Last October, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched a probe into the paucity of female directors in Hollywood. In Jan. 2016, the prestigious Angoulême comics festival in France announced an all-male shortlist for its lifetime achievement award; fans protested, and nominees like Dan Clowes and Joann Sfar demanded that their names be removed from consideration. Male-only culture, it seems, just isn’t as acceptable anymore.
Unless, maybe, you’re a rock star. This week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts its latest slate of nominees: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, NWA, Steve Miller, and songwriter Bert Berns. All these inductees are men, but the exclusion of women has sparked little protest among industry stars.
The exclusion of women inductees this year isn’t unusual. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has 321 members; only 44, or less than 14%, are women. Last year, out of the eight inductees, only one, Joan Jett, was a woman. In 2014, the only woman in a nine-member inductee class was Linda Rondstadt. It’s a pattern that dates back to the Hall’s initial class of inductees in 1986. Sixteen men were inducted, counting special awards for early influences and non-performers. The number of women included? Zero.
How do you go about consistently excluding women, year in and year out? The ballots nomination process is supposed to encourage meritocracy. Artists are eligible 25 years after their first record; ballots are selected by a nominating committee, which are then voted on by “more than 600 artists, historians, and members of the music industry.” Artists with the highest vote totals and over 50% of the votes are inducted, accounting for why some years have so many more inductees than others. The nominating committee’s process and membership is notoriously opaque, though a former member described it as “too old, too male, too white, too rich” to Billboard magazine last year.
The make-up of the nominating committee may explain in part why the Hall excludes women, just as the make-up of the Academy Awards nomination committee helps explain why those awards are tilted towards white men. But this year’s Rock Hall of Fame class suggests that’s not the only problem. With the exception of the hugely influential hip hop band NWA, the inductees—Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and Cheap Trick—are not exactly first-tier. Instead, they’re second drawer classic rock bands. Chicago’s main novelty appeal was that it was a classic rock band with horns instead of guitars.
For the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “rock“ tends to mean “classic rock guitar band”—a very male sub-genre. Other male sub-genres, like gangster rap, are also seen as important, or critically vital—both culturally and. it seems, in the eyes of the nominating committee. On the other hand, genres dominated by women are seen as less important and less worthy of inclusion.
Girl groups, for example, are one of rock’s most important foundational genres, central to the sound of the Beatles, and, through them, to the sound of just about everyone else. The very best known girl groups like the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Shirelles, are in the Hall. But other important groups—the Chantels, the Dixie Cups, the Marvelettes, the Three Degrees, Labelle, En Vogue—aren’t included. In other words, the Beatles and Rolling Stones of girl group pop are in the Hall, but not Cheap Trick or the Steve Millers.
Because male subgenres are seen as more important, artists in those subgenres are inducted into the Hall at higher rates. And so most years, you have one woman inducted into the Hall—or none.
The Hall can, and should, do better. If this year has all men, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t settle on an all-female slate next year. Ideally, in 2017, not one or two, but all of the performers below should be inducted.
Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973)
This is perhaps the most jaw-dropping exclusion in the Hall. Gospel singer and blazing guitarist Rosetta Tharpe all but invented rock and roll; Chuck Berry, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and every guitar rock band that followed are unimaginable without her. Check out that amazing dirty cock rock guitar solo on “Up Above My Head” and then put her in the damn Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already.
Sylvia Robinson (1936-2011)
Part of the guitar rock duo Mickey and Sylvia in the 1950s, Robinson went on to modest R&B success in the 1970s. She is best known, however, for her work as record executive and producer at Sugar Hill Records. As the mastermind behind both the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” she’s inarguably one of the single most important figures in early hip hop.
A pioneer in girl group garage rock, the Shangri-Las’ bad girl melodramas like “Leader of the Pack” were a touchstone for punk, grunge, glam, and rock attitude in general.
Dionne Warwick (1940-)
Tin Pan Alley songwriting is a major component and tradition in rock, and no one better exemplifies this legacy than multi-million seller and Grammy award-winning artist Warwick. A Hall of Fame which includes Bill Joel and excludes Warwick is a Hall of Fame that should probably just shut down in shame.
Dolly Parton (1946-)
Technically a country artist, yes, but she had numerous crossover hits, and is a pop mega-icon at this point. Plus, come on, it’s Dolly Parton. She cannot be contained by your simply genre categories.
Björk is usually considered an artist of the ’90s, but her first album was actually recorded when she was 12, all the way back in 1977. This means she’s been eligible for the Hall for quite some time. Since she’s one of the most universally acclaimed performer of the last couple decades, it’s time to vote her in.
Janet Jackson (1966-)
With over 160 million records sold, Jackson is one of the most successful performers of all time, as well as a central influence on megastars such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé. And no offense to Steve Miller, but “Black Cat” rocks significantly harder than “The Joker.”
I had to check four times before I’d believe that Sonic Youth hasn’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (yet). But, nope, one of the handful of most influential guitar bands of the last 35 years somehow isn’t there—which means bassist and rock icon Kim Gordon (here paying tribute to drummer and rock icon Karen Carpenter) isn’t in the Hall either. Fix that.
You could easily make another list just as long: Marion Williams, Whitney Houston, the Pixies, Mariah Carey, Betty Davis, the Carpenters, Emmylou Harris, Salt-N-Pepa, Kate Bush. Women have rocked forever, and still do—even if the Hall of Fame is determined not to notice.