Femininity Gender

“I Like Breaking Society’s Stupid Little ‘Gender Norms'”

Melissa Brooks on defying gender stereotypes in rock music

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so what happened and how did you deal with the experience?
Melissa: Yes. Until I reached my late teens, I always felt as if I was an outcast. I felt outspoken, and I always stood out from everyone else growing up. I had a weird sense of fashion in middle school and a weird personality to match. People didn’t get that about me, so I got picked on. In high school, I jumped from friend group to friend group, but I never felt like I really fit in with anyone. I remember my freshman year of high school, when meeting new people I would stick my hand out and say, “Hi, I’m Melissa. I’m the next Lady Gaga.” People really gave me s&*^ for stuff like that. A lot of my so called “friends” were mean to me because I was so passionate about my music career, even when I was just a young teen with nothing but a notebook full of poetry and chord progressions and dreams. My senior year of high school, I ditched all of the people who would talk badly about me. I spent a lot of my time alone in the band room, playing piano and writing songs. I transferred all of the bad energy from what people would say about me, and prove them wrong in my lyrics. I taught myself that I needed to speak up about what I felt and what I was dealing with, and I felt most comfortable doing that within my songs.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the music industry?
Melissa: If someone wants a certain career path and they work hard towards their goal, they will earn it. Whether you have a penis or a vagina really shouldn’t be a factor in landing your dream job; however, as a woman, unfortunately sometimes we have to work harder for some people to take us seriously. I’ve had employees at venues say to me, “Are you the merch girl?” and they just assume that the guys in my band are the only members. Men will underestimate, but I do not let it discourage me, and girls should not let it discourage them either.

“Whether you have a penis or a vagina really shouldn’t be a factor in landing your dream job”


DtL: Have you ever experienced sexism/stereotyping in the industry based on gender? If so, how did you deal with it?
Melissa: A lot of mainstream rock music that is played on the radio is dominated by male-fronted bands, so when a band is female-fronted, it’s almost as if it’s a novelty. “So cute and tiny!”, “Aww, how precious,” is what a lot of people will automatically assume about me. When you picture a rock show, you think testosterone, sweat, mosh-pits, which many people don’t associate with a female-fronted band. The funny thing is that I’m not so sweet on stage. Offstage, I’m a nice lady (haha), but onstage, I’m a force not to be reckoned with. I tell myself if I’m not dripping head to toe in sweat at the end of a show, I didn’t give it my all. I don’t half-ass anything. I like breaking society’s stupid little “gender norms”, especially at our live shows. I encourage girls to not be afraid to stand in the front, get in the pit, and crowd surf. I also try to create a safe environment by letting the audience know that if they’re at barrier and they’re afraid of getting decked, to come on stage with me, and not be sent to the back of the room. I want to create a freedom for everyone at our shows to feel like they can be whoever they want to be, and not because of what society wants them to do or act like. That’s what my song Girl Riot is about.

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DtL: What advice would you give to young people who might want to get into the music industry?
Melissa: Take every opportunity you can and go for it! Play every show you can hop on, no matter how small. Release music, even if they’re just demos. Use social media! It’s a blessing.

DtL: What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Melissa: I am thrilled to close off our national tour with a music festival I have curated, called GRL PWR FEST . It will take place October 30th at The Irenic in San Diego, California.  I wanted to create GRL PWR FEST for an important reason, which is to inspire girls to want to start their own bands. I can’t tell you how many shows and festivals we have played where female-fronted bands or female artists are higher on the bill compared to male-fronted bands and artists. These mini-festivals feature strong females who have mad energy and can rock twice as hard as any boy could ever dream of. GRL PWR FEST is all about defying gender roles, loving yourself, being comfortable in the skin you’re in, and to inspire women to do what they love and not let who they are limit them.

“I like breaking society’s stupid little ‘gender norms'”


DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Melissa: I would tell myself, all that you’re dreaming is going to come true. Don’t give up. Keep going.

DtL: What tends to inspire your writing?
Melissa: I honestly get random bursts of inspiration. Beautiful words will pop into my head, then lines, then poetry forms, then a melody. Once I hear the melody in my head, I hear the entire song in my head. The beat, all the instrumentation, everything. I can be in the shower and a song idea will just come to me randomly, sometimes I’ll sit down with a notebook and pen at my piano and I’ll just write what pops in my head, and other times it’s a longer process.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Melissa: Believe in yourself and what you stand for!! Also, I can’t wait to share new music with you!

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