In this free course you have learnt that women have tended to occupy passive, rather than active, roles within popular music. They have frequently occupied supportive positions as the groupies, girlfriends, and wives of male popular musicians. Girls and women have also served as the subject matter of popular songs, often as idealised or sexualised versions.
American popular music in the 1950s was largely dominated by male rock ‘n’ roll bands. Popular music assumed huge relevance to the counterculture which developed in America throughout the 1960s, especially rock and folk music. Women, however, had a problematic position within this. Men tended to drive the political agenda of the counterculture, with women being confined to marginalised positions and expected to provide unpaid domestic and sexual labour. The counterculture often defined liberation for women purely as sexual liberation, which can be viewed as sexual availability and even submission.
Pressured into acting like ‘one of the guys’, Janis Joplin joined in with swearing, sexual promiscuity, heavy drinking, and taking drugs; eventually dying of a heroin overdose in 1970. Joplin, as a woman in the heavily masculinised world of rock music, illustrates the difficult position which women rock musicians faced.
This free course is an adapted extract from the Open University course Learn more about these OpenLearn courses.and is also one of four OpenLearn courses exploring the notion of the Sixties as a ‘revolutionary’ period.