The term “girl band” is one that evokes a feeling of resentment. It has often been rejected by women in music for being degrading, and ultimately, sexist.
I get it. It’s infuriating to always have the focus of the conversation be on gender, rather than artistry—to be seen as a female first, and a musician second.
Jennifer Calvin of the Los Angeles punk group Bleached expressed her own vexation with the term in an interview about their EP, “Can You Deal?”:
To have it received with such a generic labeling as “girl band” and consistently referenced as “female fronted” is insulting and reductive, she says. Labeling me as a woman in a band just puts me in a box, and doesn’t allow everything else I am to be seen and heard.
While I agree with the sentiment, I also wonder what’s stopping us from taking back those words, like we have done with so much of the same sexist language. If terms like “slut” can be turned into celebratory feminist marches, why not turn the “girl band” label into something more meaningful?
When I first discovered what feminism meant, it was through a musical lens. I looked back at the riot grrrl movement of the 90s and found inspiration in punk and grunge music. Feeling empowered by their stories, I made playlists of all the “girl bands” I could find, from Sleater-Kinney to Chastity Belt. To me, girl bands were a revolution.
Still, I understand the desire to separate oneself from what seems like repressive labeling. There’s certainly no easy solution when it comes to being a woman in music. On one hand, you risk being perceived as less than capable, reduced to a pair of legs and a guitar. On the other, it’s necessary in a world where female musicians have to work twice as hard to receive the same attention as their male counterparts.
In the end, I think it’s more important to highlight women in music, and if calling attention to so-called “girl bands” does so, then we should embrace it. The recognition of “girl bands,” not as a genre, but as a movement, is something that I think we can all support.