Rolling Stone‘s “Women of Rock” issue is positively Neanderthal. In the 28 profiles, six of the women are in sexual poses or settings: Shirley Manson grabs her crotch, Sheryl Crow is topless, Ruth Brown and Mary J. Blige sit on beds, Ronnie Spector and Ani DiFranco lie down. Only Melissa Etheridge is shown playing an instrument–you can picture the editors muttering, “It’s OK, she’s got a lot of queer fans.”
Instead ofthe feminist cheerleading I expected, Gerry Hirshey’s idealess 30-page essay on “Women Who Rocked the World” trivializes or sabotages a surprising number of the performers she chronicles. Maybelle Carter is damned with faint praise as an “accomplished musician” and Carly Simon as a “credible” songwriter. Chrissie Hynde’s appearance, Bonnie Raitt’s drinking problems, and Joni Mitchell’s love life get more words than their music. The “pliant, willowy women of Fleetwood Mac” made music that was “great for a snack.”
And the pullquotes in the interviews continue RS’s not so subtle undermining of female musicians. “I love the word ‘girl.’ ‘Gal’ is pretty great, too. I just don’t want to be called a woman. It sounds like someone with a mustache” (Bette Midler). “I haven’t listened to that much women’s music” (Tina Turner). “I don’t relate with feminism. I see the whole human race as being broken and terribly in need, not just women” (Joan Baez). “I don’t know what a feminist is. If I see a beautiful woman, I stare” (Me’Shell Ndegeocello).
The political agenda is clear: Courtney Love’s resolute “I’m a militant feminist” in the text is passed up for “Somebody wrote, ‘How can she rock in a Versace gown?’ Well, easy–let me show you.” A problem confronted by many struggling female musicians, I’m sure.