In the summer of 2010 I was invited to speak on a panel about the gender gap in the music industry, mainly focusing on the fact that, statistically, there are far less female composers than male.
Now, this is something that I’ve known for a while. I mean anyone who has a brain and eyes, who listens to music, the radio (bleurgh to most radio) who goes to record shops, who’s scanned the magazine racks where music is listed under the “men’s interests” section (yes I’ve actually seen that!), knows that. It’s something that became even more obvious to me when I started releasing music, sitting in a meeting room or on a tour bus and having the sudden realisation that I was the only girl in the room. I mean, the whole industry is a total boys club. I think this is really what pushed me heavily into proudly labelling myself a feminist. Not a certain type of feminist, not a first wave, second wave, third wave, whatever, just my own version based on my own experiences.
Sure, I’ve read about that stuff and it’s important, I buy books with titles like Votes For Women, Reclaiming The F Word, One Dimensional Woman, Never Mind The Bollocks, Women Re-write Rock and Girls To The Front etc. But really, for me, it’s not just a personal thing, nor just political. It’s a life thing. It’s just like an “omg isn’t it like totally wtf obvious” kind of thing. I just think we should be smart enough to understand that women aren’t lesser beings than men. Kind of simple in my mind, really. I appreciate the history, it’s important to me and I want to learn, but I also want to focus on what is right in front of me, and try and make a difference with what I have the capabilities to, otherwise I get overwhelmed.
So I was speaking on this panel about my experiences as a female musician and songwriter and I found out these statistics that even though I thought I was prepared for, totally shocked me. In the UK only 14% of PRS goes to female songwriters: only one female that was currently in the charts, out of something like 12-15 women, had written her own songs.
That summer I had also been doing interviews as part of promotion for the release of my second record, where I was asked questions like, “Does it annoy you that the majority of your fans are young girls?” and “Why don’t you care about being sexy and when are you going to do a scandalous photo shoot?” These questions are dumb and lame and offensive on so many levels. I was pissed. So I went through a really weird phase of crying in bars when I heard a song by a band like the Ramones. I’d be crying because I loved their music so much but I hated the fact that they were boys and that they would always get more respect than female musicians. It really sucked and I felt like a crazy person but I also couldn’t help how I felt. I didn’t really know what to do about it apart from cry out of frustration.
One night I was staying back at my parents house in Harrow and I was just surfing the internet, checking out a couple of blogs that I really like, this one girl maren, who does awesome illustration and takes amazing pictures (and has also recently started a beautiful fanzine), has a similar interest to me in the Riot Grrrl movement. She would often post stuff about that and I saw that there was a recent interview with Kathleen Hanna. This was exciting. I mean, we all know now that she has started working on a Julie Ruin record again but at that particular time that news wasn’t out there, so I was just super-excited to hear something from her that wasn’t like a scratchy old 90s video tape recording uploaded on to YouTube, where you have to watch it like 30 times and take notes to understand what she was saying, and you are desperate to understand!
This was new and relevant, and when asked about what music she had been listening to, I remember her listing a French band that I forget the name of and a group of kids that came from a Rock’n'Roll Summer Camp for girls that took place in New York (and Portland).
I immediately Googled the camp and found out as much as I could about the people that ran it and the girls that went to it. Suddenly I felt like maybe there was something I could do to stop me crying in bars when I heard the Ramones, that maybe I could stop feeling frustrated, hopeless, inadequate and pissed off and start feeling productive and positive and like I could help other young girls by encouraging them to write their own music. Maybe I could change some of those crappy statistics.
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