So we just have to wait till she stops making music or something like that." She was told that a group of three women was less likely to get play than a band of men fronted by a female vocalist.
Perhaps feminism is simply not in vogue, speculates Erase Errata vocalist-guitarist Jenny Hoyston. "I think any woman who's a musician is going to have people say she's only getting attention because she's a woman," she says. "It's gonna be assumed that they don't know how to work their gear, that they don't necessarily play as well. That kind of typical stuff.... A lot of people aren't taken seriously, especially if they get too queer or too gay in their songwriting, and I think that people get judged a lot for being too feminist, for sure, and I think there's a major backlash against feminism in scenes that I've been a part of in this country. I think people are cooler about it in the UK definitely and in some other countries in Europe."
But how does one explain the strong presence of all-female (or female-dominated) bands in the Bay Area such as Erase Errata, T.I.T.S., 16 Bitch Pileup, Blectum from Blechdom, Boyskout, Vervein, and Von Iva? "I think San Francisco is a big hub for women bands," offers West, a veteran of Crack: We Are Rock and Death Sentence! Panda. With a provocative name and costumes ("It's sexy from afar — and scary once you get closer," West says), the band — including guitarist-vocalist Mary Elizabeth Yarborough, guitarist-vocalist Abbey Kerins, and Condor drummer Wendy Farina — reflects a kind of decentralized, cooperative approach to music making. "There's no lead," West explains. "I think that's a really big element. We all sing together and we all come up with lyrics together. We each write a sentence or a word or a verse and put it in a hat and pull it out and that becomes a song. No one has more writing power than anyone else — it's all even. I think girls are more likely to like some idea like that than guys."
And there's power in their female numbers, West believes, discussing T.I.T.S.'s June UK tour: "It's funny because it was the first time I'd ever been on tour with all four girls. When I'd go on tour with Crack, guys would be hitting on us, and with T.I.T.S., guys were a little more intimidated because I think we were like a gang. We had that tightness in our group, so it's harder to approach four girls than one girl or two girls, especially when we're laughing and having a good time."
In the end, McDonnell is optimistic that feminism could make a comeback. "I see a revival of progressive ideas in general in culture, largely in reaction to war and Bush.... The Dixie Chicks are arguably the most important group in popular music, and they're fantastically outspoken as women's liberationists," she writes, also praising the Gossip, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed. "And the decentralization of the music industry should open avenues to women, making success less dependent on cruelly, ridiculously chauvinist radio."
Ever the less-optimistic outsider, I'm less given to believing file sharing and self-released music can dispel the sexism embedded in the music industry — or stem the tide of social conservatism in this country. But that kind of spirit — as well as going with the urge to make music and art with other women, from our own jokes, horrors, and everyday existences — is a start. SFBG