The off-key treatment of women in the music industry
By Abby Butler
It’s no secret that the comment section is the epitome of all that is wrong with social media.Think of the comment section like a dark alleyway - steeped in perceived anonymity, anyone with an email address can crawl into the dingy corners of the world wide web and spew their grammarless, spelling-error-filled opinions into the void.
Just like a dark alleyway, women are often times made to feel unsafe. You never know what misogynistic jerk is lurking around the corner, ready to pounce with an MRA hashtag or the classic “hairy feminist lesbian” surprise attack. Likewise, it can be a not-so-pleasant place for non-binary and trans folk.
On Easter Sunday, as I ate my body weight in chocolate and casually scrolled through Instagram, as is the tradition in celebrating the life and times of our Lord and saviour, I stumbled across a video of a live triple j performance from Alice Ivy and a ton of other
talented artists covering the classic Estelle/Yeezy banger ‘American Boy’. It was as difficult to not look at the comments below as it was to not eat another Coles brand egg, and both gave me a gross feeling in my stomach immediately after consumption.
“Fuck me what are they wearing. Horrid.”
“When you replace talent with gender”
“Fuck me what an abortion!”
You may be asking what all the fuss is about. Sticks and stones, right? According to research conducted by the Pew Research Centre in the US, nearly 40% of women who experienced online harassment found it extremely or very upsetting compared to 17% of men. The disturbing nature of these comments resonates with women in a similar way to street harassment. When you’re cat called as you walk down the street, like when someone posts a graphic comment under one of your Instagram photos, you’re not being assaulted in a physical manner. Rather, it’s the what-if that catches you off guard. Is that car going to stop? Could this get physical? In a split second, women, trans and non-binary individuals must learn to identify genuine threats from online trolls and often the distinction can be a tricky one to make.
It can be even trickier when those comments are being yelled from the darkness of an audience. Eilish Gilligan, a self-described “feelings-feeler” and electronic indie-pop artist from Melbourne, featured in Alice Ivy’s performance and describes the sexism she’s
experienced during her time in the music industry as “insidious and subtle”. Whilst acknowledging her “inherent privilege” as a white cis woman, Gilligan noted the extensive list of exhausting trends she’s found during her time in the industry.
“It’s sound engineers who approach my male bandmate first, assuming I know nothing about my own setup. It’s the same words used to describe my music that gets churned out again and again for all music that happens to be made by women. It’s another festival line-up bombarded with men and it’s the unsolicited ‘advice’ from men that I receive online and at shows. It’s online comments that threaten and harass and bully non-male artists where our male counterpart’ physical appearances go generally un-remarked on. The list goes on and it’s exhausting.”
Music festivals have been a controversial aspect of the conversation on sexism in the Australian music industry. On stage, the nationwide Falls Festival faced criticism from Melbourne rock trio Camp Cope for booking only nine women on the line-up and last month. Sticky Fingers were revealed as the much-hyped secret headliner of Marrickville’s Bad Friday after public allegations of racial abuse and sexual harassment had led to the band’s twelve-month hiatus. Off stage, punters often face alcohol and drug-fuelled violence, sexual harassment and other anti-social behaviours. One girl I spoke to, Lily* recalled an incident from Maitland’s Groovin’ the Moo last year.
“My friend passed out, and she was roughly the same size as me so I couldn’t carry her through a crowd. I was trying to keep her up and drag her fully passed out body through the crowd, and people would just not let me through even though I was screaming over the music. Not only were people not helpful, some guys would grab her very inappropriately and say terrible things: ‘filthy slut’, ‘drug taking whore’ and ‘pissed up bitch’. In the end, a stranger picked her up because I really could not carry her but honestly I still can’t believe that people could say those things to a 15-year-old girl.”
There’s no quick fix to solving sexism in the music industry. Eilish Gilligan summed it up perfectly: “I’m just exhausted, but it also makes me angry – the hopelessness of the whole thing. You can preach and preach and preach but the likelihood of real, definite change is kinda low. It will take years to improve.”
Although disheartening, there is change being made. Non-for-profit organisation LISTEN ran posters at BIGSOUND festival with tips on how to encourage more gender diversity in the music industry, Camp Cope created the ‘It Takes One’ video campaign to address crowd violence and harassment and the highly anticipated Splendour in the Grass line-up dropped to high praise from music lovers with a gender diverse range of acts.
Whilst undoubtedly there is more work to be done, music fans can easily make a difference by supporting female, trans and non-binary artists. Often the last word is the most important word, so here’s a prime playlist of non-male artists you need to add to your Spotify (or Apple Music, I don’t judge) queue right away: