It comes as no surprise to most of us when the music industry gets called out for being a boy’s club. Whether it’s mansplainers at the music store or offensive commentary by the media, women in music face resistance.

When we focus on sexism in the industry, the conversation is often about female musicians and their struggle to be taken seriously. While this is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, not all misogyny occurs on the professional end. Female music listeners face offensive assumptions and sexual objectification from both the media and male fans.

In order to get a better idea of just what male assumptions women are dealing with, I wandered around a college campus for an afternoon and questioned a handful of random guys.

I started off with “What do you think girls listen to?” and “What do you think goes into the decision of what girls listen to?” The responses were surprisingly open-minded. Most of the students hesitated to make those kinds of assumptions based on gender.

I followed up with a different question. “If you went to a concert, and you didn’t know anything about who was playing, but you saw that the audience was mostly young women, what would you think of the band?” Pretty much all of the guys had to admit that they wouldn’t expect hard rock or really aggressive rap. They guess it would probably be mainstream pop.

You might be wondering how this provides any proof of sexism toward female music fans. After all, it’s not the fault of these male college students that pop tends to attract more women than hard rock, right? It’s just an observation, not an offensive assumption about female music consumption, isn’t it? That’s what I thought, too– before I did a little digging.

In 2015, Houston Press released the article “Metal’s Problem With Women Is Not Going Away Anytime Soon,” which brought to light some of the real reasons that metal continues to have a mostly male fanbase. It’s not the aggressive drums, the loud guitars, or even the screaming– it’s the messages that metal artists and fans have been sending women for decades. There are the overt messages communicated through lyrics and album art containing themes of extreme sexual violence and degradation of the female body, and then there are the subtler messages communicated by fans, such as demanding that a female fan “prove” her knowledge of the genre.

It doesn’t help that, should a woman actually get past the “boys only” signs that metalheads have been brandishing, the sexism doesn’t go away. I followed a thread (I know, I know; I’m not proud of it) through a conversation about women who listen to metal. It seemed that a lot of men were complaining about not being able to find women who shared their interest in metal. No blame was placed on the sexism present in the genre. The conversation focused on making the distinction between women who could handle metal and women who couldn’t, asserting that metal was real music at the exclusion of other genres, and coming onto the female fan that did reveal herself.

Sexualizing women who can appreciate “guy” music is not just a problem in metal and hard rock. In an article for Vice titled “Guys: Why Are You Fetishizing Girls Who Like Rap Music,” Madeleine Holden writes about her frustrations as a female rap fan. She points out males use the phrase “You’re not like other girls”  a compliment, but it’s actually insulting. Praising a woman for having stereotypically male interests trivializes other women and their interests and denies the existence of whole communities of women. It also reinforces the notion that certain kinds of music are exclusively for dudes.

The problem with complimenting women who can enjoy “guy music” on their honorary masculinity isn’t just that it reinforces the exclusivity of these genres. It also leads to women tearing each other down in an effort to attain the approval of males. We’ve noticed the “all my friends are guys, I’m not into drama, all other girls eat salad but I eat cheeseburgers” trend.

When I interviewed a handful of college girls on the same campus where I interviewed the guys, some of these ladies admitted to being made fun of for liking pop music or not having strong opinions about music. Others attempted to create a little distance between themselves and the “obnoxious” One Direction fans.

So yes, it’s true that a large number of women are into generic pop, and that there are way more males reading Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. There’s nothing wrong with women who like pop, and there’s nothing wrong with women who don’t feel like being updated about the latest alternative bands.

The problem is that some women might actually show more interest in music if the industry wasn’t so dead set on driving them away.

Women either have to face mockery for liking the music that is marketed toward them, or they have to ignore the offensive lyrics and ogling fanbase of more culturally masculine genres.

The good news is that musicians and consumers are recognizing these issues. The more people that speak out about sexism in the industry, the closer we get to fixing the problem. And what women bring to the table as listeners is worth courting.

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