The main purpose of this study was to identify how women and men negotiate norms for gender performance in face-to-face interaction. For two and one-half years, I conducted an ethnographic study of the face-to-face negotiation of gender in a rock music subculture in Chicago. Observations were made at small rock concerts in local bars and clubs, at the homes of active participants, and at parties attended by active participants. By active participants, I mean a loose network of 20 to 30 women and men who regularly attended these rock shows as audience members and/or to play as musicians. While the network was rather large, there was a core group of eight informants with whom I developed a closer relationship. It was mostly with this core group of eight that I spent time outside of the clubs. However, other active participants would attend parties or show up at the homes of these eight people.
I tape-recorded observations when I left the scene and transcribed those recordings the following morning. Field notes were coded and analyzed using the method outlined by Lichterman (1996), which combines the methodological strategies of Burowoy et al. (1991) and Strauss and Corbin (1990). I also conducted 12 in-depth interviews with musicians in and outside Chicago who were associated with this genre of music.(n1) These were open-ended interviews that began with questions about specific aspects of their music or performances that I identified as politicized or that specifically challenged sexism. For instance, I asked Donita Sparks of L7 what she meant when she said, "This one goes out to the Supreme Court" before launching into their song "Shitlist." Subsequent questions depended on where the informant went with his or her response.
I chose this setting to study the negotiation of gender norms for several reasons. First, rock music has been a public setting where norms for gender, at least in terms of appearance, are more flexible than in other settings. Second, as I will discuss below, this particular subculture, what I call alternative hard rock,(n2) was one in which participants explicitly incorporated feminist ideology or an explicit opposition to gender inequality into their cultural practices. Third, these concerts took place in public bars and clubs where I had ready access to interaction and where there were few explicit, formalized rules for behavior.
(n1.) I interviewed one or more members of the following bands: L7, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, 7 Year Bitch, Babes in Toyland, Silverfish, Fugazi, Poster Children.