Liz Phair

“Little girls should be seen and not heard.” I remember someone telling me this dictum at my Uncle’s holiday party when I was four or five years old. I sat quietly among the adults, clicking my patent leather heels together, no one paying any attention to me but the dog and a hard-of-hearing great Aunt who smiled at my evident boredom from across the room. I didn’t know what was so objectionable about a little girl’s voice, but it was clearly a powerful, disruptive weapon that I was in possession of.

With my hair tied up in a bow, wearing my favorite party dress, I sat there in that overly-large wingback chair mulling over my prospects. In another part of the house, my brother and male cousins were all roughhousing, getting sweaty, fighting, laughing, shouting, while I was relegated to the role of ornament, something decorative to enhance the experience of the adults, pleasant to look at, a non-participant. It was the first time I remember feeling objectified. Privately, at home, I was as free as the boys to run through the woods, climb trees, ride horses, shoot arrows, ford streams (progress). I was the leader of many of our childhood expeditions. But I had another role to play in public, one that required self-discipline, self-awareness and a negation of a whole swath of my natural urges: I had to be lady-like.

Historically speaking, this didn’t happen so long ago. Times have changed, but not that much. There’s a reason I wrote my first songs quietly, in my bedroom. Seen and not heard is still the most popular role for a woman to play. Men often write the song lyrics that many female performers sing. Male directors and script writers often dictate what female actors do and say on screen. Male owners and executives of businesses are the tone-setters, the focus-trainers for their subordinate female (and male) mouthpieces.

Why? Because the sexes disagree! What does this have to do with female fronted bands? EVERYTHING!! For a woman to lead, for her to speak her mind loudly, in front of people, is still radical. STILL?? Yes, still, in 2017. Probably until 2185. So settle in and lend a shoulder because this boulder we’re pushing uphill is fucking heavy.

So settle in and lend a shoulder because this boulder we’re pushing uphill is fucking heavy.

I remember arguing with a band member after my first record came out. I was under stress. I’d released some very explicit songs and the world around me had gone bat-shit crazy. These were just words, mind you. Just words that I wrote and sang in public. But they had a very powerful effect on the music listening community. There was no compartment ready-made to put me in: was I a good girl or a bad girl? Was I a sex-crazed hedonist or an intellectual feminist? On photo shoots, magazines tried to portray me as naked and as sexualized as possible. I did hundreds of interviews about what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. No one seemed to understand that I was just making rock and roll and happened to be female while doing it. The prejudice hurt, I resented it, it frustrated me. But I’d crossed that invisible line: I’d been both seen AND heard.

If a writer says something stupid about you being a girl fronting a band, odds are good they’ll also say something stupid about your sound, the crowd, the venue, your record, the neighborhood, the music scene, the weather, and the time of day. You can’t fix stupid. Don’t pick that battle. BEING WHAT YOU ARE, in its totality, in its fractured female fullness, in its ever-evolving form, is the best and most eloquent argument you can make. It still takes courage, it still garners opposition, it is still a revolutionary act to be yourself today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And in the many years to come. So add your shoulder, would you, please? This boulder’s fucking heavy.