Breaking Down Barriers: The Women Who Shaped Rock History


Photo From Michele Weber

Band Silversun pickups playing at The Observatory in Anaheim California

Daniel Cabrales, Writer

Throughout the history of rock music, women have played an essential role in shaping the genre. From iconic frontwomen like Stevie Nicks and Ann and Nancy Wilson to modern-day trailblazers like Emily Haines and Nikki Monniger, women have proven time and again that they belong in rock music.

Stevie Nicks is a singer from the rock band Fleetwood Mac who rose to fame in the 1970s and continues to push boundaries to this day. Stevie has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. She was inducted once in 1998 with Fleetwood Mac and another time in 2019 as a solo artist. Stevie Says “I definitely broke a big rock n roll glass ceiling” in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. She then said, “There are 22 men who are in twice for their work as a band but also as a solo artist and no women.”  We can see why this is a big accomplishment and for it to only have happened in 2019 is a bit surprising.

Heart, the American rock band led by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2013. Six years ago Ann and Nancy did an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and talked about the rock and roll industry and women. Nancy says “And really how many women are there in hard rock …. there weren’t a lot of girls who were encouraged to play certain instruments. Ann tried to play trumpet for a while in the school band which she was discouraged from doing because it just wasn’t a female’s thing to do …. So, they encouraged her to switch to flute, which was more of a feminine type of instrument.“ Women within the rock and roll industry are occasionally confronted with gender-based prejudice. In an interview on the Kelly Clarkson show Ann Wilson Says “Back when I started out it was all radio, there was no Spotify or anything like that, just all radio. Radio had this unspoken rule that they could only play one female artist per hour.   So if you weren’t like Joan Baez a folk singer or, if you weren’t a disco diva… You were just out of luck. So when we did manage to get a Heart song or two played on the radio, it was kind of a revelation.” The Interviewer then asked, “I don’t know if this is true, but when you were singing Barracuda was it about sexism? Ann Wilson replied, “yeah yup yup I was just really surprised, like I was so naive, I just thought well we’re bringing our word to the people you know it was almost like spiritual. Then I get into this room with these really sleazy industry guys who were saying all kinds of really disrespectful stuff you know? And it made me mad so I went back to the hotel and wrote the words to Barracuda and it made me feel better you know. I think women in the rock industry have changed. You don’t have to be in the french maid outfit and be centerfold now when you’re really a musician you know? But some of the old stuff is still in place. It’s just gone underground. Lots of progress has been made in terms of women having their respect and being real but there still is a lot more room for improvement.” 

While Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson have spoken out about the challenges women face within the rock and roll industry, the future of rock and roll is looking more female than ever with new female artist groups being formed daily. One of them is Metric with their lead singer Emily Haines. In a recent interview with the daily beast  the question “How’s it been dealing with being a frontwoman in a rock band?” Emily then says “I’m just going where I’m going. I’m not changing course in order to take you where you want to go.”  In the same interview, she was asked the question, “As someone who’s been in the music business for a minute, how do you manage to fight back against all the industry pressures and stay true to yourself?” Emily responded, “You make it not a fight—you make it fun. There are a lot of people on planet Earth, and a lot of them are buying into the stuff that bums me out, but this has always been the case. There’s always been loads of crap and loads of commercial stuff being made for all the wrong reasons, but I refuse to be miserable and feel like I didn’t win. If I’m happy, and I’m surrounded by people I love doing what we love, tell me how I’m losing?”

Nikki Monniger bassist for the Silversun Pickups band (Michele Weber )

Lastly, Nikki Monninger is a bassist and backing vocalist best known for her work with the rock band Silversun Pickups. As a woman in the rock and roll industry, Monninger has faced her fair share of challenges, including dealing with gender-based stereotypes and a lack of representation. However, she has remained a prominent figure in the alternative music scene and has gained a reputation for her technical proficiency in the bass and her distinctive vocal harmonies. Monninger’s contributions to Silversun Pickups have been a crucial element of the band’s sound and success, and she continues to be an inspiration for women in the rock and roll industry.

As these examples show, women have played a vital role in the history of rock music, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of female musicians. Whether they’re fronting a band or playing a supporting role, women in rock have proven time and again that they belong in the genre and have the talent and determination to succeed.