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Evelyn McDonnell

Evelyn McDonnell has written or co-edited six books, from Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop and Rap to Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. A longtime journalist, she has been a pop culture writer at The Miami Herald and a senior editor at The Village Voice. Her writing on music, poetry, theater, and culture has appeared in publications and anthologies including the Los Angeles Times, Ms., Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Spin, Travel & Leisure, Billboard, Vibe, Interview, and Option. She is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Loyola Marymount University.

“Ellen Willis: The Female Listen and the Male Voice”
Laura Mulvey famously criticized films as being made from the perspective of “the male gaze.” In music, the gendered relationship between the point of view of the producer and that of the audience is more complicated. Most aspects of the pop music industry, including criticism, have historically been dominated by men. Rock music in particular, and its attendant commentators and programmers, became oriented toward both male voices and audiences—or what we might call the “Male Listen.” And yet the actual audience for much popular music skews female. This is one of the reasons why Ellen Willis’ position as the first rock critic for The New Yorker was revolutionary. From 1968 to 1975, Willis was a leading figure among a group of writers who took seriously pop music’s role in the counterculture and in culture at large. A staunch feminist, Ellen clearly wrote from the perspective of a female listener. Necessarily, she often wrote about men’s voices—more than she wrote about female musicians, in fact. By looking at how Willis played with these two dialectics—male and female, voice and listen—I will explore the concept of the “Female Listen,” and its possible deployments as an aesthetic and political strategy. I will analyze the ways in which Willis described male singers compared to her descriptions of female singers. I will also compare her critiques of men’s voices to those made by male critics. And I will deconstruct the very notion of this gender binary—after all, who likes a gender binary these days? Finally, I will analyze the assertion of Willis’s own voice as a writer into the almost hegemonically male discourse of rock criticism of the time. 


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