Natalie McCool has a new track released for International Women’s Day and wonders whether women are finally getting a handle on the groundwork.
It’s always hard to think of what to say when you’re put on the spot.
Upon pondering what to write for this article, as a female musician many small anecdotes come to light which, when assembled, create this life-long buzzing cacophony of sexism. At first it was daunting, impossible, to pick a single thread to unravel – but now I’m here and I have a voice, I’m going to use it.
Incidentally I have a song out today, Woman’s World, (see below) which suitably coincides with what I’m writing about here.
Here’s the tidbit I wrote for it’s press release:
“Woman’s World, a one-off release for #IWD 2019, is a neo-pysch sci-fi wooze through an Earth that men no longer populate or possibly never did. A world where girls and women are free from the gender shackles that discourage them at all ages from scientific, mathematic thought – where they are free to ascend to anything; world power, moon landings, even monotheistic god status – a world in which they don’t have to shatter the glass ceiling. Because there isn’t one.”
So this brings me to what I want to talk about: The idea of female ascension; to go where we haven’t yet been.
Now – within the music industry – I feel like we’re finally getting a handle on the groundwork. More equally gender balanced bills at gigs. Projects in place such as Women Make Music (PRS), Both Sides Now (Brighter Sound) Girls I Rate (Carla Marie Williams) and ReBalance (Festival Republic) ensure more visibility & support for female identifying music creators.
There are more female instrumentalists in bands, and more 100% female bands. There is now female community instead of female competition.
These are all amazing achievements – I feel that even in the past 5 years we’ve come a long, long way. But as I say, this is groundwork. Important – yes – and let’s continue it with increased vigour and determination, but there’s a bigger cause – what women have yet to achieve within the music industry is real ascension. Here’s 3 examples:
Female headliners at festivals
Need I say more? This is a well discussed issue already.
Since it’s beginning, there have been only 8 female/mixed gender headliners at Glastonbury, compared to 86 male/all male group headliners.
And don’t even get me started on Reading & Leeds. Giving a co-headline to Paramore – can’t they just…headline?
It’s not just the booking process – more telling is how we perceive female headliners too. Remember Florence + The Machine stepping up to headline Glastonbury? The NME wrote “With the singer back on her feet for the first time since breaking her foot at Coachella, Florence had 90 minutes to prove herself as a headliner on the UK’s biggest stage”.
Prove herself, despite the multi-million selling albums and the global fanbase. Hmm.
It’s not like FATM & Paramore lack the clout or experience. And this is the crux – there are many female / mixed gender acts who do have the back catalogue to headline a major festival.
We need to book more female & mixed gender headliners, on a range of stages at every festival, every year. Female musicians are not a novelty.
Canonizing female musicians within music history
Canon: the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality.
What a wonderful thing, for your work to be considered as of the highest quality within a particular genre or period. Shame then, that female music creators’ work often gets lumped into the same genre, which is: Female.
Trust me it’s still happening. This marginalisation perpetuates a view that our work doesn’t belong in the general music canon i.e. on the same level as male musicians’ work.
What’s also still happening is the clumsy, unimaginative, comparisons female musicians have to suffer at the hands of music reviewers and gig goers everywhere. Yes, its only natural to find familiarity in someone’s work, but when every whimsical female is compared to Kate Bush?
Don’t get me wrong – that’s a great compliment – but it’s also heavy handed, ignorant & downright boring.
Every female artist has something unique to say – acknowledging this brings us one step closer to the equality and recognition female music creators deserve.
Women in positions of high level decision making within music businesses & corporations
What’s wonderful is that there’s more women working in the music industry than ever before, including many of my female friends; whether it’s in A&R, running a blog, tour managing, working at a label / publisher / festival / management company, within administrative & music support organisations such as PRS, UK Music & Help Musicians UK – women are more visible within industry roles than ever before.
This is fantastic – but what I’d really love to see is a more balanced gender ratio at the very top of the chain.
Whilst there are women in senior executive roles such as Vice President & Chair of Human Resources at many music & media corporations, there is a distinct lack of women occupying the very highest positions such as CEO / CFO / COO / CMO – examples include global music enterprises such as Sony, Beats, Yamaha, and Pandora.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a whole generation of women whose ambition is not just working for a company, but being its founder or president?
I’ve noticed that every so often, news headlines will scream ‘HERE COME THE GIRLS’ or similar in a clumsy attempt at empowerment*. We don’t need or want that. What we need is the simple, subtle normalisation of women occupying space. That’s the key to ascension: real balance & real empowerment.
And it’s not just within Music – female ascension needs to happen everywhere else: Politics. Science. Religion. Economy. It’s not just levelling out the global playing field, it’s personal too.
Ascension to me is a spiritual word, it’s almost magical. But men have made ascension a reality for themselves – and now it’s our turn.
*The Independent 2005, The Telegraph 2007, Hollywood Reporter 2013, The Sunday Times 2018.