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Author Topic: Whenever I hear the words 'pop culture'...
Definitely Helen
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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 02:28      Profile for Definitely Helen   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Whenever I hear the words 'pop culture'...
...I know I'm reading the Sunday papers...

Via today's Sunday Times Music section I've spotted this little gem of sexism, stereotyping and upholding the divisive gender binary...

Why does music so often divide the sexes?
Men are into Marr, women prefer Amos - but why does music so often divide the sexes?

(By Andrew Smith)

Recently, I took my girlfriend to see Sparks at a venue in north London. The night began well, our mood bolstered by the party atmosphere of the occasion, which had been staged to mark the release of the group’s 21st album. As we entered, I noticed that the audience was composed mostly of middle-aged men, but at the time I thought little of this. Just another rainy summer’s night. The surprise was how much my girlfriend hated it. I watched with alarm her jaw set and countenance darken as bewilderment turned to discomfort/ anger/despair. On the way home we argued about the worth of the visuals, the tunes, the arrangements and a particular set of lyrics my companion took to be misogynistic, and which I defended as if they were the honour of all men everywhere.

Of course, the next morning we laughed (while agreeing never to speak of the evening again) and recalled that our first ever argument had been about music. Over the coming days, however, word began to reach me that we were not the only couple to be rent by a Sparks show this year. Could it be that Sparks are, at heart, a blokes’ band? Who would have guessed?

We all know they exist, but we seldom speak of them: artists whose fanbase skews violently towards one sex, frequently leaving the other irritated or just perplexed. On the men’s side, the Smiths spring to mind as a band whose devotees tend to be male, others being Led Zeppelin, the Fall and geezer’s geezer Neil Young. On the feminine side, scarcely a man on earth professes to understand the appeal of Barry Manilow or his inheritor James Blunt, while mere mention of the name Alanis Morissette has been known to induce hives.

Male friends have noted that you seldom see many women buying albums or attending gigs by instrumental “postrock” acts such as Tortoise or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. A number of women nominated Pink Floyd and Steely Dan, one describing a show by the latter at the Hammersmith Apollo, during the interval of which she knew the joy of using a women’s loo sans queue for the first time in her life, while men waited their turn in the corridors.

Against that, I still recall watching what appeared to be some mysterious female rite when Take That played Wembley Arena in the mid1990s, then doing the same again a decade later, feeling no nearer enlightenment. Tori Amos, Joan Armatrading, Justin Timberlake, Simply Red: all appeal to notably more women than men.

Assuming we accept such patterns exist, the question is why - and do theysimply reflect social and cultural influences? Or could the teenage male’s attachment to heavy metal contain a biological dimension, sure as bad skin and bum fluff?

A vox pop of music fans threw up many theories. One male respondent, a music manager, suggested the defining factor to be men’s need to confer “importance” on the stuff they like. “Women don’t have that,” he says. “Women like pop, which men tend to consider throwaway - the irony being that little of the music that has ever been considered ‘important’ has stood the test of time. I mean, nobody makes musicals about Wishbone Ash, do they? They make them about Abba.”

So perhaps women, expecting their musical preferences to be taken no more seriously than other concerns traditionally associated with their sex, see no point in freighting their tastes with significance, thus avoiding the scourge of pretension? It’s possible. A female photographers’ agent and former music-biz press officer, asked to offer single-phrase comments on a range of artists including Neil Young (“whiny”), the Fall (“miserable northern gits”) and Led Zeppelin (“hahaha”), confessed to anxiety that she was being tested on her musical credibility, sighing: “I was nervous because they all sounded like ones you’re ‘supposed’ to like and I feel slightly guilty about not liking. It’s also, I think, that most women respond to music from a different place to a lot of men. Women mostly think, ‘Oh, I love this song!’ There’s no corresponding urge to collect all others like it and arrange them into alphabetical order.” Recent research suggests that an infant’s ability to recognise musical sounds and notes precedes language, but employs the same mechanisms. When we talk to a small child, we vary the tone and pitch of our voice more than normal, until these exchanges become, in essence, musical. Some have tried to argue that this explains our love of music, although it’s just as likely that we’re preprogrammed to develop and learn in such a way. This thought does raise the question, though: if we talk differently to our baby boys than to our girls, as we very well might without even realising, could we be predisposing them to different types of music later in life?

Take heavy metal, which in my own youth marked a distinct border between most male and female tastes. I’d assumed this to be somehow eternal, but it’s not: a straw poll of teenagers reveals that modern girls are as likely to adore metal as their boyfriends. Nicola Dibben, who directs an MA course in the psychology of music at the University of Sheffield, provides an explanation for this. Throughout our lives, but particularly in adolescence, we use pop music as an important marker of who we are and who we would like to be. Thus, two things are happening psychologically when we listen to a piece of music by a particular artist: “First, we’re hearing it in terms of what’s acceptable within the conventions we live by - of what the artist represents. Then, we’re making a decision as to whether we want to identify with that. So, for instance, heavy metal sounds loud, strident, powerful ... qualities we associate with masculinity. But, as a woman, I might say, ‘Well, I’m feeling powerful and strong today, so this is what I want,’ and I’ll buy into it.”

Asked whether gender differences still exist among teens, my 14-year-old daughter, Lotte, mutters darkly that boys can usually be relied upon to shun bands containing or fronted by women, such as Paramore, and singer/songwriters like Kate Nash. Interestingly, she herself thinks it would be “weird” if a boy liked Kate Nash too much.

In fact, “masculine” and “feminine” appear to be more useful constructs in this context than “male” and “female” - a notion that Raymond MacDonald, professor of music psychology and improvisation at Glasgow Caledonian University, elaborates by introducing the concept of “masculine” and “feminine” brains. This has the side benefit of explaining why my postbag is likely to be full of missives from men who love Michael Bublé and female Smiths fans tomorrow morning. It also takes the issue of gay preference right out of the equation.

Not long ago, he says, the head of BBC 6 Music came to him, wanting to know how the station might increase its share of female listeners. MacDonald then got into trouble by publicly stating the playlist changes that needed to be made in order to achieve this - at which point he was accused of pandering to stereotypes. “People get very heated on this topic,” he says, “as music in this country is such an important marker of who we are, and there is so much variation within gender. But increasingly it looks to us as though it’s not gender, but what we call ‘cognitive style’ - brain type, if you like - which is a better predictor of music preference.”

This presupposes two distinct types of brain, one with an in-built talent for systematising, the other for empathising, and it seems to make sense when applied to the world. “It just so happens that more males have a systematising brain, and more women an empathising cognitive style,” MacDonald says. “Which is why you get a lot of ambiguous results when you look at gender alone, as our brains vary within gender, meaning that a particular woman might respond to music in a typically ‘male’ way.”

MacDonald, a musician and fan himself, hopes that research being conducted with his colleague Dr Laura Mitchell will establish musical preference as an accurate predictor of cognitive style. As to whether this characteristic is innate or learnt, we don’t yet know, but anyone who has read Norman Doidge’s brilliant The Brain That Changes Itself (Penguin), in which the author makes a convincing case for our brains being far more “plastic” and malleable than previously supposed, will suspect that our predispositions can be changed through experience, either way. So the good news for Kate Nash is that my daughter’s boy friends may yet learn to love her.


JAMES BLUNT The new Barry Manilow
TAKE THAT Safe sex on a stick
CAT STEVENS The thinking woman’s James Blunt
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE It’s all in the hips, apparently, even if he does sound like Michael Jackson
JOAN ARMATRADING An original: the mama of confessional balladry
TORI AMOS The female brain in extreme
ALANIS MORISSETTE They say Sir Alex Ferguson learnt the hairdryer treatment from her: sends men fleeing for the hills
SIMPLY RED ‘At least holds out the promise of good sex,’ says one respondent
JANIS JOPLIN Sixties soul icon or overwrought shouter?
EARLY GENESIS Before they got all serious and jumped to the boys’ side


NEIL YOUNG Maverick übergeezer to men; whining Worzel to many a woman
THE SMITHS Arch chroniclers of the 1980s crisis in masculinity
AUTECHRE Representing ‘intelligent dance music’: a redundant concept to all but the straight white male
TORTOISE Instrumental postrock: so much better with a beard to stroke
THE HOUSE OF LOVE And other shoegazers of the 1980s. Most women have got enough post-post-adolescent angst at home already
THE FALL The male brain in extreme
STEELY DAN The male brain in extreme noodle-vision
JOY DIVISION The male brain in meltdown
GANG OF FOUR The male brain after reading Gloria Steinem
LED ZEPPELIN The male brain removed from the equation altogether

The right brain/left brain thing is interesting, but me, I think the reason is actually very simple: girls have good taste and boys have cooties... [Razz]

...*runs away giggling, cranks up the volume on the new Ladyhawke CD...*

YouTube links:
Ladyhawke - Paris Is Burning
Ladyhawke - Dusk Til Dawn
Ladyhawke - Back Of The Van

Posts: 17 | From: London | Registered: Jan 2008  |  IP: Logged

Solid Nitrozanium SuperFan!
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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 08:01      Profile for GMx     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Meh... I know women who love the Smiths, and one time I had a friend call while I was listening to the Smiths say, "Why are you listening to that homosexual?" I also know women who love Joy Division. As for James Blunt, the Manilow comparison is all wrong. When I hear him, I think he sounds like the 21st century version of the Bee Gees.
I think certain artist's music is crap, because it's crap, not because it is tied to gender. I can't help it if most women make crap music. [Big Grin]

Posts: 5849 | From: S-4, Area 51 | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
BlabberMouth, a Blabber Odyssey
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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 10:00      Profile for spungo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
What a load of crap -- I love the Cat and the Smiths... so what does that make me? (Ok, I can hear it coming... by the way, what exactly is a metrosexual? Someone who loves trains? [Confused] )

Shameless plug. (Please forgive me.)

Posts: 6529 | From: Noba Scoba | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged
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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 10:01      Profile for Bibo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
A large percentage of my music collection is female artists, I have 257 tracks of Tori Amos alone! My wife is a huge Smiths fan (as am I) and out of the list above Tori Amos is the only artist she likes. And we are both big fans of Industrial music.

When we 1st moved in together we sold 100 of our CDs that we both had the same copies of.

I really don't see it as a male female thing, just a matter of taste and most pop music is crap regardless. But then pop music in the US is different from what pop music is considered in the UK. I think we have a higher percentage of crappy pop music in the US.

Posts: 1641 | From: Grand Rapids, MI | Registered: Jan 2003  |  IP: Logged
BlabberMouth, a Blabber Odyssey
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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 10:06      Profile for spungo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
And another thing... the Fall rule, regardless of your gender. [Razz]

Shameless plug. (Please forgive me.)

Posts: 6529 | From: Noba Scoba | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged

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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 10:42      Profile for GrumpySteen     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The post will inspire a lot of TLDRs, so I'm quoting this bit which I think is very insightful, regardless of your gender:
two things are happening psychologically when we listen to a piece of music by a particular artist: “First, we’re hearing it in terms of what’s acceptable within the conventions we live by - of what the artist represents. Then, we’re making a decision as to whether we want to identify with that."

Of course this isn't always the case... otherwise we would all be horrified by songs like "Barbie Girl" and "YMCA"
(don't pretend you've never sung along... we all know you have)

Worst. Celibate. Ever.

Posts: 6364 | From: Tennessee | Registered: Jan 2000  |  IP: Logged
The Famous Druid

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Icon 1 posted October 05, 2008 14:12      Profile for The Famous Druid     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I like several of the artists on the 'ARTISTS THAT WOMEN LOVE BUT MEN HATE' list, and despise several on the 'ARTISTS THAT MEN LOVE BUT WOMEN HATE' list, but then, I never was a proper blokey-bloke.

Maybe I'm wearing my pantyhose too tight?

If you watch 'The History Of NASA' backwards, it's about a space agency that has no manned spaceflight capability, then does low-orbit flights, then lands on the Moon.

Posts: 10681 | From: Melbourne, Australia | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged

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