Why Women Have Been Shut Out Of The Rock Hall Of Fame, And How To Change That

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To celebrate the airing of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction this Saturday, 4/29, we’re running a series of essays and features analyzing and highlighting the implications of who was inducted in 2017.

Out of the 317 current inductees of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, only 43 are women or acts that include women. That’s only 13.5%! These include the likes of ABBA (inducted 2010), Joni Mitchell (1997), Blondie (2006), Joan Baez this year, in 2017, Etta James (1993), Heart (2013), The Supremes (1988), and Aretha Franklin (1987), who was the first woman inducted into the Rock Hall in its second year of operations.

13.5% is not at all representative of female influence on rock and roll music throughout history but it’s not a surprise, as women have often been placed on the back burner when it comes to rock and roll. During the ’50s and ’60s when rock music came about, women were labeled as ‘groupies’ and limited to the status of obsessed fan [Editor’s note: Read an incredible corrective to that here, by Amanda Petrusich if you haven’t yet.] If a woman made it into a band, she was often told to learn bass, as this was considered the easiest instrument to pick up. And for the women who did gain popularity in the early years of rock and roll, they were rarely supported in the media, recognized amongst critics, or given awards, like their male cohorts were. If anything, they were made into sex symbols. Back in 2015, Jackie Fox of The Runaways shared an even more harrowing scenario, that of assault carried out by men in the industry with no consequences.

As it stands, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame hasn’t really taken any steps to resolve these stereotypes or reverse the treatment of women in the music industry. Even for those women who have been inducted, not enough of them have been given credit for their solo work. Several men, like Lou Reed (2015), John Lennon (1994), and Paul McCartney (1999) have been honored as members of the Rock Hall twice, for their solo work as well as for their membership in their respective bands. So, why then, is Stevie Nicks only credited for her membership in Fleetwood Mac (1998)? After all, she’s been nominated for eight Grammy’s as a solo artist and her iconic 1981 debut Bella Donna sold over 6 million copies.

Plus, the legendary Nicks isn’t the only artist who hasn’t gotten the recognition she deserves. Carole King was inducted, alongside Gerry Goffin, in 1990 for her songwriting (several inductees in the Rock Hall have songs written by King), but she has never been recognized for her solo work as a performing artist, even after Tapestry stayed on the top album charts for more than six years after it came out in 1971. Still others, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (1996) and The Great Society, and perhaps Nico, who worked with The Velvet Underground (1996) along with her own solo work are owed acknowledgement by now.

The Rock Hall overlooking women for their solo work isn’t really where the discrepancy ends, either. There are also countless female artists and groups who haven’t been recognized at all who definitely should be at this point. Take Pat Benatar, for example. I mean, come on, is there anyone who doesn’t sing along when they hear “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” or “Heartbreaker”? Even millennials know Benatar’s work. And what about Ella Fitzgerald, the Queen of Jazz? She won thirteen Grammy Awards during her lifetime and paved the way for African American women in music. Whitney Houston, arguably the most awarded female artist in history, hasn’t been awarded by the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Even though Kate Bush might have been passed up by Coachella, she doesn’t deserve to be passed up by the Rock Hall, particularly when you consider she was the first female artist to have an album reach number one in the UK album charts. Michael Jackson (2001) and the Jackson 5 (1997) are inductees, but their emblematic little sister Janet Jackson isn’t. Still others like Courtney Love’s badass grunge-rock band Hole, Kim Gordon with Sonic Youth, Sinéad O’Connor, and Björk are more than worthy of induction into the Rock Hall.

So, how is it that the Rock Hall has been able to ignore all these women for so many years? It’s all rooted in their induction process. According to the Rock Hall, the people who nominate and vote on the members of each induction class are “historians,” figures in the music industry, and all of the living past inductees — which remains, as we mentioned, over 80% men. So, how are any women supposed to get nominated, let alone win, when the people voting are the same men who objectified and ignored them during rock’s earliest days? They won’t and they haven’t. However, in 2012, the Rock Hall introduced a new methodology for nomination: Fans — and women in rock certainly have a lot of fans who would be willing to nominate them, there is no doubt about that. However, since 2012, onlyfive female acts have been inducted, probably because the Rock Hall has always and still does cater to a more conservative male audience, as opposed to the more progressive millennials.

Hopefully, the Rock Hall’s trend of failing to acknowledge women for their talent and hard work will reverse in the coming years. It’s going to be virtually impossible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to ignore the massive wave of accomplished female grunge, alternative, and pop rock artists of the ’90s, influenced by the second wave of feminism, that will become eligible in the next few years. The Rock Hall requires that nominees are at least 25 years off the release of their first record, so The Cranberries’ incredibly successful debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, which charted worldwide in 1993, will be eligible next year. Conceivably, the Rock Hall won’t be able to disregard The Cranberries’ iconic tracks “Zombie” and “Linger” and their extensive fan base who will nominate them. Likewise, Sheryl Crow debuted in 1993 with Tuesday Night Music Club, and her continued success in the realms of pop, rock, and country up through today deserve her a spot in Rock Hall next year.

Moving forward, 2020 could also likely be a groundbreaking year for women inductees. 1995 was a huge debut year for many women of rock who would make a name for themselves in the remainder of the twentieth century, many of whom are still active today. Alanis Morisette will be eligible for her influential debut Jagged Little Pill. The alternative power-pop band Garbage, who released their sixth album Strange Little Birds just last year, will also most likely be nominated. With an extremely punk ethos, Garbage was one of the first all-female rock groups to advocate for unashamed female power and assertive aesthetics that challenged gender roles, and they are still doing it today. While Gwen Stefani’s new wave punk band No Doubt debuted their self-titled record in 1992, they didn’t receive major attention until 1995’s Tragic Kingdom which includes hit tracks “Don’t Speak” and “Just A Girl.” No Doubt gave Stefani the confidence to break out into her solo career and become a heroine for aspiring female rockers.

Indie rock trail-blazers Sleater-Kinney released their self-titled debut in 1995 and have championed twenty years in rock music with the release of the critically acclaimed No Cities To Love back in 2015. Pop rock singer-songwriter Jewel also had a strong debut in 1995 with Pieces Of You, which has sold almost 7.5 million copies in the US. Needless to say, 1995 was a year of unprecedented success for women entering into the rock canon; as such, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame class of 2020 should be filled with these female artists.

As the face of music transforms with the slew of twenty-first century female pop stars, country artists, and rockers what will the Rock Hall’s relationship with women in music be like moving forward? Twenty years from now, will the list of inductees include the likes of Rihanna, Missy Elliott, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift? Or will the Rock Hall continue to dismiss the immense influence that women have had on the history of music?

More and more women have been paving their way in the music industry and proving that they are more than the sex symbols they’ve been labeled as throughout history. With countless young women looking up to them as role models, the Rock Hall needs to take that extra step to set the standard for the acceptance, acknowledgement, and praise of women in the music industry.