Examining the “Female Rock” Movement

In recent years, an upsurge of album sales and extensive media attention has identified a new genre of music in the popular music scene. Led by notable artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, and Tracy Chapman and highlighted in sold-out performances such as the Lilith Fair tour events, the new "female rock" movement is distinguished from the more mainstream "pop" musical culture by what Elena Wood '01 of Newport, N.Y., calls "collective and independent messages of social and political change." Elena, a philosophy major, and Professor Kirk Pillow are examining the 'female rock' movement as part of a project funded by a grant from the Emerson Foundation.

"What Elena is doing," says Professor Pillow, "is examining this new musical scene, first, with feminist aesthetic theory to explain the distinction between popular musicians who happen to be women and artists who are identified as 'women's musicians.' Second, Elena uses philosopher Michel Foucault's discourse theory to show that these artists are using their lyrics to create larger social movements." Elena began her project by researching the philosophical theories she uses as the basis for her argument and studying psychological development. "I had never done a research project this large before," Elena says, "and, starting out, I was overwhelmed by the volume of work I had to do. Now, I know how to manage a large project, staying organized and making progress; that skill has definitely carried over into my other studies."

Elena is making a careful analysis of the lyrics of the artists she has identified, and is finding some interesting results. "Although these women come from a wide variety of backgrounds," she says, "they all seem to share the intent to denounce certain stereotypical viewpoints about social and political issues and to affirm a new feminist identity. They're showing just how powerful popular music can be as a vehicle for change."

Elena, who looks forward to applying her analytical skills in graduate school, feels lucky to have had the opportunity to do this project. "I like being able to work with faculty like Professor Pillow - he really cares about what he's doing," she says, "and this project has definitely changed the way I think about my own life."

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