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USC professor and former grad student publish book on women in heavy metal

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 10/22/2021 Lucas Daprile, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Oct. 22—Anna Rogers remembers getting out of high school, hanging out at the record store her father managed and blasting the 2000s heavy metal classics.

Her father, also an avid metalhead, preferred '80s metal. But she was partial to Slipknot, Rob Zombie and, her favorite, Korn.

Rogers turned that love of heavy metal into a graduate research at the University of South Carolina, and eventually into a book she recently published with USC sociology Professor Mathieu Deflem.

"It was just the coming together of my parents, like, my dad's background in music and his love of metal and my mom's focus on education," said Rogers, who is now a lecturer at the University of Georgia.

"Doing Gender in Heavy Metal: Perceptions on Women in a Hypermasculine Subculture" examines gender roles and femininity in a style of music known for "death growls," grotesque lyrics, a controversial and physically dangerous type of dancing called "crowdkilling" and a type of crowd participation called the "wall of death," in which a band encourages the crowd to split into two sides and, once the band signals, charge at each other full speed.

"Doing Gender" strikes a balance between highlighting those who deviate from traditional gender roles in heavy metal and acknowledging that the genre still has a long way to go, Rogers said. Deflem oversaw the research, which included in-depth interviews with 20 heavy metal fans, 10 men and 10 women, from throughout South Carolina, the U.S. and even one from South Korea, he said.

"Heavy metal is a hypermacsuline subculture, where women will be seen and treated as 'the other,'" Deflem said. "So heavy metal provides for an interesting area of pop culture ... to study the increasing presence of women and what the results thereof are. Is there more feminism in heavy metal today, or is there still sexism? That's the central question."

A turning point for Rogers was in college when she first heard the band Arch Enemy, then led by Angela Gossow, whose gritty scream on songs like "Nemesis" contrast her more traditionally feminine appearance.

"I just could not believe there was a woman that sounded like that. And to this day it still gives me chills, because it was, like, the first time where I experienced like, 'Wow, women are just as hard as men,' and it was really eye-opening to me," Rogers said.

The book highlights times when both men and women have ventured beyond the traditional apocalypse and horror themes often found in metal.

For example, Korn's self-titled debut album, released in 1994, contains a song that talks explicitly about the lead singer being sexually assaulted, ending with the singer crying at the end of the song. Another song on the debut album details how the lead singer was bullied and nicknamed "HIV" or called a homophobic slur because he wore eyeliner and sometimes dressed like '80s new-wave band Duran Duran.

"I don't think something like that would have seen that in more traditional genres," Rogers said. "I think having someone who finally comes out and finally do that, it kind of made nu metal take off."

The genre of heavy metal still is male-dominated and has a long way to go to overcome sexism, according to Rogers and news articles on the topic.

In interviewing metal fans who are not white, cisgender and male, Rogers found they spent five to 10 times as long explaining their fandom because they felt a need to establish their authenticity in the genre, she said.

As women have become more involved in the genre, the themes explored in the music have expanded, Rogers said. In This Moment, one of Rogers' favorite bands, touches on this in their 2014 song "Sex Metal Barbie". In this track, singer Maria Brink explores how she felt like an outcast from mainstream society because she was a heavy metal fan and, conversely, feels like a fetishized interloper in metal because she is a woman.

Brink's other lyrics also discuss her motherhood, feminism and religion. Brink even prays before every show to give thanks to God, according to Loudwire, a heavy metal publication.

While these themes broaden what it can mean to listen to metal, it's still metal, Rogers said.

"It's not like women are going to come in and are going to completely change metal. They're still metal fans. They still have those roots. They're still metalheads," Rogers said.

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