Now, here’s a conundrum. Liz Evans has edited a volume of journalism on contemporary rock music written exclusively by women and here am I, a man, sent out to review it. Ideologically thin ice. I have to confess, I’m tripping over every nuance. A wrong-footed phrase is going to sound like an alibi, a confession, a defence for the vicious lads who are supposedly holding the fort.
I have to believe Evans when she states in her introduction that a “tightly woven old-boy network still exists throughout music journalism, especially at the roots of supposedly more liberal, right-on and cutting edge papers.” Without evidence to the contrary, I have no grounds for disbelief. If I roll my eyes and protest that I have no axe to grind, I have to realise that, for this moment at least, I risk becoming a representative for my species and that flat denial colludes with those that Evans is railing against.
On the other hand, if I’m too loud with applause, I risk patronisation in the most patriarchal sense of the word. Patting the girls on their pretty little heads with a fatherly (but dismissive) hand. To presume that this book wants my authorisation is to miss the plot completely. I have to face the fact that I’m a gatecrasher at this shindig. Girls Will Be Boys exists to fulfil desires that I may simply not be aware of. If there is any criticism to be dished out, then there are more than enough women out there to do the job and, if I am going to sneak into the party, I should at least try to behave myself.
Aw, perhaps I should just say what I think and take it like a man?
Girls Will Be Boys is a good archive of some of the best pop journalism, irrespective of gender. Evans says that the new lad culture has given rise to
“stout and skinny boys in bulky anoraks with pudding basin hairdos, brandishing anthemic tunes which could easily be belted out from the terraces, women have responded by laughing, leching and laughing, or completely out-ladding the lads – and laughing.”
NME, which isn’t to say that the writing is always so androgynous. Mary Ann Hobbes’ head-to-dickhead with Jon Bon Jovi is even sweeter coming from a woman.
There’s nothing shattering here, but there are a lot of peculiar adventures with the strange creatures who inhabit our solar system. Bjork and Richey Manic and Courtney and Bez and Sinead. But, whilst the content makes a valuable archive of ’90s pop, the act of publication is what is important.
“The choice of material for this anthology was undeniably a limited one, but it was enough to warrant a collection, and a good one at that. Projects like this always run the risk of appearing to be gratuitous gestures, but while women continue to suffer for their sex, there’s no excuse for using gender alone as a reason to stand up and be counted. However, there is a balance which needs redressing, a history which needs to be told, and a tradition which needs to be established.”
With these uneasy shifts in position, Evans is also two-stepping uneasily. Difficult business, gender.
In the painful crawl to this finishing post, I’ve tried to deal my cards v-e-r-y carefully indeed. I’ve probably failed to establish a reasonable point of view. It would never be enough to just say how I felt. But in my discomfort lies an adequate lesson in gender and why a book like this continues to appear. The clearest example of constructed cultural differences you should ever need to see. Why exactly was it so difficult for me, a male, to review a volume of ickle-wickle journalism that happened to have been written exclusively by women? I’ll leave it for you to think about.