The rock revolution was often connected with male performers and masculine energy; as critics of gender and rock have noted, “rock’n’roll in excelsis… [is] male ferocity, resentment, [and] virulence” …as rock was the aesthetic of masculine energy in the 1960s, the French Revolution expressed its aesthetic energy in Romanticism, which dominated art, literature, and music of the eighteenth century.Linda Middleton, Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism, p. 143
Linda Middleton’s contribution to Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism focuses on Alanis Morissette, Natalie Merchant, and the Indigo Girls as performers who “confront one of the central challenges posed by rock, Romantic culture, and modernity by foregrounding the vexed issue of women’s identity and subjectivity in the face of their objectification” (p. 146). She fruitfully compares women in rock and their “deferred recognition” to the deferred recognition of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women writers and artists, drawing particularly from the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft. Cites the riot grrrls and the Lilith Fairs of the 1990s as moments when women took control of their artistic lives and identities, she makes her argument about women, rock, and Romanticism in different subsections of the chapter devoted to each artist.
She focuses her discussion of Morissette’s agency on her use of anger and irony to subvert modernity, reading her song “Jagged Little Pill” as a direct response to The Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper.”
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Her section on Natalie Merchant emphasizes collective agency and the regeneration of nature, suggesting that her song “Wonder” “celebrates women’s individual and collective identity” (p. 151), seeing her regenerated Eden as a specifically woman’s space in her own version of revolutionary Romanticism.
Middleton’s section on the Indigo Girls emphasizes feminist humanism and utopia, arguing that the Indigo Girls “synchronize performative masculinity with their women’s voices, music, and messages” (p. 153). She sees in the song “Romeo and Juliet” an attack on the “commodification of love”; in “Galileo” “hints at the shifting permutations of self and time,” and in “Virginia Woolf” the fleshing out of a feminist quest for truth (p. 154).
Linda Middleton taught literature and writing at the University of Hawaii, Manoa English Department until her retirement in August 2017 after teaching English there for 26 years.
Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism
Women in Rock. Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022) is the first book-length work exploring the interrelationships among contemporary women rock musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and literature, the literature of the Romantic era. LIMITED QUANTITIES ONLY available at a 37% discount.