I recently had a conversation with a friend about Robert Plant and our heyday of love for him and Led Zeppelin. For me that heyday ended about 15 years ago. I thought I’d post a column I wrote for my college newspaper here, just for fun.
My column is below:
I have a lot to say about women and music, but then again I have a lot to say about almost anything whether it’s politics, religion or my favorite color. Go ahead, ask me, I’ll tell you. It’s purple.
I’ll start by telling you that I am listening to Led Zeppelin on my Walkman. I’m trying to understand why Robert Plant had to go and ruin perfectly awesome music with trashy, sexist garbage for lyrics.
I remember that fateful day when I actually heard what Plant was saying: “Ah, ah child the way you shake that thing, I’m gonna make you burn, I’m gonna make you sting”. Just what exactly is he talking about here? Is he referring to women’s butt, breast or clit? So if I’m shaking my ‘thing’, I deserve what I get— and what am I getting? Raped? Sounds like the age old excuse of, ‘she deserved it, she was asking for it’. Burning and stinging doesn’t sound like my kind of fun. Rape anthem or not, my music was becoming offensive to me.
Take a look at the Gun’s N’ Roses album, “Appetite for Destruction”. Just in case you don’t own this album, (be grateful) let me tell you what’s inside. The album’s jacket picture portrays a brutally raped and beaten young women with her panties ripped down to her ankles. She’s alone in a deserted alley. There’s an accompanying song inside that describes the rape in detail.
Why was I listening to music that treated me like an object of brutality and a sex object? I’m not one of Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’, nor am I a House of Pain’s ‘ho’ and I’m certainly not Stone Temple Pilot’s ‘sex type thing’. Ever seen the video? Believe me, change the channel: a young woman in a pink, prom dress with fear painted neatly on her face as the singer shouts that he’s “a man, I’ll give you somethin’ that you won’t forget, I said ya shouldn’t have worn that dress…here I come”. Sounds like another rape glorification song to me.
No thanks, I’ll pass.
Did these lyrics have an effect on me and my self image? What was I getting out of this music besides good guitar riffs? Why are these degrading images of women so prevalent in my music? Am I responsible for the music I listen to? Why am I giving these bands money? And finally was I contributing to the growing miscommunication between the sexes?
Music’s mixed messages are so subtle. It took me a long time to see the harmful role that women have been placed in as objects of men’s lust and as the disposable, weaker sex. Once tuned in, music sends definite messages about what we’re suppose to be like as women and men. As a result music shapes what we think of ourselves and affects how we treat others around us.
Finally I cared too much to let another day go by with these harmful and degrading sex stereotyped images in my consciousness. Women are hurting themselves if they believe that these images of women are the reality. And I can’t imagine that men are pleased with being labeled as out of control, sex fiends who are capable of rape.
I decided to put aside my sexist music and listen to women’s voices. I needed music that shared and celebrated my similar experiences as a woman. I found that women’s music portrays women in a positive light. The shared rites of passage were present: equating love with sex, monthly blood and the struggle to be free from oppression. Women’s music, its soul, resonated with my own. There was no humiliation, shame or defensiveness in my new music. I’m an insider who is respected and understood. Women’s music expanded my view of community and welcomed me into a larger consciousness of women. Most importantly there was no sense of otherness that was so apparent in my men’s music.
Now I get goosebumps from Sinead’s realism, tears from Tori’s pain and a new outlook on God with Sweet Honey in the Rock. Women are strong and powerful and courageous and doers. This is a reality. Women’s music speaks my truth and reflects my life.
Take my word for it, there is life after Zeppelin.
As a feminist that still loves Led Zeppelin (and probably always will) - it is, nonetheless, interesting to hear from feminists that may oppose Led Zeppelin for reasons related to sexism/misogyny.
I don’t deny that sexism (and even misogyny) is an issue with Led Zeppelin, both lyrically and in their personal lives. On the other hand, though, I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Led Zeppelin is very much of a classic band - and, if we threw out any band that espoused views that we disagree with, our choices would very much be limited. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy the music.
Not to mention that there are also people who uphold patriarchal views on gender roles that think Led Zeppelin (or any hard rock) is not appropriate for women to be listening to. So this does present a bit of a feminist dilemma. Do we uphold feminist principles and boycott Led Zeppelin due to issues with sexism/misogyny, or do we rebel against traditional gender roles and listen to music that is supposedly “not for women” (of which Led Zeppelin is amongst)?