Girls Still Sociologically Encouraged To Be With the Band, Not In the Band

It seems that the days of groupies getting traded between rock bands for $50 and a case of beer weren't left to James Cameron's nostalgic film lens. Professor William T. Bielby has examined the sociological roots of rock groupiedom and its continued pervasiveness in a piece entitled Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era.


From the beginning, girls were the primary consumers of amateur rock bands in the 1950s, arguably the golden age of what we now know as rock & roll (although, obviously, more than half of that shit was jacked from black musicians like Chubby Checker and Smokey Robinson).

By and large, white male groups emerged from this period as the mega-stars, likely due to the gendered parenting of that time: boys were given more free reign to hang out unsupervised for jamming and gigs, while girls were kept under a much closer watch lest they get "in trouble." Circa the rise of idols James Dean and Elvis Presley, and it took very few accoutrements for a boy to emulate the alluring teen rebel. Or, as Bielby puts it:

Teenage boys saw Elvis impress the girls, so they got their friends, other teenage boys, to start bands with them.

Even the most famous girl groups of that time, rather than emulating this tactic of eschewing authority themselves, rebelled by falling in love with the male rebels, as evidenced the lyrics of hits like "He's A Rebel" by the Crystals or "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las.

My folks were always putting him down
They said he came from the wrong side of town
They told me he was bad
But I knew he was sad
That's why I fell for the leader of the pack.


These origins continue to play into the modern consumption of rock music in sublimated, unexpected ways: on T-shirts, in fact, as one shopper noticed in a Toronto H&M. Where were the "I am a drummer shirts"? Oh, in the Ladies' Nowhere section. NBD. Not to mention that this is akin to branding yourself like the musician in question's commodity.


Bielby did note the prevalence of female bassists in alt rock bands, but said that this is the result of a typical gender role mechanism: as the bass became sidelined as a "female" instrument and not considered "men's work" (like, say, drumming or lead guitar), increasingly more room was made for female bassists.

To get the bad taste out of your mouth, here is a delightful live performance by Gilda Radner in the 1970s as female delinquent rocker character Candy Slice. Which, ironically, is still about a man (Mick Jagger). But it's satire!


'"I Fancy The Lead Singer": Bands, Fans and Gender' [The Society Pages]

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