Every few years someone pens a piece about how women in rock are finally mainstream, pointing to the "emergence" of female singer-songwriters as proof. This weekend, The Telegraph, in an article about the "New Girl Power" in rock, declared that the mainstream music industry "has rarely invested in girls with guitars: it has always preferred them dressed-up and dancing." I'd argue that the rock world has invested in girls with guitars since rock began: At the beginning there were Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, and more recently Sheryl Crow, Annie Lennox, Bjork, Chrissie Hynde, Bonnie Raitt — the list goes on. There have also been loads of successful acts with pretty ladies at the helm, including No Doubt, Garbage, and Blondie. The place where women are still scarce is as part of bands. Besides the Donnas and the GoGos, I can't think of one all-female band that reached the upper levels of the Billboard charts (I'm sure there are others).
What's even scarcer are male-fronted bands with women who play bass or guitar. If there is a woman in a band, she's generally the gorgeous face out front a la Jenny Lewis in Rilo Kiley. Bassists Tina Weymouth in the Talking Heads and D'arcy Wretzky from the Smashing Pumpkins are notable exceptions to the rule.
Joan Jett, one of only two women in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists and former member of the all-girl band the Runaways, thinks that male critics are threatened by female rockers, which could explain the dearth of head bangers in bras. "My personal opinion is that rock'n' roll is very sexual, and when you're playing it, you're owning your sexuality," she tells the Guardian. "And I guess that's very threatening to a lot of people - that's the only thing I can figure why we ran into so much resistance."
My secret hope is that the Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls will usher in a riot grrrl redux, and we'll return to the halcyon days of the early 90s when people cared about Sleater Kinney and the Breeders and Bikini Kill. Looking at a recent cover of Blender which features a half naked Pussycat Doll, I don't have much hope. Maybe someone needs to a tampon at the American audience to get shit riled up again.