(Erin is recovering from the flu so I’m posting this on her behalf. KH)
It’s been noted by a number of bloggers, (including myself) just how male-dominated the field of Beatles historiography is. Every major work in the Beatles canon, including but not limited to those by authors such as Davies, Norman, MacDonald, and Lewisohn, were written by males. This male domination goes back to the band’s earliest days, when the interviews the band provided were almost unerringly granted to male journalists, because that one gender dominated both the field of journalism in general and the rock journalist profession almost entirely. This one-sided perspective becomes even more difficult to reconcile given the apparent gender equity of Beatles audiences and fans, both then and now; unlike the Rolling Stones, the Beatles were a band that, by most estimates, had a fan base that was at least fifty percent female.
This exclusively male-filtered perspective on the Beatles and their music – and its very real consequences on how the band’s story has been and continues to be told — is one that is only starting to receive serious, sustained discussion. Indeed, for me, the highlights of Womack’s “New Critical Perspectives” are the essays by author Kit O’Toole (“She Said/She Said,”) and Katie Kapurch, (“The Beatles Girl Culture and the Melodramatic Mode,”) which focus on this long overlooked demographic: examining the role of the female fan with insight and acknowledgement rather than condescension or dismissal.
Kapurch’s essay takes a look at how the Beatles’ use of predominantly feminine associated art forms and methods such as melodrama and “girl-group” discourse helped popularize them with their female fans, and allowed female fans to self-identify with the band.
O’Toole rightly notes how it was the female fans who helped catapult the Beatles to fame and legend, in no small part by their impassioned responses and “buying the records in droves,” and that, when the powers that be finally acknowledged the Beatles’ talent, they did so while insulting and sidelining the band’s previous fans and largest demographic. When the male-dominated press reported on the band, their descriptions of female fans ran the gamut from insulting – one news report, showing an impassioned Beatles female audience, intoned “does it disturb you to realize that these girls will soon become mothers?” – to condescending and dismissive. In his 2008 biography of John, author Philip Norman argues that, while the majority of female fans preferred Paul – presumably for his looks – the thoughtful, intellectual and predominantly male fans preferred John as their favorite Beatle.
In “She Said/She Said,” O’Toole quotes Sheryl Garratt’s essay ‘Teenage Dreams,’ about the widespread dismissal of female teenaged infatuations: “What the press or any of the self-appointed analysts of ‘popular culture’ fail to reflect is that the whole pop structure rests on the back of these ‘silly, screaming girls.” Female Beatles author Candy Leonard argues that the stereotype of the hysterical female fan was a crucial factor in denying females a place at the males only Beatles historiography table: “If you look at fan images from fifty years ago, they are 99% female, but today, 99% of the ‘experts’ are male. So there’s a disconnect. The hysterical girl fan became a caricature …the legacy of those images today is the perception that women can’t have anything intelligent to say about the Beatles, their music, or the phenomenon.” O’Toole notes the growing amount of female voices on the band, but her list only includes approximately 8 women. Whether female voices were purposefully or unintentionally sidelined, there is little denying O’Toole’s and Kapurch’s argument that the female perspective – on the band’s history, on their own fan experiences, on music criticism – has been, and for the moment continues to be, overlooked.
Addendum: When Erin and I discussed this post, I emailed her with these thoughts:
- The dismissal of female fans, obviously, goes hand in hand with the dismissal of females in general, and the preeminence of “logic and reason” (presumably male traits) over emotion and feeling (presumably female traits.) In some articles I’ve read, the reasons for the screaming was related to freedom from societal control, but I think it’s more than that. In other articles I’ve read, the reasons for the screaming was considered to be a “throwback”to female mating behaviour. This latter theory sounds more plausible to me.
- It would be interesting to explore why female fans react the way they do in the first place, vis a vis the above. In other words, what primitive elements drive the nature of their response? Why do males manifest their worshipping behaviour (for lack of a better phrase) so differently than females?
What say you, commentators?