A Woman's Experience With Sexism, Feminism and the Music Industry Today.
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Sometimes feminism is my best friend; sometimes it’s the embarrassing friend I pretend I don't know.
Recently a friend asked me to write a blog about my views on modern feminism. From the perspective of a mother, musician and woman.
Opening your mouth to speak about feminism is always followed by the impending fear of someone yelling at you in a fit of abusive rage. No matter what you say, someone’s going to get pissed. So here goes!
Firstly, how did we get here as a society?
I’d like to introduce you to my favourite metaphor: the pendulum.
Pendulums are fascinating for the way they demonstrate imbalance. You swing a pendulum from the far right and what does it do? It swings to the equal and opposite place on the far left. And it does this over and over until it finally arrives at the centre, as gravity and friction slowly bring it back to balance.
So, what the fuck does this have to do with feminism, Emily?
Well, when we experience extreme imbalance in society, you simply can’t expect the balance to go from FAR right (or left, whatever) and then immediately swing straight to the centre, happy and balanced, no worries.
That’s simply not how things work.
It’s not how racism, homophobia, religion or any other major issue in society has resolved, and it’s not how the oppression of women will resolve either.
There’s always a radical swing caused by imbalance which is what I believe we are experiencing in a lot of corners of modern feminism.
Now, we are all aware that in Western culture, women have been treated fairly shittily (shittily is now a word). I don’t think anyone’s arguing about that.
Actually, I have had people (only men, lol) plain-faced argue with me that women have in fact not been oppressed historically, which I guess highlights that we still need feminism.
See, you simply can’t tell women for centuries that their only purpose is to be literal slaves to men, then one day wake up, have a laugh and say “oh Jesus Christ, sorry about all that, hahaha...anyway, moving on”.
Sorry folks. The damage is done, and women are pissed. Pissed and rightly so.
And why are we pissed? Because a problem of this magnitude does not merely solve itself overnight, or decades, even. Sexism is still an issue in society, no doubts about that, but we're now experiencing the birth of toxic feminism as the pendulum swings wildly to the other side.
We’re so faaarking used to defending ourselves that we do it all the time, sometimes when it’s not called for at all.
So are we seeing a movement that's not always healthy and balanced? Yep. Are some women using toxic feminism as a means to lord themselves over men? Yep. Is this behaviour justifiable? Nope, but should we have expected immediate balance after how many decades of oppression? Nope.
Welcome to the pendulum, friends. The balance has not yet been restored.
And, yeah, it’s gotten a little out of hand, but suck it up folks, because it’s a healing process and like it or not, we’re all on board for the ride. So let's all try to help each other.
But why all the anger? Don’t you know, women are prettier when they smile.
There have been so, so many ways that women have been deeply traumatised by sexism. Forced abortions, marital rape, discrimination in the workplace, identity trauma (caused by not being allowed to have an identity beyond your husband) and Abrahamic religion, to name a few.
So if you believe that feminists are just angry bitches who hate men, ask yourself this: what were them things women were all shitty and protesty about during the first and second wave of feminism?
Oh yeah, the right to vote and not be raped and sexualised in the workplace. The right to be seen as humans; not walking, childbearing vaginas...fair play.
What a wonderful, fabulous thing feminism has been! Thank the good lord for it! Imagine if we erased all the incredible things women have contributed to humanity because they were stuck in some kitchen somewhere unable to speak.
What a wonderful, fabulous thing feminism still is.
And at this point, we must address what feminism actually means.
What is feminism?
Feminism is one of those fun things that everyone can define for themselves. Because there’s no official definition of it, the flood gates are open for misunderstandings, miscommunications and radical man-haters ruining feminism for us all.
For some people, feminism is about hating men. For others, it’s about women having supreme rulership of the world.
You’ll find that intelligent, healthy, balanced people define feminism as equal rights for men and women.
Not women having more rights than men.
But alas, we occasionally have to deal with men who are still deeply disturbed by women being equal to men. After all, if you are by default always better than a girl at least you’ve got that going for you, right?
If you don’t believe that this kind of sexism is alive and well today, just be a chick and go study music as a guitarist in a tertiary education facility. Oh, there it is! Read on for more about that.
Sexism and generational trauma
Women need to heal. There’s been too much damage for too long. So just...shut up and let us process it.
Yes, the pendulum has swung, not everything today that flies under the flag of feminism is healthy, but that’s just the messy business of healing. And heal we will.
Also, trauma is often intergenerational. Meaning that sometimes when people experience trauma, the trauma also effects their children because of the damage done to the parent.
Because sexism has largely targeted women and mothers, I think it's important that we view the current issues of sexism and toxic feminism as a flow on from the trauma experienced by our parents.
Intergenerational trauma takes generations to heal and we certainly haven't completely healed from this kind of culture:
What you witness your parents do sets the stage for what you think is appropriate. And this brings me to my next point.
Sexism has been a shit show for women and men
That’s right. Why do you think the suicide rate among men is off the charts? Why do you think men get violent and kill their families? It’s not because they woke up one morning and decided “today’s the day”.
It’s because we’ve raised a generation of boys who have been taught to be ashamed if they experience emotions, because emotions are for girls, and girls are weak.
So what does Johnny do? He bottles up all of his feelings until he’s such a mess of unprocessed trauma that when he finally fails to suppress a lifetime of human emotion, he snaps.
What else is he going to do? He’s not even allowed to be a fucking human. Getting help is for girls and if violence was how dad dealt with mum growing up, isn’t that just...what men do?
And no, I’m not justifying the actions of violent men. I’m saying that every problem has a cause, and if you’re serious about dealing with the problem, you must acknowledge its cause.
What are some issues we see today, as we try to heal from the trauma of sexism?
So sexism has been a shit show for us all. And I think it’s worth noting some of the symptoms of the imbalance we are now experiencing:
There’s a lot of tarring all men with the same brush (all men are bastards etc.)
Don’t want people to hate and discriminate you because you’re a girl? You know where I’m going with this. Let’s not be hypocrites.
After being in self-defence mode for so long, some of us are not sure how to, eeerrm, stop?
I get it! I do it too, but sometimes we see sexism when it’s just an innocent assumption. Sometimes people are open to being gently corrected, put the sword away.
Feminism has become a marketing field day and don’t pretend it hasn’t, it absolutely has.
All those female empowerment ads, songs and films are all aimed to appeal to your values so they can sell to you. Once it was cool to oppress women, and marketing had a field day with that too.
And here's an example of advertising in 2020. Looks like a campaign for womens rights, it's actually an ad for shoes.
And while it may not be harmful for advertising to ride on the coat tails of female empowerment, we also need to acknowledge that this movement in marketing is 100% about making sales.
When it was cool to bash women, that's what companies condoned. Now it's cool to empower women and companies are falling over themselves to appear feminist. Advertisers will always reflect what they think buyers want and now here we are with feminism in that basket. Does that cheapen the message? I'm not sure. What do you think? It's at least important to understand.
People are petrified of being politically incorrect.
There’s a tiny bit of trepidation one experiences when saying “she’s wrong” because soooo many times this was said not because she is wrong, but because she is a she. Now we’re all trying so hard not to be that guy that we’re too scared to say it, even when it’s true.
Once I was waiting at a bus stop in Sydney, and this chick fell hard in the gutter because she tripped in her stilettos. A guy instinctively rushed to her and asked if she was ok. I witnessed the strangest, saddest thing happen. The girl who fell turned it into a drama about this man approaching her to take the focus off her falling over in front of a crowd of strangers.
You know what, be gay, black, trans or female. Awesome! But it's not grounds for treating people like shit. Being a minority isn't mutually exclusive to also being a cunt.
Feminism was all good when we needed it; I hear you say…
Ah yes, the ultimate gaslighting. There actually is no problem, why are you acting so crazy?
This brings me back to my thing about the pendulum. And my thing about how sexism doesn’t just die overnight.
Let me ask you this, do you know a woman who hasn’t been abused by a man? Did you have to stop and think before you came up with “yeah, my friend, I think”.
I’m personally not sure if I know any women who haven’t been sexually, physically or psychologically abused by a man. If you’re really determined to believe that there is no problem, ironically, the problem is you. Surprise!
But seriously, there’s nothing any of us can say to convince you. If you are so emotionally attached to the idea that sexism isn’t real, good for you. May the forces of feminism be with you.
How my experience in the music industry has shaped my view on feminism
To be honest, most of the time, nobody’s got an issue with me being a girl. I do, however, go to some effort not to see sexism in every situation just because I’m afraid it’ll catch me off guard.
Here’s a funny thing, and something I’ve wanted to write about for ages.
When the girls do sexism better than the boys
Sometimes I think there’s a pressure on women in the industry to fit a certain “masculine” mould. To be defensive, aggressive, play a flying V and be “one of the boys”.
It’s weird. But that’s just not me. I wear dresses and flowery shit to gigs sometimes. I prance around being my normal hyperactive, loud self. I'm friendly to everyone and yeah, sometimes I get judged. But the funny thing is that sometimes it’s from other girls because I'm not masculine enough, as if that's a reflection of my musicianship or strength of character.
Once I was asked by a group of very cool feminist women if I was a feminist. I felt a lot of pressure to say yes, but to be honest, I wasn’t really sure. At the time I was becoming aware of toxic feminism and didn’t want to be part of it, so I said: I don’t know.
It was a bit awkward, and I could tell they were having a hard time accepting me for it. I guess I am a feminist; I just think it’s ironic that we put so much pressure on each other to conform to a personal feministic ideal that we almost defeat the whole purpose of it.
When the guys do the judging
My experience being laughed at as a female musician started basically the day I picked up the guitar. Allow me to illustrate.
The guys who didn’t believe I could play Metallica
When I was in high school, I did work experience at a radio station. One day we were sitting in one of the studio rooms listening to Metallica. I said, “I can play this song”, and all the guys (and I'm talking about the adult men who worked there) started laughing and taking the piss out of me.
I was so young and naive. I didn’t even realise they were taking the piss. They just thought I was making it all up to impress one of the guys there. I guess that’s all they imagine young girls can do.
So shortly after that, one of the guys brings in a few of his electric guitars, plugs them in and asks me to come and “shred some Metallica”. I only realised a few years ago that he was trying to humiliate me in front of the other workers. Everyone knows that girls can’t play guitar, I guess he thought I would cry or something.
God. You should have seen their faces. Priceless.
The time I studied music
When I studied music, I was thrown in with some wonderful folks. Some were a lot younger than I was so the maturity, experience and skill level was varied.
I realised pretty quickly that I was not to make suggestions, offer help or tell any of the boys anything at all, because they were only cool with it coming from the other guys.
Look, it wasn’t all of them, some of them were awesome, but some of them really struggled with me.
At one stage, I was asked to leave the room when one of said dudes had to give a presentation because I was “too intimidating” and “made everyone uncomfortable”.
Another student utterly refused to play one of our assessment pieced in the same key as the band because I had brought to his attention that he wasn’t. But men know best, and “us girls were too bossy” (his actual words).
By the end of the year, I was totally passive about shit hitting the fan. One guy got offended by me for suggesting that he tune his guitar during a rehearsal. I can only tune my guitar by ear behind my head in my sleep, but after all, I am just a girl, how dare I!
Every time I do a gig
Pretty much every time I do a gig, there is an assumption that I’m going to do a full Kasey Chambers rendition.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “so just an acoustic through the DI?” or "oh sweet heart, if you want to try to play a guitar, let me tune it for you first" (when it's my guitar and I'm tuning it as he speaks) I’d have my own private island.
My band is always “nothing like what we expected”, because I'm a girl, and so they expected Kasey Chambers covers.
I also do gigs where I’m literally the only girl in the room until the punters arrive unless someone brings their wife. At some of these gigs, I’ve never even seen a girl on crew, let alone on stage. And yeah, I cop some shit.
It’s all sweetheart and patronising comments and sexualising everything. I have a lot of friends in this space, and they are awesome, but I also run into a lot of men who are super freaked out about me being female and stuff.
Feeling unsafe and getting harassed at gigs
Another thing that happens sometimes is that I get bullied on stage when I play solo. I’ve had men full on harass me because they thought I was there alone when really I was just opening the set with a solo song.
These men always shit themselves and shut up when they see that I’m there with the rest of my band (all men).
But they seem to see a woman on her own as an opportunity to be abusive. I’ve been told to “take off my shirt, get fucked, shut up, play us something we like, bitch”. It’s lovely, but it only happens if they think I’m alone.
These days, if a punter started abusing me on stage, I’d publicly shame the shit out of him. Actually, I have done this. They deserved it. Just make sure you do not leave the venue alone if you do this, it’s not safe. Read that again, do not leave the venue alone. Call the cops if you have to before you go. In fact, I’d recommend it.
When I was younger an agent I worked with would refuse to book me in certain venues because he believed I wasn't safe as a young, female, solo performer working until 12-1am. So I guess that says something as well.
For all the rest of them, I pretty much just ignore it. I get up and do my thing and usually after that they are like “oh, fuck, cool, you can actually play, umm, sweet”. I think it’s an insecurity thing that some men have. Maybe they haven’t seen many women in their scene? Not sure.
It shits me a bit, but I guess I feel like it’s more their problem than mine.
Don't worry, you get to choose your musical family.
The wonderful thing is that you get to choose who you work with. Yes, there are dick heads out there who will panic about you being a girl, but you get to choose to surround yourself with wonderful, supportive, healthy men and women. Isn’t that fab?
And amidst your glorious team of legends, you’ll forget about all the fuckwits because you’ll be having too much fun to notice them in their small little worlds.