What’s with this Neanderthal, backward looking “hottest chicks” thing in blues/rock that we’re coming across in at least a couple of quarters at the moment? One New York blues guitarist promoted his “Hottest Blues Chick – 2014 Beauty Pageant” last month, which he said was not about women blues artists’ accomplishments and talents as musicians, but about “Hot, Hot, Hot.” Then there’s a Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock tour, which is being sponsored by a number of organizations, including the House of Blues.
The blues has its own chequered history with regards to women, to be sure. The original big stars of the blues were the women, like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainie, Sippie Wallace and so on, but as we’ve noticed before at Down at the Crossroads, you don’t have to listen to the blues for very long to be struck by some of the sexist, indeed misogynist lyrics, where violence against women is casually sung about, from Robert Johnson’s, “going to beat my woman until I’m satisfied” through to Sonny Boy Williamson’s assertion in “All My Love in Vain” that a woman is the “glory of a man,” which entitles him to “whip her when she need it.”
Sadly violence against women is not a thing of the past and domestic violence, rape and sexual assaults against women still occur with shocking frequency – staggeringly, it is reckoned that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. This is not just a problem in the developing world – in the US, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, more than 600 women were raped or sexually assaulted every day in 2006, and there are around 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults every year (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control).
Women are routinely discriminated against in the workplace, earn less than men, are prohibited from being leaders in certain churches, and, in some parts of the world are prohibited from voting, driving or participating in sport. And we haven’t begun to talk about the reality of sex-trafficking and modern day slavery which is a growing problem in today’s world – the illegal international human trafficking trade is estimated at huge $650 billion per annum.
I say all this simply to point out that many women, sadly, even in today’s world are treated as objects to be sold or exploited, suffer abuse and violence at the hands of men, and are still struggling to be accepted as equal to men. With all this going on, any sort of objectification of women needs to be resisted.
Happily there are a host of talented women performing in the blues today, who are successful and whose fanbases are wide and strong. But they are blues artists – not women blues artists, no more than Joe Bonamassa is a male blues artist. Their gender is irrelevant to how talented, hard-working and successful they are. And they are not some sort of object to be held up and voted for on the basis of what men judge to be their appearance.
Hottest blues chicks? This is nothing but a demeaning of the talent and skill of hard-working blues artists and a reinforcement of stereotypes about women’s worth residing solely in their looks. Guys – it’s 2014, time to drop the caveman’s club and step into the twenty first century.