BHSU Geek Speak tracks history of feminism in the US through popular music

Author: BHSU Communications/Monday, April 2, 2018/Categories: Events, Community, Faculty, 2018

Music is a powerful tool societies use to express their culture. Two professors at Black Hills State University are exploring how it can also be used to track cultural changes through time.

In their Geek Speak, “Rebel Girl: Celebrating a Century of Exchange between American Popular Music and Feminism,” Dr. Laura Colmenero-Chilberg, professor of sociology, and Dr. Dan May, assistant professor of mathematics, will discuss the intersection between feminism in the U.S. and American popular music. The presentation will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 12 in Jonas 110. All Geek Speaks are free and open to the public.

May keeps his ear to the “underground” music industry, listening to music that subtly influences the more dominant mainstream pop culture hits. Having a knack for recognizing patterns in math, society, and music, he began noticing a tie between the feminist movement and music trends.

“There’s been an explosion of interesting female artists in the underground, both in indie rock and hip hop,” May says. “A lot of the music is now bubbling up and addressing feminist issues in ways that are very direct. I’ve been paying attention to underground music for decades and, right now, with what’s happening, it feels different.”

Colmenero-Chilberg’s focus on gender studies has intersected with pop culture mainly through movies, television, and novels. Discussions between these two enigmatic professors has bloomed into a full-fledged investigation of the intersection between music trends and the journey of feminism in the U.S.

“The ideas of gender oppression over time has changed,” Colmenero-Chilberg explains. “We are going to look at a chronological history and analysis from the women’s suffrage movement through present day. All the while, we will be looking at how feminism has been presented in the form of popular music, both negatively and positively.”

During the lecture, the professors will play select clips of music from the last 100 years, before entering a dialogue with the audience about how our culture has developed. The discussion will focus on the products of the music industry, both mainstream and lesser known tracks, as well as the structure of the industry itself. Both professors commented on how females in the industry are shifting from careers as the “front woman” on the front of magazines to becoming the editors of those magazines.

“I hope the discussion will shed different light on the concept of feminism, which sometimes is treated as a dirty word,” May says. “That’s part of the reason I think it’s important to start our discussion as far back as 100 years ago with the women’s suffrage movement. The concept of feminism gets maligned sometimes when it’s not understood historically.”

The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students and the community to diversity within the disciplines. Some Geek Speaks are also presented at the Jacket Zone store located on Main Street in downtown Spearfish. All lectures are free and open to the public.
  • April 19: "Artificial vs. Human Intelligence: The Coming Conflict Over the Definition of Rationality” by Dr. Max Marc, associate professor of management
  • April 26: “From Bach to Braindrill: Exploring the similarities between Metal and Classical music and fandom” by Dr. David Berberick, assistant professor of music
  • University Honors Capstone Defenses. Please join us as our Honors Scholars defend their capstone work to graduate as International University Scholars, University Scholars, and Research Scholars. Refreshments will be served. Please note: these defenses are held at the Joy Center.
    • Tuesday, April 24:  3-5 p.m.
    • Wednesday, April 25:  3-5 p.m.
    • Monday, April 30: 3-5 p.m.
    • Tuesday, May 1:  3-5 p.m.

To read short descriptions of each lecture topic, visit 
For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, director of the University Honors Program and associate professor of English, at 605-642-6918 or email

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