Why aren’t women represented at music festivals?
Photo source: Wunmi Onibudo/NME
Katherine Stewart at Just a Grrrl, a forum dedicated to bringing women in the music industry together, blogs about how women are faring at festivals.
We associate a lot of things with music: happiness, sadness, fame, glamour, festivals, friends, enemies, love, hate, and heartbreak – but, for most of us, not sexism.
However, in recent years many festivals have been called out for the lack of women of their line-ups. Last year’s Reading and Leeds line-up came under particular scrutiny after a poster appeared online showing only the acts that had at least one female member. It revealed that only 9 of the 96 announced acts met this criterion. Commentators on social media declared that female acts simply were not of a standard with male acts; in response, a writer for VICE magazine compiled a list of around 90 successful acts with at least one woman in them.
Part of the difficulty in getting more women onto festival line-ups is the pro-male bias of the rest of the music industry. For example, in 2012 online feminist magazine The F Word reported that music magazines The Word, Classic Rock, Mojo, Q, and Kerrang! all identified their target demographics as male. As such, they are less likely to dedicate column inches to female artists. This means that emerging female rock, indie or metal artists have to find other ways of reaching and expanding their audiences. As a result, female acts find mainstream success harder to achieve through traditional means, and are therefore less likely to be booked to play festivals.
One excuse given for the male-dominated line-ups is that the traditional record industry has been in decline, so festivals are not taking the risk of booking less established bands. The most established rock acts are male. Another is that, while men tend to dominate the rock and indie scene, female artists dominate the pop world.
In light of the poor press coverage of female acts, plus the high fees festivals are paying artists and the fact that recorded music sales fell by 41% between 2000 and 2013, it would be greatly beneficial to female artists to be able to play major festivals. It would provide the income to supplement the poor press coverage with more marketing and PR, alongside directly providing exposure. This would allow the artists to grow their audiences, which would in turn lead to further festival bookings.
It is against this (frustratingly unequal) backdrop that various support networks for women in music have appeared.
This year’s Glastonbury festival introduced a women-only venue called The Sisterhood, which has been simultaneously hailed by some as the ‘revolutionary clubhouse’ that its organisers want it to be, and mauled by critics and commentators. Some claim reverse sexism, others that women-only spaces are regressive and an unhealthy, unhelpful addition to the feminist cause. In reality, the need for female-only spaces at festivals is very real, and the chance for women to “connect, network, share their stories, have fun and learn the best way to support each other” should not be passed up; not in a culture that prioritises maleness so extensively.
Away from Glastonbury, Sound Women is an organisation that supports and celebrates women working in radio, for example, and Girls Rock London sets up jam sessions and performance opportunities for women and girls to play music in London. TYCI is an artist-run collective “exploring and celebrating all things femme”. My recently-launched site – JUST A GRRRL – is all about connecting women in the industry with one another.
JUST A GRRRL has numerous information pages, including overviews of the Music Industry, Feminism, and the issues specific to women in the music industry, plus a chat forum where women in the industry can get advice, find mentors, and start coming up with solutions to the problems they encounter. There is also a blog that anyone can contribute to (seriously, email us!).
We sincerely believe that an accessible, safe, online space like JUST A GRRRL can lay the foundations for greater gender equality in the music industry.
Please consider this your invitation to join the conversation.
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