Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” has always bothered me, although my wife tells me I’m overreacting. I don’t think Bob meant anything bad by it, but, over time, it feels like it’s taken on the same meaning as “Dress Like A Woman.” It’s a nice melody, though. So how about we pick his line “You go your way, and I go mine.” It’s not exactly relevant to this article, other than Ani DiFranco also has a similar lyric, and, you see, I’m trying to write an article about women, during Women’s History Month, no less. As a dude. Commence eye rolling. Like you need another one of those.
Seriously though, women have had it tough. In the world for certain, but in the music business for nearly… ever. I mean, you still got it rough. What prompts a person to go online to say heinous, derogatory threats to an artist? It’s a song. Just a song. And if there is still a man who thinks that one sex or race can write or sing better than another, you don’t deserve the pleasure of sound.
These days, as far as I’m concerned, most of the greatest innovation is coming from women writers. St. Vincent has taken a seat on the level of god, a crazy-amazing guitarist who’s titled rock to its avant garde side while still working within pop parameters. And when you consider everything from Sylvan Esso’s electronic minimalism to the legendary storytelling of Lucinda Williams, a sort of prophecy takes shape. If the future is female, as far as music is concerned, the future is right now.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago that this wasn’t the case. The last 20 years have been a whole lot better for women artists, but look beyond the ‘90s and its slim pickings outside of the pop world. Post 1990, if you were a woman and wanted in music, you were expected to emulate Madonna in the ‘80s, Karen Carpenter in the ‘70s. The ones who did break the mold were so far removed from that world, like Siouxsie Sioux, Joan Jett, Blondie or Kim Gordon. There were a few country singers making a fuss about it — Dolly, Loretta, and, whoa — man did they ever get a lot of flack. And it’s worth pointing out Joan and Joni, Aretha, Bonnie and Tina, composers of some of the greatest songs of all time. I’m not saying there weren’t any, but for every female artist, there were 100 more men getting a spot in front of them. And you couldn’t find most of them on the radio.
Something did seem to happen in the ‘90s. First with the Riot Grrrl movement, bands including Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, who’d had enough of it all and were going to have a lot of fun getting vocal and in your face about it. On the mainstream side, VH1 really seemed to give a bunch of names a home, and all at once. Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Alanis Morissette, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Sarah McLachlan and dozens more. It felt like a movement was finally happening. And I loved it. When I dig through my old CD stacks, there are as many women of every genre as men. It never occurred to me that there should be a difference. A bit of luck of the timing in my upbringing.
My friends still have to scream louder and work harder, because there are people out there who have a horrible, outdated idea of what makes a great person, artist or otherwise. And especially with sexist men given the key to the whole country, there are leaders in our community who’ve set out to prove to younger women that they should never hold back. Girls Rock Louisville has been an amazing beacon, and I hope it grows and grows, and one day is so big that it becomes irrelevant, in the best way. If you’re not familiar, educate yourself. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out.