‘difficult’ parts of herself in order to connect with men: she is airing a common secret of women’s lives.” When contrasting the two ideas, I had the thought that when a woman’s perception of the world merges with a man’s perception of the world, perhaps someone is always going to be asked to stifle portions of their perception to make the other comfortable? Hopper’s ideas on this subject got my mind moving. Her argument is valid. However, art is a reflection of life. Of course the objectification of women is going to be a prevailing theme in music scenes of all sorts.
Hopper is fearless in her assessment. She does a beautiful and hugely important thing in her Collection: she asks questions that she doesn’t have answers to. She does something more important than offer answers to questions, she penetrates the music community, and initiates a riveting dialogue.
Written by Kira Patefield