1980’s heavy metal in America sets the tone for women 30 years later

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December 8, 2012 by gabnormal

The onset of the 1980’s in the United States brought about a whole new subculture based on a new genre of music that was here to terrify parents and the Parents Music Resource Center alike. Heavy Metal and followers of the genre known as “metal heads” were here to party, exemplified by the loud, raucous music that was driven by fast guitars and lyrics surrounding subject matter covering everything from looking cool in a leather jacket and riding motorcycles to drug use and the devil.
The burgeoning music scene also brought with it a whole new identity for young men and especially young women in America during this time period. The style of fashion and dress that is most commonly associated with Heavy Metal and the way in which women were treated then and now creates a sort of dichotomy that remains a bit blurry to this day, creating an environment where although women are glorified for some characteristics, they are still oppressed for others, as has been the trend for at least the past thousand years.
The gender and sexual stereotypes seen and formed during the 1980’s in American Heavy Metal music glorified the look of women while simultaneously objectifying and oppressing them.
The style of music defines Heavy Metal just as much as the style of fashion that is also known by the same name. Fast, loud guitars are accompanied by heavy bass lines and high-pitched male falsetto vocals. Many of the big-name acts of the day were comprised of all-male musicians, who more often than not dressed to look what is considered to be more feminine. For every Joan Jett or pat Benatar, there were ten Poison’s or Twisted Sister’s. Heavy Metal began as a boys club and continues to be so today.
The quintessential 80’s Heavy Metal band, according to many fans, is Los Angeles, California based Motley Crue. The band consists of four members, all of them male. During their height of popularity, Motley Crue dressed more feminine than masculine. Pictures show them with full faces of makeup that accentuated the shape of their eyes and lipstick. They also wore skin-tight, barely-there clothing that was more often than not made out of leather, accompanied by stiletto boots made of the same material. Along with these socially accepted feminine ways of dress, the members of Motley Crue grew their hair long, with was then teased and hair sprayed to add about six inches to their height. Besides the way that this made the band appear to their audience, the act itself of primping to get ready to go out is considered feminine. By most conventional, societal standards, men are not supposed to wear more makeup than, or spend more time in the bathroom than women when getting ready.
All of these characteristics were challenged through so-called “masculine” behavior and gruesome imagery that is seen in almost every photo of the band. These “masculine behaviors countered their appearance, validating their own masculinity.
The importance of women as the subject of songs is exemplified perfectly in “Girls, Girls, Girls,” by Motley Crue, the second song off of their 1987 album of the same name. The song lyrics document a slew of different gentleman’s clubs across the nation and the dancers who work there. The girls all remain nameless, showing that their identities are not what are important. They are also categorized into general groups, as seen in the lyrics: “Yankee girls, you just can’t be beat, But you’re the best when you’re off your feet.”
The fact that women are always the object of the song and not the one performing it has always put women in second place.
The act of looking versus being looked at also changed dramatically during the 1980’s with the advent of MTV and music videos. Now, the images associated with and accompanying Heavy Metal were in the faces of teens and audience members at any time the television was on, not just when they went to a concert or looked at the art on album covers.
By putting women as the object that is being looked at stereotypes are forced upon women in the Heavy metal music genre. They are also oppressed in the way that they are always thought of to be lesser, in terms of their musical skills and their overall intelligence. Since women are always being looked at instead of doing the looking, the oppression that is forced on them is masked through the glorification of their own physical appearance. This becomes apparent in other lyrics found in the song “Girls Girls, Girls,” “Forgot the names, remember romance, I got the photos, a ménage a trois,” where once again female identity is shoved to the side, and the only thing that matters to the male performers is the female appearance.
The irony and un-fairness of this situation is seen once again in the way Motley Crue dressed during the 1980’s. the band who modeled stiletto heeled boots, makeup and long hair glorified the appearance of women while also oppressing them by somehow still asserting their masculinity and putting themselves in the “looking” and not “looked at” position. Again, the conflict of women, their appearance and the way in which they were treated and portrayed throughout society is illustrated perfectly by what most call the quintessential 80’s band.

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2 thoughts on “1980’s heavy metal in America sets the tone for women 30 years later

  1. I am sure many people will agree with this piece of work. I would say it is a very good work on this subject.

  2. Top post. I look forward to reading more. Cheers

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