EDITORIAL: It's only rock 'n' roll but it's anti-woman
The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame inducted its new class last week. Highlights included Janet Jackson joining the celebrated roster of inductees (including her older brothers) and Stevie Nicks, already a member with the band Fleetwood Mac, becoming the first woman to be inducted twice.
So, it was a big night for women rockers, right?
Jackson and Nicks represented the evening’s total of female nominees. The rest of the ceremony was devoted to the male inductees — all 35 of them.
Nor was the Class of 2019 an aberration. As writer Emily McDonnell notes in a story on the website Longreads, “During the 34 years since the hall was founded by Jann Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun, 888 people have been inducted; 69 have been women. That’s 7.7 percent.”
That’s also ridiculous. And to think the Hall of Fame had the audacity (OK, let’s call it what it really was: obliviousness) to hold the inductions during National Women’s History Month.
A percentage this low doesn’t come about through simple oversight — it takes real, dedicated bias. The tables have been tilted since the Hall’s first class in 1986: 10 performer inductees, zero women. (Among the men, appropriately, was James Brown, whose hits included “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” which the Hall could have adopted as its unofficial theme song.)
The following year, 15 performing artists were inducted (18, if we count the four separate members of the band the Coasters). Only one woman, Aretha Franklin, made the cut.
So, two years and more than two dozen inductees in, there were more Everly Brothers in the hall (two), than women.
By the time the Hall turned five, it possessed more years than female performing artists: Joining Franklin were only the Supremes, rhythm-and-blues singer Lavern Baker, and Ike and Tina Turner.
Which raises another question. How is it that only last week Stevie Nicks became the first woman artist inducted for both her solo work and her work in a band? This is not a criticism of the deserving Nicks. But Diana Ross has not been inducted on her own? And Tina Turner is only in the Hall as a duo with her abusive husband?
Just for comparison, and this shouldn’t surprise you, 22 men have been inducted more than once.
The lack of representation in the hall is, of course, a reflection of the relative lack of opportunity for women in the world of music — in entertainment fields in general. The arts are no different than most professions in society: women (along with people of color) are vastly underrepresented.
Rock ‘n’ roll certainly hasn’t cornered the market on closing doors to women. Hip-hop was for far too long awash in content that was, at best, demeaning to women, and country music is notably unwelcoming to female artists. As McDonnell points out, the top 20 country songs in the nation last December featured not a single female artist — for two weeks running.
But an institution designed to celebrate a genre ought to look for avenues to correct these oversights, not magnify them.
Yes, there are a handful of women in the Hall in non-contemporary performing categories, including “early influences” such as Bessie Smith and “non-performers” such as agents, songwriters and the like (which is where we find Carole King, who was inducted with ex-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin — but not as a performing artist).
The lopsided rock hall membership isn’t lost on many, including this year’s female inductees.
“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Janet Jackson called out before leaving the stage of Brooklyn’s Barclay Center after being honored, “in 2020, induct more women.”
The artists are out there. Look no further than NPR’s 2018 Turning the Tables project: A list of the best 150 albums by female artists.
Even an all-women slate of inductees, as McDonnell suggests, wouldn’t level the scales. But the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame needs to start somewhere.
Because for an institution devoted to music, when it comes to gender equity the hall is profoundly tone deaf.