Glam rock: a change in masculinity or sexism in disguise?
From the thick howling of Howlin’ Wolf, the sexually referenced lyrics of Little Richard, and the hip movements of Elvis Presley, the beginnings of rock were strongly related to masculinity and sexuality. It was natural that jeans and leather jackets became a gender symbol: the former, a popular garment among the working class of the time (mostly men); and the latter, a piece made of material popular with the BDSM community.
Part of this attitude was aimed at going against the pre-established and «good taste»; which saw promiscuity as an enemy and a generation that sought to leave in the young a series of values that were no longer in force. In the seventies and then in the eighties, this combative spirit took a particular path that saw glamour as an act of rebellion.
Glamour: can be defined as an exciting or mysterious attraction, often associated with striking physical beauty, luxury, or celebrity.
Makeup as a revolution
Whether it was as teenage girls in the style of the New York Dolls members, as a caricature of high-class ladies in the style of Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, or with an androgynous style like David Bowie, rock went against all odds and began to use hairspray, diamond, velvet, platform shoes, tight pants, and lipstick, creating Glam Rock.
Glamour took over the stages; concerts seemed like fashion shows where musicians boasted of alternative sexualities and styles that at that time were reserved for women, alarming the conservative press that warned that the new generation had entered a spiral of excess, sexuality, and lack of discipline.
In many places, these attitudes continue to be revolutionary today, and in the seventies, it was a confrontation with the adult generation. The parents of many of these young people had lived through the struggle against Nazism and the ravages of a world war, but for the new generation, fascism seemed to have been a bad dream, and the new enemy was at home: anyone who went against the revolution.
The origins of the rebellion
In the 1950s, controversial research had cast doubt on men’s sexuality. The well-known Kinsey Report (entitled Men’s Sexual Behavior) had published the sexual preferences and experiences of 12,000 men in 1948. This text reported that most men masturbated (even when married) and, even 38.7% of the respondents between 36 and 40 years of age, said they had a relationship with someone of the same sex; surprising data for a society that would end up being scandalized by the hip movements of a young man from Mississippi.
Years later, the second wave of feminism focused on problems related to reproductive rights, sexuality, and, above all, on the spheres of a society dominated by a patriarchal system, questioning all the sexist values that had prevailed for years in society.
As if that were not enough, the middle class began to gain strength, and with its consumerism, most men had the possibility of acquiring new products. In this way, the fashion industry, which until that time had the stereotype of being reserved for women, began to focus its attention on its male customers, especially on multiple unisex garments, styles that began to open up an alternative masculine one. The world was changing, and rock was not exempt.
If previous generations came from a militarized and disciplined society, the rock would go against this whole idea. The Beatles began to use long hair and with their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band embraced the multicolored style of psychedelia, and the Rolling Stones, through Mick Jagger, presented themselves as one of the biggest rejects of conventional masculinity on stage.
The natural evolution of this trend came with David Bowie, who gave birth to his character Ziggy Stardust, a bisexual androgynous star from space, who is sent to Earth to proclaim a message of hope. While the colorful and original costumes of the Slade members provided an alternative fashion and the punk attitude of the New York Dolls added to the rebellious attitude of the movement.
This how the masculinity that had dominated the culture for years began to be combated through various artists who showed thousands of people, communities, styles, and attitudes that had previously remained hidden.
From one moment to the next, the idols of the youth scene showed completely alternative masculinity: with androgynous bodies, clothes that were exclusive to women, and makeup to emphasize glamour.
The problems of glam
Although the glam artists adopted different masculinity, the scene maintained several male sexist attitudes typical of their time. The most obvious point is the lack of women, although in rock this absence is a constant, it calls more attention in this type of movement in which they sought to break stereotypes. Although artists like Suzi Quatro decided to reverse the gender role by assuming a sober style that denied several aspects reserved for femininity.
Some artists, like David Bowie, were convinced of the need for new masculinities and the fight against machismo. However, many bands seemed to adopt glam as a fashion and continued with the macho trends of the time.
Through song lyrics and attitudes towards female followers, especially towards the so-called groupies, various groups and artists, regardless of their clothes and makeup, continued to exhibit macho attitudes, either by dismissing women’s experiences, ridiculing the elements of the other sex, assuming homophobic postures or sexualizing every female figure.
Glam rock was a revolutionary movement that attempted to change the tropes of its time by directly attacking the status quo from which they resulted, but in the end, on many occasions, it was unable to break free from the system that it had originally begun to fight.