While sitting in an undergraduate women’s studies class at USC, Anna Rogers read a textbook that mentioned a decline in female music and artists in heavy metal. For her, this had never been the case.
As a heavy metal fan, this contrasting thought stuck with her for years. She, with the help of USC sociology professor Mathieu Deflem, channeled this feeling into sociological research about the experience and perception of female heavy metal fans. They turned this effort into a book titled "Doing Gender in Heavy Metal: Perceptions on Women in a Hypermasculine Subculture."
Rogers is currently a professor at the University of Georgia. She earned her Ph.D. in sociology from USC in 2019.
"I hope that (heavy metal fans) can learn something of the sociological relevance of gender, something that is, you know, quite significant," Deflem said. "And then I would say ... namely that scholars who are interested in gender will learn ... the world of popular culture can be relevant for their interests, as well."
Rogers paired her undergraduate degree with a woman studies minor. She channeled her interest in the perceptions of women in music culture into an undergraduate distinction thesis on sexism in different genres of music.
Rogers focused on her favorite subgenre of heavy metal, called new metal. Her undergraduate research concluded new metal was no more sexist than other genres of music. After the study's conclusion, Rogers explored more about gender dynamics within heavy metal culture.
The book, published October 2021, offers an "examination of gender issues concerning the evolving place and role of women in the world of heavy metal,” according to the book's publishing synopsis. This is derived through interviews conducted with self-identified fans of heavy metal to observe women’s experiences within the subculture.
Previous perceptions on women in heavy metal culture, like the ones in her class, were not accurate: the heavy metal subculture has become more open to all genders, which she observed firsthand as a member of the heavy metal community.
Historically, heavy metal has been a genre defined by male icons, like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Rogers, however, was a big fan of bands like In This Moment, Butcher Babies and Archenemy, female fronting groups that represent the growth from the traditional narrative of heavy metal as a male-dominated space.
“That just was not my experience, as a heavy metal fan and as a hardcore feminist,” Rogers said.
The book works to correct misperceptions and give an accurate depiction of the heavy metal culture and subgenres. It is also specifically written to appeal to nonacademic heavy metal fans and intentionally structured so that it can be taught in a classroom. She plans to incorporate her book into her introductory sociology curriculum next fall.
According to Rogers, the book discusses the importance of diversity in fanbases and says that having fans of different races, genders, sexualities and socioeconomic levels allows for more artistry and perspectives within a genre of music.
Although heavy metal is often thought of as a niche genre of music, it actually has a diverse fanbase and multi-generational evolution from its time as a male-paved creation.
Jeremy Polley, an instructor and coordinator of music industry studies at USC's School of Music, said this misunderstanding is evidence that the culture around this music genre is misunderstood.
Polley said the aggressiveness of heavy metal, such as the pounding guitar and screamed lyrics, can originally be attributed to the reactionary feelings of angst or anxieties of the 1970s. Many heavy metal songs tell science fiction or fantasy stories through lyrics, evoking a sense of escapism for listeners, Polley said.
The heavy metal scene now openly embraces fans of all genders, Rogers said. Though heavy metal is dominated by male musicians, women have become increasingly represented in metal groups.
Rogers said this is encouraging for female metal fans.
“There’s no reason for certain things to be exclusively for men, or exclusively for women," Rogers said. "When it comes to music, if you like the sound of that music and you’re passionate about it, you should be able to enjoy it, no matter what your identities are.”
- Zane Heinlein contributed to reporting in this article.