I was recently talking with my wife about music, and the topic of (seminal English punk group and “only band that matters”) the Clash came up. She startlingly declared to me that the Clash were, in her words, “a boy’s band,” meaning that their music and its subject matter was meant to appeal specifically—and overwhelmingly—to males.
While I had tacitly understood that certain popular entertainment was designed with specific genders in mind—romantic comedies and softcore S&M dramas for women; action, horror, and Fast and the Furious movies for men—it had never occurred to me that all popular culture was in some way gendered.
So I did a little research to clear up the muddy issue of what belongs to who in music, so both men and women know where they stand and don’t end up “crossing over” into each other’s territory.
It’s a bit more complex than you might think. For instance, boy bands like N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys, and One Direction were obviously meant to appeal to young women, but the first wave of the British Invasion was similarly designed with the fairer sex in mind. Meaning the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are for girls only! Sorry, fellas!
But don’t worry, guys! You’ve still got the rockin’ testosterone-fueled Led Zeppelin, the cerebral, experimental Radiohead, the brawny, horn-filled Chicago, the virile punk of The Jam, and the resolute, quirky Talking Heads. Women get the abrasive diversity of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, the feisty, conceptual Styx, the emotional ballads of Lawrence “Larry” Gowan, most first-wave ska bands, and almost all 90s pop-punk.
Got it? Not so fast! While the soft California sounds of The Eagles are transparently meant to appeal to the wistful male constitution, Don Henley’s more edgy, literary solo work can only be truly appreciated by the ladies.
Similarly, the aggressive East Coast hip-hop of The Wu-Tang Clan might seem arranged to appeal to young lads, but things get all flipped around when it comes to the members’ solo work. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, GZA, and Masta Killa mix fearless beats with explosive, confident lyrics naturally reflecting the taste of dudes; while RZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, and U-God have tracks that are more reserved and genteel, and show a sensitivity appreciated by the ladies. Wu-Tang is for the children, but it’s helpful to know exactly which ones.
You may think that categorizing the world along male/female lines in this way is outrageous.
That it not only ignores the glorious diversity in gender that exists in the world, but also transparently accepts ridiculous societal stereotypes as determining factors of what sort of media appeals to whom.
But I didn’t make the rules! It’s been going on since we were kids. I wore blue pyjamas, while my wife wore pink. I played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, she played with Barbies. It’s simply the natural order of things as set out by our mass-media overlords, and we’re powerless to fight against it.
So, if you see a woman listening to The Clash (or ELO, the Stooges, Bo Diddley, Philip Glass, NWA, the Pretenders, or REM), be sure to pull out her earbuds and toss her MP3 player in the mud. While these seemingly arbitrary classifications may feel limiting, if not downright insulting, without these restrictions our musical tastes—if not the world as a whole—would devolve into chaos.
And now that you know what you’re allowed to enjoy, don’t you feel better?