If you’ve wondered why projects celebrating women in the history of rock are needed, maybe all you need to do is listen to women in rock. Stories of boys’ clubs in the industry, from record labels to journalists to fandoms, are ubiquitous, which is why so many voices are pushed to the margins, say rock historians like Tanya Pearson, director of the Women of Rock oral history project.
Marginalization happens not only on stages and studios but at the level of memory and preservation. “Canons influence how we remember the past,” Pearson writes. “Rock journalism, media, and scholarship perpetuates a one sided, androcentric rock narrative…. Women do not easily fit and so they continue to be underrepresented. If they are represented at all, they are not given the same level of attention or granted the same access to audience as their male counterparts.”
Women of Rock, a “collection of digital interviews and written transcripts housed at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith college,” focuses “primarily on artists who have been left out of the popular rock narratives.”
Pearson and her volunteer collaborators hope that “by creating space for women, trans, and gender nonconforming artists to share their personal and professional histories” the project can “contribute to their personal and professional histories and accurate popular rock narratives.”
Pearson created the project while an undergraduate at Smith, finding herself “frustrated by the scant details available about her favorite musicians,” writes Sharon Hannon at Please Kill Me. “The main reason I started this project,” she tells Hannon, “was that it’s something I wish I had access to when I was 13 or 14,” a time in her life when she was “desperately searching for representation.” The problem wasn’t that women like her did not exist in rock, but that she couldn’t find out much about them.
The site’s current roster of interviewees is an interesting and impressive mix. It includes women who have been integral to punk, indie, and alternative rock—like Lydia Lunch (further up), Nina Gordon and Louise Post of Veruca Salt, Alice Bag, Shirley Manson, Julie Cafritz, Melissa Auf der Mauer, Kristin Hersh, Mary Timony, Kira Rosseler, JD Samson, Amanda Palmer, and Exene Cervanka. (Sadly, Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, who passed away recently, isn’t featured.) And there are lesser-known artists who deserve a much wider audience, like Brie (Howard) Darling, a member of the criminally underrated Fanny, and whose full interview you can see below.
All of these women have stories to tell about surviving in a “male dominated business” as Tracy Bonham says in the trailer at the top of the post. Stories about “the patriarchal system,” as Shirley Manson says in her interview further up, “that allows men to thrive” and pushes women out. All of these musicians also tell us stories about themselves—their childhoods, influences, struggles, and passions, leaving behind a record in which future women rockers and rock historians among the current generation of 13- and 14-year-old kids can see themselves.