Posted on January 09 2021
IN A WORLD WITH SUCH INTENSE PATRIARCHY, THE FACT THAT A WOMAN CAN HAVE HUGE AMOUNTS OF TALENT AND EARN SUCCESS WITHOUT MALE INVOLVEMENT IS APPARENTLY SEEN AS DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE.
By Enya Ashlynn
Once, my dad told me a story about the time he was setting up for a show in the late 80s, and how he told who he believed to be the merch girl to get out of the way because she was having a look around the stage. If you’ve met many sexist men raised in the 1950s - my condolences - but I’m sure you can imagine he would’ve been quite rude about it.
It turned out, she was actually the headline act that night: Suze MeMarchi, front woman of The Baby Animals, a still well known Australian rock band.
What I most took away from the story is that she smiled at him and walked off. Later that evening, she got onstage and played to thousands of people. She then would go on to top music charts through the 90s and continue to have a successful music career.
But I can guarantee it would not have been the last time she was pushed aside for being a woman, or told to get out of the way when she probably knows more about the equipment than any man setting up her stage.
IF YOU'RE TOO GLAMOROUS, YOU DON'T TAKE YOUR MUSIC SERIOUSLY. IF YOU'D RATHER SKIP MAKEUP, YOU LACK SEX APPEAL. YOU WILL BE TOLD THAT YOU HAVE "BLOWJOB LIPS" DURING SOUND CHECK WHEN THE MICROPHONE GOES NEAR YOUR MOUTH.
As I grew up, I heard countless women in the music industry telling similar stories of men discrediting them so blatantly: sound engineers telling them to move out of the way, being asked to get back behind the bar and serve drinks, being asked if they know how to play their own instruments, the good old “are you lost darling?” - which I’ve had many times - and having men grab speakers out of their arms because “girls can’t lift gear.” Just to name a few of the many slights. If you’re too glamorous, you don’t take your music seriously. If you’d rather skip makeup, you lack sex appeal. You will be told that you have “blowjob lips” during sound check when the microphone goes near your mouth. You’ll be accused of “screwing your way to the top” if you’re successful. And all because in a world with such intense patriarchy, the fact that a woman can have huge amounts of talent and earn success without male involvement is apparently seen as damn near impossible.
The summer I turned thirteen, I was involved in a music competition at a festival, and - because my mum had my two little brothers to juggle, one hyperactive toddler on each hip - I was left alone this particular afternoon for a few hours. People would stop and listen to me sing, and I would thank them when they placed money into my guitar case and continue playing. When I felt done playing for the day, I crouched down to pack up my guitar, and that’s when a young man walked up to me. Because he had stumbled out of a bar and was quite obviously drunk, he must have been at least seven years older than me. Due to this, instead of looking up at him, I decided that I would pack my guitar and coins away a lot faster. Seeing this, he laughed and said “while you’re down there, sweetheart.” At the time, I didn’t really know what he meant, but the tone of his voice made me feel uneasy. I stood up, guitar in hand, and despite the feeling, faced him. He said that he’d listened to me earlier in the day, and I was “actually really good for a girl.”
I will never understand how that could be seen as a compliment.
When I was sixteen, I started more frequently going to the local open mic nights I’d been attending with my dad since I was twelve. I’m from a pretty small town in Queensland, and I was living out of home. This was a nice space to wind down and feel safe in a familiar setting where I could belt out my anger at the world in song. I noticed a man that would attend quite often and always stared at me when he did. A few months went by, and one night after I had turned seventeen, he approached me. He started telling me about his guitar collection and said I was very welcome to come over to his house and try out some of them. Naturally, I was intrigued, but when I told him how old I was and he said he was twenty-eight, he said it wasn’t a problem. As though it would convince me further, he told me that my voice was “really strong for such a girl.” I just stood there and awkwardly thanked him.
Why couldn’t I just be told I had a good voice, regardless of my gender?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never once heard a band referred to as “male fronted” or had a man in the music industry get told that he “plays guitar really well for a guy.” Yet this is something women have to put up with at almost every gig they play.
A few years ago, freelance journalist Polly Dunbar came forward in an interview, explaining what an afternoon actually looked like in the music studio with an unnamed teenage pop star in London. “Her manager, an executive producer from her record label, and the director (all men) are huddled together around a laptop, looking at footage of her and discussing their displeasure in tones they make no attempt to hush. The star herself sits alone and crying on the other side of the room, wearing hotpants, a bralette and sky high stilettos. A makeup artist and several stylists look on in awkward silence. By the time the shoot is abandoned, the singer’s crimes have been spelled out to her in the most degrading terms possible. The men explained they weren’t happy with the way she was moving and that she looked ‘lumpy’ and ‘overweight’ even though she is tiny.” A witness on the same shoot told Marie Claire: “One of them told her she would need to practice her sexy dancing because she didn’t look ‘shaggable enough.’ She was clearly devastated, but she just nodded and mumbled ‘ok.’”
Not only are women in the music industry being silenced when they call out sexism and misogyny, but there is a frightening amount of predatory behavior towards young women. And sadly, this isn’t a new issue. More than a few people, who are still idolised to this day, had underaged girlfriends and groupies - a fact that no one seems to want to talk about. The events manager of EMI record label, Lara Baker, says: “Countless women who work in the business testify to frequent cases of sexual assault, misconduct, and misogyny.” And more and more, women have come forward to share endless stories of very similar experiences with grooming and being assaulted by men, all who hide behind their fame and status.
I DO NOT BELIEVE IN SEPARATING THE ART FROM THE ARTIST. WHEN WE CHOOSE WHAT WE LISTEN TO, IT DOES HAVE AN IMPACT. EVERY STREAM AND ALBUM BOUGHT IS MONEY GOING TOWARDS THE ARTIST WHO CREATED IT.
In 2014, the world held its breath as the famous pop artist, Kesha, sued her producer, Dr. Luke - Lukasz Gottwald - for sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse to the point where - she quotes - she “almost lost [her] life.” The suit’s aim was to end the contract binding Kesha to Dr Luke’s label, allowing her the freedom to work with other labels where she would be safe.
The producer countersued her with defamation, denying her claims and belittling her. And history was made when some of the most famous women in the music industry started coming forward to show their support and solidarity. They began donating funds towards the legal expenses, dedicating their awards to her in speeches broadcast to the world, and taking to social media to come forward with their stories of being silenced when involving other producers in the music industry and their sexist, abusive behaviour.
Personally, I do not believe in separating the art from the artist. Since I moved to Melbourne, I’ve had many guys tell me how I need to learn to “not be so feminist” when it comes to these issues. However, I refuse to mindlessly listen to music created by people who continue to keep the music industry filled with misogyny and abuse. When we choose what we listen to, it does have an impact. Every stream and album bought is money going towards the artist that created it.
According to PRS for Music, only 13 percent of their 95,000 songwriters are women. You might think: wait a minute, what about Adele? Taylor Swift? Rhianna?? But the cold hard truth is that despite having phenomenal success, the majority of any chart topping hits sung by women are written by men. Worse yet, mental health for young female artists continuously gets brushed off or shoved aside. English singer-songwriter, Lauren Aquilina was quoted saying: “I’ve been told by men in the industry to stop being so emotional and write a happy, upbeat song that benefits a female pop star. I know for a fact that a male artist would never be told to ditch an emotional, raw song.”
However, thankfully, there is change happening, and we can all help. Here in Australia, we have some outstanding indigenous artists climbing the music charts. One of these artists is Thelma Plum, who has been topping the charts in Australia with songs like “Better in Blak.” The song has incredibly powerful lyrics about being a woman of colour in the music industry and being constantly told she would never be enough.
The strength it takes to be a woman in any male dominated industry is more than most people could ever imagine, and it’s time we started talking about it more. Supporting women and the safety of women in the music industry is more important now than ever with so many platforms to be discovered on.
So, I implore you. Do what you can to support women in the music industry and research who you listen to. Support more artists in the LGBTQ+ community and women of colour. When you feel comfortable to do so, pass on information about these issues. If we start the spark of conversation, it will grow and turn into a raging fire. A fire that we can burn down the decades of misogyny, sexism and unwanted opinions that have been shoved down the throat of women with powerful voices.
Because, as Thelma Plum so simply and beautifully puts it, ‘’F*ck that”.
Enya is a 21 year old queer artist living in Melbourne who grew up in country Queensland and became passionate about social justice in her early teens. Her dream is to pat as many cats as possible even though she is highly allergic and consume bubble tea to her heart’s content while abolishing the patriarchy.” Follow her on Instagram.
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