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Gender in Metal: An Interview with “Bad Reputation” Director Emily Harris

Photographer Emily Harris has crossed over into a more more expansive medium of film to delve deeper into heavy metal subculture. Her studies first looked at the Atlanta Metal scene, and now find her looking the world over at some of the biggest festivals, from the Tuska Open Air Festival in Finland to the high seas on the 70000 Tons of Metal Cruise. Her current documentary “I Don’t Give a Damn about My Bad Reputation” is set for release in the early part of this year, and takes a hard look at gender roles in the often male-dominated world of metal. So I caught up with Emily to have a frank discussion about the making of her film, and what she learned in regards to tough gender issues in the world of metal.

 

 

How did the idea for this movie springboard off the making of your “Atlanta Metal” documentary?

Emily: Well, it’s kind of a weird story.  After I finished my first film, “Atlanta Metal,” as part of my thesis for graduate school, I finally graduated and was antsy to travel.  Shortly after graduation, I attended a metal academic conference in Finland and met a Finnish metal documentarian.  We remained friends, and he approached me later on about working on a documentary together.  The only thing I really cared about diving into was women in metal, since it’s something I am a part of personally, but also something I am really passionate about.

 

 

 

Do you see female roles being different within the cultures of different sub-genres? Is death metal more of a boys club than say black metal ?

Actually, there are academic friends of mine out there doing research on lots of topics, including the participation of women at certain metal events.  From what I gather, have read, and from what I have seen the numbers are about even across the board for all genres, with women still being around 20-30% of the crowd.  But I would say that black metal probably brings the least amount of women out, and actually most of the extreme metal genres I believe tend to attract more men then women as compared to say, symphonic metal, or folk metal, etc.

 

 

 

Do you see the more misogynistic attitudes that came from 80’s hair metal more rampant in the suburbs? or with the older crowd than younger crowd?
Oh, don’t get me started on misogyny.  Ha Ha, it will be heavily discussed in my upcoming film.  I think the older 80’s hair metal crowd witnessed a totally different period for metal, where women were certainly seen as objects, and that’s pretty clear.  But as metal trucks into its’ 5th decade as a genre, I think that women are being taken more seriously, as our roles have become more ingrained with the music.  Women are playing more metal, taking photos, acting as public relations, being tour managers, producing videos, etc.  I think as women become more and more involved in metal, the less we will be seen as just ‘groupies,’ although it’s still a struggle sometimes being a female in the scene. I think within major cities, people are more accepting of women or people of color being a part of their scene; whereas out in the boondocks, I would say people might be a little more close-minded.  I haven’t seen too much of a difference between young and old, because like I said, the metal scene has come really far.

 

Do you feel in making this documentary more doors or less doors were open to you by being an attractive woman?

Ha!!! Another solid question, and one that I confront a lot in the process of making this film and a topic that I discuss and ponder over many times.  I’ll put it this way: being an attractive woman for sure has gained me access to people, mainly men, wanting to talk to me.  But it’s a double-edged sword.  They may want to talk to you or help you out, but then there is the knowledge that they likely want “more” from you than what you were planning to give back.  I think what’s more important in a sense is the fact that doors are opened for me because I am persistent. I am kind. I am honest. I am driven.  I give back when I can and I wouldn’t have these doors opened if it didn’t have something to do with my personality and knowing how to treat people.

 

 

 

You come from a dance background, and ballet tends to objectify women in a different way by encouraging dancers to conform to a certain ideal – how does this differ from the objectification in the metal community?
Well, in dance – specifically ballet, because not all dance is the same – women are meant to be seen as light, fragile and graceful.  They are supposed to smile, to be beautiful and feminine.  They are supposed to entertain and enchant the audience.  I think women who are involved in metal gravitate towards it for its masculine tendencies.  Metal as a genre is heavily male-dominated and functions within the masculine code of society’s patriarchal standards.   Therefore, women have two choices.  They can either conform to the masculine code of metal by dressing more like a man and losing most of their femininity, or they can risk suspicion and possible dismissal if they choose to dress and act more feminine.  But most women these days are drawn to being involved in metal because of the power that metal signifies.  And power, as observed through society’s collective histories, relates to the masculine, not the feminine.  So while a ballet dancer might be extremely strong, she is still very much stuck in the role of the female; whereas in metal, I think women are given more room to choose whether they want to conform to the feminine code or the masculine code, or possibly mix in both.  But it can be tricky.

 

What women do you feel are doing the most to change these stereo-types?

They are all around me.  I know so many women who are involved in the scene.  I have academic friends researching and writing about the struggles of women in metal. I know fans. I know other female photographers. I know women who perform or sing in bands.  A lot of these women will be in my film, so I don’t want to talk too much about it now, check out the film!  I am so proud of all of them.

 

 

 

What do you feel is being done to reinforce negative stereotypes? Is groupie culture still prevalent in 2017?

I think there are some women (and also men) who might be holding us back.  If a woman is going to a show just to ‘hook up’ with a guy, then she is not there for the right reasons.  At the same time, when you mix a bunch of guys with a few women sprinkled in there, it’s not unrealistic that someone might ‘hook up’ with someone else.  I mean, attraction is attraction.  I would say that groupies still do exist in a sense.  It’s another issue I tackle in the film and try to analyze.  What sucks is sometimes when you are a woman and you want to hang or talk with a band because you really like their music, it’s always in the back of my mind of how they will perceive me.  Because I know if I were a guy, things would automatically feel different.  I hope that by my own example and by making this film, these are some issues people will start to think about.

 

With the current tension trickling down from a very divisive year in politics, is the metal scene reflective of society at large or does its non-conformist rebellious attitude prove to make it an exception to the rule?
I think music, especially rebellious music like punk or metal, will always be political and challenge our current political state.  I think with the current state of our country, there is certainly going to be some backlash and music written that is going to confront what’s going on.  Metal will always be a safe haven for the pariahs out there.

 

You travel a lot and hit various festivals. Do the attitudes regarding gender vary based on geo-graphics in the states or in Europe?

Yes, I do and I have had discussions with several people from different countries about how women are perceived in their local area.  I interviewed some people too for the film from different countries, so I don’t want to give too much away, but I would say that Europe has the best gender equality, and I think that stems from their cultures.

 

 

What was the most rewarding lesson you took away from this experience?
Well, I am still in the process of making it.  I have grown so much in the past few years, and one of my favorite things about making this film is the people and bands I have been able to become friends with.  Since the film is coming from the first person perspective, people will be seeing all of me.  I mean, the good times and the really heavy shit.  I am putting myself out on a limb and exposing myself pretty hardcore to the World, and that takes real strength.  I am challenging myself, and I hope to challenge others.  I believe in gender equality, but by no means does that mean I don’t love my boys out there!  My greatest reward when the film comes out would be to see that I have made some sort of a positive impact on the metal scene and that I have made people think.   Oh!  And I adore arm-wrestling men in bands, it makes me laugh every time.

 

Written By

Wil spouts his thoughts and theories on metal / goth/ post-punk/ and darker indie rock on blogs like Abysmal Hymns,No Clean Singing, Geekinthings, Treblezine etc... He is very passionate about horror movies, comic books, the occult and Morrissey , though David Bowie will live on in his heart forever

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