The problem with this is that you’re assuming aggression to be masculine. You’re thinking within the same paradigm. While I’m admittedly less familiar with Joanna Newsom than PJ Harvey or Courtney Love, I think the point here is not that Newsom is misunderstood because she’s less “loud,” more convoluted, and thus more feminine, but that she’s less loud, more convoluted, and thus more intellectual.
The reason why people fail to pay attention to Joanna Newsom may be due in part to your stereotypically American anti-intellectual sensibility versus sexism. My caveat is, of course, that I’m not writing off sexism ENTIRELY; I’m simply drawing attention to other potentially mitigating factors and also pointing out that associating aggression with masculinity and quietude with femininity in your meta-critique is just as problematic as the critique is, in the first place.
I’ve said time and time again on this blog that aggression or anger or rage and other emotions Newsom explores aren’t inherently masculine or feminine. But you cannot deny socialization and its effects on the expression music (i.e. my discussion of male versus female energy). There is no use denying that Joanna’s music is ostensibly very “feminine” (for example, she plays the harp, probably the most highly gendered instrument in existence; but, of course, she constantly breaks that perception with her awesomeness). And maybe she has been socialized, as some of the other female artists mentioned in the article, to to express her anger and more “masculine” emotions in less confrontational ways. And that’s what I was hoping to get at with my commentary. Why didn’t the author mention any of that? So, I don’t think I am following and thus reinforcing the paradigm. I am questioning it (maybe not as explicitly here as I have rather frequently on Blessing All the Birds) and also drawing attention to the fact that feminine socialized behaviors are undermined and scorned in our society, but male ones are praised and imposed on everyone. That is my problem with the author. She ignores socialization patterns and then rebukes women who not rise above them or who chose to work within them and perhaps subtly destroy them and prove nothing should be working within the gender-binary in the first place! It’s also important to consider that Newsom is obsessed with how people perceive femininity, how femininity might be oppressive, but also how when people try to police femininity, they are denying women some of the only pleasure they are permitted (see all of Have One on Me).
But your point about intellectualism is spot-on. And we also have to consider how an intellectual woman scares people just as much as an angry woman.
I don’t even understand how it’s in question that Joanna Newsom is dismissed on the grounds of her femininity. She is widely perceived a a kind of fairytale creature with long hair and carefully chosen wardrobe that does not challenge conventions of attractiveness. She does not scream or growl, and her voice is quite unlike the other women mentioned here, very high-pitched in a way that is reminiscent of both young children and old women. For all this, she gets dismissed as a novelty act, which is a damn shame given how intense her lyrics actually are.
Monkey and Bear is a fine example of her brilliance; Newsom takes advantage of her storyteller persona to create a depiction of emotional abuse and manipulation that is painfully familiar for any woman who’s experienced it, and yet I suspect many people are thrown off by the fact that the lyrics concern talking animals who have escaped a circus. It is likely that she’d be taken more seriously if she screamed her injuries directly at the audience. Her approach is far more subtle, and offers the listener the choice of ignoring the social commentary altogether. I don’t think this is a cop-out; rather, by doing so, it echoes the reality that it is remarkably easy to dismiss abuse happening around you, and the abuse that is happening to you. It is a double story that reflects the double stories women rely on to survive.
Go Long is the first song of Newsom’s that I fell in love with, and the one that converted me into a fan. I was still reeling from the dissolution of an incredibly unhealthy relationship, it was all too easy to recognize the extraordinary sadness and anger evoked by destructive masculinity when it is performed by a man you care about. This is an excruciatingly female song, written from a perspective I think very few, if any, men can truly understand. Newsom clearly does not spend much time worrying if her music is accessible to men, and that no doubt contributes to how easily she is dismissed.
Finally, Newsom is the victim of unremarkable misogyny. Sometimes it is a worshipful misogyny, i.e., those fans who are so invested in her image as some sort of minor goddess they refuse to consider the fact that Baby Birch is about an abortion that the narrator affirms was ultimately the correct choice, despite her obvious regret that it had to happen at all. She has spoken several times about how she hates to be judged solely on the imagery she uses, rather the the content and artistry of her work, and that is no doubt because her work is about women’s minds, and women’s perspectives, with no bones thrown for listeners who want her to be more clear, more explicit, less “mysterious”. The irony of it all is that Joanna Newsom rarely conceals her meaning or intent. It is up to the listener to shed misogynistic thought patterns, internalized or otherwise, and empathize with the rawness of the emotions and ideas that are not unique to Newsom, but that have rarely been so coherently conveyed. It requires the listener to trust that a woman has something to say in between all those big words and pretty images, and that it really may not be very nice or comforting at all.