You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: (Miss)representation in The Music Media : Everyman Bistro, Liverpool

Pink Kink performed at the end of the panel

Pink Kink performed at the event (photo by Keith Ainsworth)

This week, a panel of women music writers discussed why the music industry remains so pale and male. Getintothis’ Cath Bore reflects on their findings. 

This subject has been examined before, of course. A feminist festival in the North West ran a similar themed night earlier in the year, but to the chagrin of many, it was chaired by a man. The notion of a bloke guiding what a panel of women say, is hugely problematic, and contrary to the theme or purpose of the event, or so you’d think. Similarly, a music festival in Liverpool in recent weeks had a man prompting and asking questions from the shadows. Awkward.

So tonight’s event, organised by Writing on the Wall and Bido Lito, is positive and progressive in itself; it’s bold, female driven, with no room for ambiguity about who’s in control.

The women speaking are Laura Snapes, culture writer and contributing editor at Pitchfork; Sarah Lay from Louder Than War; Amy Roberts from the blog Clarissa Explains Fuck All, and Lorna Gray, music journalist and founder of Fierce Babe Network. All accomplished and respected in their fields, no lightweights here.

The panel agree there are plenty of online opportunities for new women writers, with blogging being a common launch pad.

Webzines are everywhere, but as Sarah Lay explains, ‘women find it difficult to move on (from those). There’s lack of equality in publications. We (Louder Than War) keep championing women and getting their words out there.’

There’s mistaken belief, she says, that ‘only men buy music magazines. Pop music is questioned on grounds of authenticity. It’s easy for publications to marginalise women writers, their authenticity is questioned.’

This is true. Women music writers reading this are familiar with a pattern of behaviour from some male editors, of pitching ideas that are then blithely handed over to men. The assumption that because a writer is a woman then she needs to know her place endures, and the notion of the male understanding and appreciating rock music better because he has more testosterone sounds daft written down, but such belief systems hold firm.

Tonight’s panel are bang on when they say that even well-meaning male writers can get it wrong sometimes, behaviourally or on the page, by writing about and regarding women musicians in different terms to their male peers. It is this writer’s view that anyone who uses the terms “all girl” or “female fronted” band should be taken outside, put up against a wall and shot. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

‘Male writers are offended by accusations of sexism when they are called out on it,’ says Laura Snape tonight, ‘On social media especially, men are very defensive on the subject.’

Scanning the Scene: A Lovely Word and the state of spoken word poetry in Liverpool

Twitter can be a tough place for women expressing opinions anyway, instructing us why we’re wrong and advice on how to do better next time.

‘The best journalists at the moment are young women,’ adds Snape, ‘don’t let those who call you out put you off. They are scared of the power you have. Wield that power.’

There’s a massive cheer at that, and each of the panel nod their head in universal approval at Rachel Brodsky’s measured response to Miles Kane’s “do you want to go upstairs?” letchery during her now infamous interview with him and Last Shadow Puppets bandmate Alex Turner in March. In her article for Spin, Everything That You’ve Come to Expect — And A Little Less, Brodsky reported her disapproval at Kane’s behaviour in a measured, calm way.

But, as Laura Snapes observes tonight, as a woman you have to ‘limit your anger so people take you more seriously.’

That can’t be right, can it? A lack of free expression is worrying, the notion of women hiding emotions in order to be somehow credible, sensible.

It’s that know your place thing, again.

For writing on gender and music, Sarah Lay recommends The Sex Revolts ; Gender, Rebellion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Simon Reynolds. Lorna Gray admires Roxane Gay’s The Bad Feminist and fellow panelist Snapes because, ‘you always say exactly what you’re thinking’.

And that is one of the best points of the night. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, whether it’s as writer or musician, or gig punter.

This writer is ashamed to say that at a venue last year I said nothing when security on the door were loudly rating women (I was a C minus, get me), when giving them down the banks instead would have been more appropriate. Or when a fellow gig goer at a different venue was openly watching a pornographic film on his phone, holding it up for me and other women to see, I should have said something then too.

We do need to speak up, all of us, whether via the written word, by starting a band if we want to, or insisting on the right to consume music unencumbered.

Or else, as Laura Snapes says, ‘we’ll never move away from white men being the default’.

Because that’s no good for anyone, is it?




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