Paper Dolls: Searching for Women within Kerrang Magazine

Kerrang magazine, the popular rock/metal companion recently celebrated its 25th year of providing ardent fans of music with up to date reviews, gig listings and interviews. I’ve been buying the magazine for the last few years and am confounded by the total absence of any real coverage of women’s music within its pages. Reading a recent issue (August 2006) I discovered – to my horror – that women in fact only feature only a handful of times, and primarily for male titillation. As a feminist I increasingly see the need for pospitive female representation within popular culture and really feel that Kerrang should be doing more to enable this.

I want to state something before I begin – I LOVE ROCK MUSIC! I love loud, riotous music with thunderous distorted guitars, pounding drums and guttural vocals. It is in search of rock music that I buy Kerrang faithfully every issue and I genuinely look forward to reading it, eagerly waiting to see who will grace the cover, who’s gigging and which new bands I should give a listen. Each issue I tear through the pages, pouring over image after image of makeup laden male musicians each one a rock god posed to perfection. Flicking through the 5th August issue, imagine my dismay when I only counted seven real instances of women within seventy two pages of material. I even went back through a second time – just in case I wasn’t looking closely enough! But low and behold! Women are only ever shown in the background always several paces by the predominant male musicians – if at all.

I only counted seven real instances of women within seventy two pages

The first woman actually appears on the cover of 5th August – the gorgeous Hayley Williams of rising star Paramore, looking adorable, clad in pink and resting her head upon Will Francis from Aiden. It was her altogether perky and comforting appearance on the cover that led me to purchase the issue only to later find that she is only present on a handful of pages as part of the magazine’s coverage of The Warped Tour. It becomes apparent from the accompanying articles and photo’s that Williams is one of the only women on the tour and something of a novelty as a result. One photograph caption reads: “The boys were lining up to meet Paramore‘s Hayley” (p24p)

Williams, it seems is included in the drinking games and general debauchery of the festival but is clearly in the minority on an all-male bill. In the small interview included, Williams emphasises how much fun she has had on the tour as one of the boys – even within her own band. Hayley Williams is the only female voice actually heard within the magazine, and even then just as a snapshot, it seems Kerrang prefers visual representations of women over vocal.

Next is an advertisement for the debut album “God this Hurts” from Betty Curse. Betty is dressed up as a modern day, gothic, Snow White complete with half-eaten poisoned apple and lies languidly, apparently awaiting rescue by her prince. The image is iconic and no doubt will drive record sales, but you have to wonder why the industry behind the release of her album put forward the hackneyed fairytale concept. Betty exudes Goth-princess cool but there is nothing challenging or assertive to inspire female fans.

it seems Kerrang prefers visual representations of women over vocal

Ray Zell’s Comic strip Pandora has always troubled me. Its spunky heroine casts a caustic eye over new bands and sends up Rock music’s stars and wannabe’s. This week’s strip is no different as Pandora and her female office temp Web discuss an airbrushed image of singer Amy Lee (of Evanescence) from a previous issue of Kerrang. Debating the merits of Amy’s beauty Pandora contorts her face to illustrate how she “finally” feels the singer’s pain (a reference to the band’s angsty vocals). For me, Pandora exemplifies the role of women in Kerrang generally; overtly sexual, musically obsessed and a total bitch. Amy Lee is also a popular mainstay of the magazine and is later used as a universal advertising tool to promote the website:

Next up is a burlesque rag doll dancer appearing on stage with Panic at the Disco in Toronto. The dancer, part of a stage show that is described as “…part Moulin Rouge… part Smashing Pumpkins-inspired Victoriana”, gyrates to the bands music, her arms suspended on strings. While the obvious “glitz” and polish of the show is warmly reviewed, the writer’s comment that “By ‘But its better if you do’ Urie [PATD lead singer] is being straddled by one of the girls in a lap dance pose, clearly in his element” is unsettling.

Even more alarming is the half-page ad given to Mobile Mayhem to advertise its pornographic images of women – for your mobile. Choose from a “Naked Celebrity” or “Goth Girl” each one writhing in barely concealed, semi-naked ecstasy. One of which is featured gagged. Charming.

what message is Kerrang sending to those female fans?

Also included is a still from the new film The Notorious Bettie Page, in which Grechen Mol stars as the titillating heroine. “Fans of busty ladies wearing corsets will love this glossy trek through the life and times of Bettie Page” reads the blink and you’ll miss it review (p69) with accompanying image of the “saucy” Ms Mol.

Then, finally, after much searching through the gig listings for women musicians or female fronted bands all I could find were listings for Juliette and the Licks (one of rock’s few female centred success stories), Paramore (as discussed) and Vixen; “All-girl ’80s rock action revs up” – enough said.

Having noted these occasions of women within Kerrang it is, with a heavy heart, that I relegate the issue to the bin. As, although women represent a small minority of actual artists presented within the magazine, it’s readership and the crowds photographed attending each gig are largely female. So what message is Kerrang sending to those female fans and to me? Increasingly it feels as if there is an echo of ‘you don’t belong here’ permeating each page. As the women that do appear in the magazine are always so two-dimensional, in the form of dancers, bit-players and comic strip characters, there is a pervading feeling that women are spectators and not active participants in rock music and are only valued by its culture as sex objects.

where are the editorials on female-fronted bands?

I am fully aware that rock music is traditionally a male sphere in which there are few female stars or musicians when compared to the overwhelming number of all-male bands. However, there are women to be found in the world of rock and even metal; Shirley Manson, Juliette Lewis, Amy Lee, Courtney Love, Charlotte Hatherley, Melissa Auf Der Maur, Brodie Dahl to name but a few plus bands such as Arch Enemy, Lacuna Coil, Scarling, Kittie and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Even the most inept web searches or myspace browse will turn up new and up-and-coming bands from the UK such as Headless. So why aren’t these musicians and bands represented within Kerrang? If it is Kerrang‘s mission to successfully capture new rock music for its readers where are the editorials on female-fronted bands? Why is it that in the 9th September issue of the magazine Lacuna Coil’s Christina Scabia and Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow are relegated to modelling outfits at the ‘K’ awards?

I feel that Kerrang magazine desperately needs to move with the times before they alienate their female readership completely. If the current trend to marginalise women artists and promote sexualised images of women within the magazine continues – won’t it ultimately reduce itself to the level of a lad’s mag?

This female reader for one enjoys music by bands of both genders (from Foo Fighters to Riot Grrrl) but very little of the all-male ‘Emo’ music currently praised by Kerrang speaks to my specific experience as a woman in the UK. I long to see strong, assertive and intelligent female artists within the pages of Kerrang, to see them given acknowledgement for their talents as singers and musicians and not solely to have their sexuality used to sell copy.

If only there was a mainstream alternative for women who like their music Loud.

Collette is a recent graduate of Nottingham University currently working in Publishing. In the fantasy world in her mind she also plays drums in a successful all-female rock band.