... and ain't i a woman?: Heavy metal

Issue 

Heavy metal

Tippa Gore, wife of US Republican senator and presidential aspirant Albert Gore, describes herself as a progressive-minded woman who likes rock music and has even smoked marijuana (once). But, she says, some of the sentiments expressed in heavy metal music are so objectionable that the offending bands should be banned forthwith.

Her parents' group for the control over what their children may listen to points to lyrics encouraging drug use, rape and suicide, and invokes the case of a suicide pact last year between two young listeners of heavy metal rock band Judas Priest.

Tippa Gore's group came up in a discussion on Andrew Ollie's ABC radio talkback show on May 2, which focussed on the effects of heavy metal on the well-being of young listeners. The discussion was sparked by the shotgun suicide of a 15-year-old high school student in Kempsey on May 2. The boy was reportedly a heavy metal fan.

Whether you like heavy metal or not, some of it is pretty objectionable. While the Ollie show focussed on its fascination with death and Gothic horror, the grotesque sexism in some of the imagery and lyrics is just as bad.

I remember seeing a boy of about 10 or 11 in a black T-shirt decorated by a drawing of a woman slumped against a wall with her knickers down, with "Guns 'n' Roses woz 'ere" scrawled above her head (Guns 'n' Roses is the name of a heavy metal band). A sickening sight.

And heavy metal is not the only rock music which contains within it a tendency towards anti-woman lyrics and imagery. While US rap music has been celebrated by progressives for its off-the-streets anti-state and anti-racist sentiments, some performers have come up with misogynist sentiments so chilling it would be in poor taste to give an example.

Is there a relationship between these lyrics and the things that young people do? Does listening to a record about suicide make you want to do it yourself? Is the boy in the black T-shirt tomorrow's rapist?

The debate on music has direct parallels with the pornography debate. North American feminist writer Andrea Dworkin holds that pornography is the "theory" and rape the "practice". The logical conclusion to that is to agree that it ought to be censored. If a direct correlation can be proved, then freedom of speech must take second place to saving lives.

But while many feminists advocate censorship of porn, would they be so keen to start in on music? The Tippa Gores and Fred Niles of the world would be ecstatic. Just imagine the little committees of thought police required to stamp out all the nasties.

The women's movement in the US has been moving down this track for some years now. Who gets to control the process, once everyone has agreed that censorship is a solution to the symptoms of a

More importantly, a direct correlation between the consumption of mass media violence, misogyny and degradation on the one hand, and the actions of individuals on the other, has not been proved, and probably can't be. A myriad of factors can come together to produce a sick personality — family background, social opportunities, unemployment, sexual abuse, to name just a few.

Censorship doesn't work. If the work of some heavy metal artists were banned, that would only increase its fascination for young people wanting to test the limits they perceive society has imposed on them.

Feminists must be among the most passionate advocates of free speech and free thought, as we struggle to break down the limits that society has created for us. We can campaign against, argue with, boycott our opponents. But it won't do us any good to ask that they be censored.

By Tracy Sorensen