by John Mahon III SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM AND GAZETTE
photography by John Ferrarone and T&G staff
‘You need to be perfect. You need to be
pretty. It’s just awful,” said 22-year-old punk rocker Erin Riles as she sat
sipping a drink. Lauren Cain, her 25-year-old partner in the Clozapines, nodded
while she explained that ever since she was a 10-year-old girl, society placed
different expectations on her from the boys. Her experience in the Worcester music scene has
been similar. “Our first show we played, someone thought we were guys,” Cain
said with a chuckle.
Riles and Lauren play in a punk band that features heavy screaming and
distortion; as Riles put it, “Not everyone wants to listen to Taylor Swift.” To
these musicians, gender plays no role in determining whether someone is cut out
for rock ’n’ roll.
There is an ongoing national conversation about women in rock music, with some
arguing that women are severely underrepresented in the genre, which has
traditionally been male-dominated. Female instrumentalists are by far the
scarcest, with most women taking the stage standing behind the microphone.
Industry members and organizations are trying to shed some light on the issue,
with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently opening up its new exhibit, Women
Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power. A recent documentary, “From the Back of the
Room,” by Amy Oden, has covered the women in rock subject. While promoting a
new documentary on her band titled “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour,”
rocker Kathleen Hanna discussed the issues that arise with women in the rock
industry. The discussion has now grown in Worcester, with the podcast
discussion, “Silver Mountain #3: Women of Worcester,” produced by local
activist Mike Benedetti and hosted by musician Cha-Cha Connor, circulating
throughout the scene as it explores the topic of women in rock, as it relates
A quick glance at Worcester
shows proves that women rockers are a minority here, as they are in most
scenes. For example, ignoring possible lineup changes or similar issues, 17
musicians from a total of four bands will play at Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner
Saturday; only three of those musicians are female. Similarly, 15 performers
from four bands will play at the Lucky
Hall that day, but only two musicians will be
women. What many people are hoping for is a day when female artists are no
longer a minority in rock ’n’ roll; rather than having their own corner, they
will share the limelight equally with their male peers. “We are going to make
those numbers equal,” declared 27-year-old Connor, singer for the Worcester ska-punk group
Mack the Knife. “If there was no issue, the proportions would be equal.”
Connor criticized Worcester
for making it difficult for teenage girls to enter the scene. “The city is
totally unfriendly to youth, and unfriendly to alternative youth,” she
complained, citing the fact there are very few all-ages venues besides the
Palladium. Connor felt that city officials view the citizens and performers of Boston and Providence as
“better people,” and spend too much time trying to get those people to come to Worcester, when a great
and inspirational population is already right here.
Connor gave an example of such a person. “When I saw Lysie on stage, it
affected my mentality. Seeing a woman on stage made a huge difference,” said
Connor, referring to Lysie Nagorski, bassist of the Worcester punk rock group the Numbskulls. She
explained that one reason she was not involved in the Worcester scene earlier was that she “never
saw someone who looked like me up there, so I didn’t see an example.”
Women throughout the Worcester
scene named dozens of influential female rock musicians from beyond the city.
They included Patti Smith, Courtney Love, Wendy O. Williams, Janis Joplin,
Kristen Hersh, Joan Jett from the Blackhearts, Kim Deal from the Pixies and Kat
Bjelland from Babes in Toyland.
Nagorski offered a relatively indifferent view on being influenced by other
female rockers. “I’m not really a big fan of bands,” she said with a shrug,
describing herself as being more concerned with individual songs than specific
Although the women generally agree that Worcester
is for the most part accepting of female rockers, they also believe that sexism
still persists. “Oh, it’s so nice you brought your wife,” is a phrase that Worcester rocker Helen
Sheldon Beaumont hears frequently. “I ain’t nobody’s wife,” is what runs
through her head each time she hears it; unfortunately, this is nearly every
time she plays with her ska band, Guns of Navarone.
Jessica Lovina O’Neill, from the band Gender Fluency, said that at one show
“there was some unruly guy in the audience yelling, ‘Take your shirt off!’ ”
His remarks offended her. Another offensive comment, “You’re pretty talented,
little girl,” inspired O’Neill to write a song based off the incident. A
comment that Sarah Clark, who plays in the alternative rock group Red in My
Head, often hears is: “I’ve never seen a girl rock before.” But she said that
the men who make such remarks usually do so with good intentions.
Amanda Holton, singer for the metal band 7 Minute Stagger, believes the worst
sexism comes from other women. “It was other females that were the problem, not
males, ever.” She complained that young women in the scene spread rumors, make
sexually judgmental remarks and display traits of jealousy. “There’s more of a
cattiness when you’re in your early twenties than early thirties,” she
explained, seeing much less of this behavior as she aged.
“These things are not women’s issues; they’re human issues,” Connor explained.
“When more women succeed, more people succeed. I think men in the scene can be
highly influential in terms of getting more women in the scene, and young women
in particular. I think there’s work to be done, and it’s all of our work to do.
fighting a 6,000-year-old culture of patriarchy.”