March is Women’s History Month, hot on the heels of Black History Month. It should go without saying how important it is to take the time to highlight the invaluable contributions women have made to society and culture. It’s also true that, if I’m doing my job as an entertainment journalist properly, then I’m constantly and consistently highlighting the amazing art created by women and people of color (and oftentimes females of color), whatever month it is. But equity hasn’t been achieved yet, so a reminder is a healthy thing for everyone.
We always hope that things have gotten better, even if that’s debatable. As of right now, the best new rappers in the game are female and there doesn’t seem to be any industry-set limit to how many can succeed. We’ve always had great female rappers, going back to MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt N’ Pepa, J.J. Fad – but the industry always viewed them as a novelty.
The same was true in rock & roll, and particularly the notoriously sexist hair metal scene in the ‘80s.
“There were a lot of people who would book us because they thought it would be some kind of schticky thing,” Amy Brammer, lead singer of all-female ’80s group Poison Dollys, told this writer in 2017. “Normally after we did soundcheck, we proved that we knew what we were doing.”
Lorraine Lewis, formerly of Femme Fatale and now of Vixen, said that: “The stations would really only play one rock female at a time. It wasn’t like how it is now. If I went to a radio station and Lita [Ford]’s poster was on the wall, I knew the chances of me getting played at that radio station were zero. One token female rock girl. It was so fucked up. I took it all with a grain of salt and a smile on my face, but looking back, it’s so outrageous to think that radio and airplay was so limited in their thought.”
Leslie Knauer of the L.A.-based band Precious Metal agreed that breaking through on the radio was the toughest challenge. “The radio stations would tell us that they had one spot for an all-girl band. One spot. Why not seven spots? Why not 30 spots out of 100? They would say, ‘Between you and Vixen, it’s whoever can pay for the most ad time.’”
Those female rockers had to hyper-sexualise themselves too, if they wanted to get any attention.
“We all dressed like that because, when you were in the clubs back in those days, that’s just how you dressed,” Brammer says. “My mother was a seamstress, so I would design stuff and she would help me create it. I don’t know if it was to amp up the sex, or just to amp up something that people look at and go, ‘Wow, where did she get that?’”
And according to Phantom Blue singer Gigi Hangach, not much has changed: “You’ve got to be able to afford a plastic surgeon if you’re going to put yourself out there, or you’re open to ridicule.”
New wave/paisley underground band, the Bangles, had similar stories of misogyny in the ‘80s. Photographers would try to talk them into making out with each other or have a pillow fight in their pajamas. Thankfully, they stood their ground.
“Just a click through YouTube and you’re gonna find incredibly talented musicians all over the country, which is great and exciting,” said the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson. “Young women who are fearless, and thank God for that. It actually is something that I relate to. We had a sweet blind spot as to what our limitations might be out there in the world. We fully believed from day one that we would rule the world. We were very narrow-minded. It was Bangles or bust.”
The Rolling Loud hip-hop festival just took place in Los Angeles and, while the headliners were male, there was a ton of female talent spread all over the lineup. The likes of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat are leading a golden period that we hope never ends.
Prior to the festival, Big Boss Vette told this writer that: “I think females are finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve, but I think it’s that time as well. We are so unapologetic where we rap and write music, and we’re up now. They could never put us out. We are finally in the building.”
Cam of duo Cam & China agreed: “Now things are changing, so many new opportunities for women – we have a Black woman as the vice president,” she says. “Things are changing every day in society. But now, in the rap game, the door is open. First we had Nikki Minaj, who opened the door. Now we have so many other rap artists.”
“It’s like now we’re accepting more female artists and there’s a lot of female artists flooding the industry,” Skodi said. “But at the same time, we have people that have been putting in work for some time. They’re finally getting their recognition. It’s music – the people that are supposed to be here are going to be here. It’s just what it is. But I really think it’s good that now, female artists get a chance instead of it just being brushed off like it used to.”
Finally, Tay Money said that, “This is a very special moment. I’m very honored to be a part of it. I’m glad that it’s happening right now. I think everyone struggles with getting their credit, but right now is a very special moment for women. We’re knocking down doors, and we’re also blurring the gender lines. We’re here to compete, and we want what’s ours. That’s everything, period.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of work to be done before true equality is achieved. That’s why Women’s History Month remains such a vital part of the calendar.