I was going to write a blog post that was very historical and informative – about women in music and suchlike. Then I read an article on The Guardian about the furious, but not always righteous, women now appearing on our TVs and I changed my mind.
It’s not just that women aren’t usually ‘allowed’ to be angry – that they get patronised or dismissed and face social and professional sanctions – it’s that the Angry Young Man is so celebrated an archetype. That’s what stings.
Of course, in ‘real life’ no one wants a boss, colleague, sibling, parent, etc., to be angry all the time; it would all get a bit ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ eventually. You may well sneer and sigh at your angry brother just as much you do at your angry female colleague. In the arts, on the other hand, oh how we love an angry young man!
It’s probably fair to say that John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter was our first Angry Young Man (although in some ways his tirades bear a resemblance to those of Shakespeare’s Hamlet). A cruel, bitter, openly misogynistic man; not truly anti-establishment – just anti-everything. John Osborne was making a statement; Jimmy Porter is just plain old angry.
In a lot of ways, the Angry Young Man, as a character, a trope, was an accidental by-product of this play. But it stuck.
Why ‘brooding’ or ‘angst-ridden’ are words that can be attached to music performed by men – and meant positively – whilst very similar music performed by women is labelled ‘confessional’ is confounding. Unless, of course, you consider that ‘confession’ is a word bound up with sin and guilt – kind of like being female has been since the Old Testament.
And music that would be described as angry? It’s not true to say that women aren’t there, making angry music, but there are problems…
As part of a recent project, I extensively researched and wrote about the RIOT GRRRL movement (1990s, US). My God were these women angry. They raged about some of the worst things a woman can experience – incest, domestic abuse, rape. The punkiest punks in the movement didn’t sing; they screamed.
The media took them to pieces – to the point where the figurehead band of RIOT GRRRL, Bikini Kill, lead a media blackout and most of the rest of the movement followed. Because their lyrics addressed such themes, stories were concocted about band members having been, at the extreme end, abused or raped, and at the less extreme end, jilted by boys.
Why else would they be so hysterical?
And this isn’t something that has gone away. If it had, The Guardian wouldn’t have run that piece about angry women – their appearance in mainstream popular culture is news.
Here I, your humble writer, must declare an interest. I am the (electric) guitarist, lead songwriter and singer of rock duo KES’ CONSCIENCE. And I am angry. About almost everything. All the time. It’s not always a just anger, rational or well-directed. It’s not always eloquent, like Jimmy Porter’s, or righteous like some of the RIOT GRRRLs’.
And while I would like the right to be angry about everything all the time… well, I realise that that’s asking rather a lot. So, on behalf of myself and all the Angry Young Women, I’ll demand only this:
Feel free to then dismiss and sneer at us if you can honestly say you’d do the same to a man saying or singing the same things. It’s the very minimum we could ask.
In amongst the everyday frustrations there are valid, detailed political and social views that deserve to be listened to. Most of an angry man’s anger is paid attention to so when he expresses something political, subtle or intelligent, he is listened to. An angry woman’s anger is dismissed as though she is ranting about spilled nail polish or, worse, it’s her time of the month. Her valid, intelligent points go unheard.
And let’s not forget that, between the gender pay gap and FGM, women have a lot to be angry about.
In music, anger is a potent force. Why, as female musicians, are we only ‘allowed’ to create that soaring of heart and sinking of stomach, that vicious burst of adrenaline, when we are lamenting lost love or turning the listener on? At best, if it is acknowleged, our anger is attributed to having had a lover ‘stolen’ from us or a man reject us. That might make us angry but there’s far more to our anger than that.
The Angry Young Man in culture is a persona, a whole character, and an accepted one. An angry young woman is either just a singer who sometimes gets her knickers in a twist or a hysterical harpy. Why can’t we have Angry Young Women? Artistic, ‘misunderstood’, angry young women – whole personas accepted by popular culture; sometimes even loved.
We are sick of being dismissed before we are even heard – it’s only making us angrier.