As high unemployment rates left British men of the 1960s with a bitter expectations for a darker future, the struggle to bring a wage home hit the core of their masculinity. In order to regain empowerment, many of them sought shelter under the wings of hard music, vocal extremes, electric guitars, and abrupt chords of bass and drums. The loud notes of heavy metal became a safe space, a brotherhood where patriarchy was re-established. For decades, rivers of men have gathered in front of the amplifiers to dance aggressively, like streams of testosterone flowing in a turbulent current. However, the increasing popularity of this sub-genre has since expanded its fan base, and many women have been trying to find room for themselves in the pit of metalheads.
For years, the male dominance in this music genre has fascinated experts, who strive to understand why women are still dependent upon men in the industry. We find an explanation in the work of Robert Walser, who notes that masculinity depends on the ability to exercise power upon something or someone else. Therefore, considering that this mechanism reveals a great degree of insecurity, it seems logical that male metal fans seek to constantly reassure their masculinity.
Strikingly enough, female metalheads seem to have conformed to, rather than fighting this patriarchal arrangement. At least that’s what researcher Sonia Vasan concluded, before her premature death in 2016. During the first decade of 2000s, she toured Finland in search of metal communities to study, among other things, sexist practices within the metal fan base. Her findings were stunning, as many female interviewees justified this machismo and, to some extent, were willing to concede to it. Vasan determined that, although women in metal gain empowerment, they do it at the cost of agreeing to a patriarchal narrative.
When it comes to examining the role of women in producing heavy metal music, things are slightly different; it is not metal’s androcentric culture that exercises its power over women, but it is instead the music industry and its convoluted politics that routinely push female performers on the margins. In a discussion panel organised by scholars Sarah Chaker and Florian Heesch, a group of female metal band members discussed the realities of gender in their work. Angela Gossow, the former singer of the Swedish death metal band Arch Enemy, lamented that, for the most part, female singers of this genre have been sold as “the hot chicks of metal.” Others, like Sabina Classen, member of the German thrash metal band Holy Moses, even admitted to have been dropped by a record company because she didn’t accept sexist marketing standards.
In order to end the patriarchy within, a more feminist wave of metal is emerging. A good example of this is the feminist metal community Dear Darkness, highly active on social media. This community aims at “smashing” male authority and helping women to have their say in metal at no gender cost. Although heavy metal is still widely dominated by men, these pressure groups are doing their best to bring equality to the pit, and, hopefully, we will be hearing more about these feminist metalheads in the near future.