I’m always a bit surprised when I find myself identified as a fan scholar or as a figure in Girlhood Studies. I did not set out to be either. I slowly realized that the responsible culprit is my 2003 article in this journal, “Teenyboppers, Groupies, and Other Grotesques: Girls and Women and Rock Culture in the 1960s and early 1970s.” The article started life as a dissertation chapter that did not really fit in the overall work but which I wanted to write anyway. I had thought about the subject for a long time, even before I changed careers and went to graduate school in the mid-1990s. That decade saw at least three “years of the woman,” but it seemed that women still had an uneasy place in rock music, its spaces, and especially rock criticism. The article represented my effort to think through the reasons why, using (perhaps overusing) the theoretical tools I was learning to wield in graduate school. That there remains a need for me and others to think about the same and similar issues almost 20 years later is quite troubling.
I am indebted to Leah Branstetter for her terrific discussion of and appreciation for my article and the impact it had on the field. I was lucky to be in graduate school at a time when discussions and applications of Cultural Studies and its offshoots took over seminar rooms, term papers, and dissertations. When I look at the article now, I see only the things I would rewrite and fix. While I was at it, I’d probably turn it into two articles, as the essay’s two sections are related but could both be developed much more. I would pay more attention to race, sexuality, and genres beyond rock. There are also interesting things to say about gender and music in the post-genre, streaming world (some of which has been well said by journal co-editor Robin James).1
Branstetter, thankfully, is not as critical. Instead, she discusses several of the articles that apply and extend my argument in directions that I could not imagine when I wrote it. She is quite correct in identifying the need for more work on fans who are not “white, heterosexual, and cisgender.” A common joke parried around in graduate school was about “the disclaimer,” the need to insert a footnote in essays saying that although there was a need for it, the author was not prepared to delve into issues of race and other axes of identity not grappled with in the study. The disclaimer cannot and should not let us off the hook any more. If scholars continue to bracket discussions of identities beyond normative whiteness and heteronormativity, we are complicit in the further marginalization of already marginalized voices.
Branstetter’s observation that the section of “Teenyboppers etc.” about groupies is relevant to the current #MeToo moment should be a challenge to all of us. I am concerned that the focus of current documentaries and subsequent media attention about sexual abuse in the music industry is on non-white men while the sexual abuse perpetrated by some of its biggest (white) names is part of rock mythology. For example, what would/will happen if a critical eye were cast on the penchant of Led Zeppelin and others for “baby groupies” in the 1970s? Why are so-called legends untouchable? These and many other questions must inform future scholarship.
Doing that work can be a challenge. Studies of gender and music were all the rage in the late 1990s when scholars in certain parts of the humanities were under the sway of post-structural theory, which was especially useful for feminist analysis. Before long, the focus shifted to so-called new media, especially as economic conditions led to the shrinking of the humanities in academia and the subsequent decrease in tenure-track jobs. Popular music studies managed to survive and grow but remains a secondary discipline for those who seek jobs in more traditional media studies or music faculties, to name just two—if these institutions hire at all. The academic humanities remain imperiled, yet #MeToo and the seemingly intractable gender dynamics of rock and other genres (and post-genres) are inspiring renewed interest in studying how genders are constructed and reinforced in popular music cultures and fandoms. Branstetter’s recollection of being backstage working at a One Direction concert and realizing that the crew would not know who they were despite the intensity of their fans is just one indication that there is, as she notes, much more work for us all to do.