I have been a musician for as long as I can remember. I honestly don’t remember it starting, it just always has been. A vocalist, to be precise. My parents met in a band – my mum sang, my dad played guitar. I have three brothers – two DJ’s and one guitarist. My aunt sings, my uncle sings, my cousin is, as we speak, on a touring run of Dirty Dancing. Music is in my blood.
And it doesn’t stop there – I’ve never a person who wasn’t a musician. Literally every single person who has seen me naked has known how to read a stave and create a melody – albeit some better than others. My husband runs a recording studio, like this sh*t is hardwired in my nature. As I write this, the bag under my desk holds the outfit I’ll be changing into for the gig I’m playing tonight.
I joined my first choir at 7, my first band at 13, and there hasn’t been a period of time since where I haven’t been in some sort of regularly performing outfit.
“Millions of people you’ve never heard of make a living playing music – because it’s hardwired into them. But so, alas, is the misogyny.”
Currently, I’m in three. An originals band, a covers band and a stage show.
And in every single band, show or solo act I’ve performed in, I have experienced some form of sexism.
We, of course, hear about the horrendous stories of female musicians such as Kesha and Rihanna who have overcome situations much worse than I have. But what we don’t always talk about is the internalised misogyny that plagues the music industry, right down to the smaller, lesser known shows. The pub band cracking out Kings of Leon in your local, the indie band with ridiculous hair playing in a basement under a train track, the thousand and one venues across cities papered with cheaply printed flyers. The music industry isn’t just charts, MTV and awards shows. Millions of people you’ve never heard of make a living playing music – because it’s hardwired into them, too. But so, alas, is the misogyny.
So here are just a handful of the many stories I’ve accumulated over my *muffled cough* years in the industry. I’ll start with the least creepy.
“Anyone not in a band will have to leave and pay for entry when the venue opens,” booms a voice from a buzz cut in a bomber jacket. It is the bouncer of a venue I’ve been playing regular since my teens. (Side note, it was in this venue that I saw the man that was to become my husband for the very first time, up on the stage. He was playing drums in a ska band and I was dressed as a rabbit.)
We had just finished our sound check and the seven of us–-five guys, two girls — were sitting on bar stools, drinking beer and talking about our set. We didn’t have any guests with us, so we paid the bouncer no mind.
He looked at our group.
“If you’re not in a band please wait outside until doors,” he barked again. I gave him a polite nod that said, “cool, we know.”
You can see where this is going, I’m sure.
“But if you look like a woman, you must be one of the girlfriends, and girlfriends pay to get in this venue.”
“Band members only,” he said, walking over and looking past the men, directly at me and Laura, our saxophonist.
“…Yes.” I agreed, confused for a moment.
“You’re in the band?” he asked in that tone of voice that sounds like a raised eyebrow.
“Yep.” I pursed my lips and did the slow blinking thing I do when I’m irritated.
“Both of you?” he laughed, as if he’d sussed us out, as if he was a genius and nothing could get past him.
“Still yes.” Laura said.
“Right. Well if I don’t see you,” he jabbed a finger in my direction “and you,” a jab at Laura “up there singing, you’ll both be barred.”
“Well that’s gonna be a problem because Laura plays the saxophone.” I said, curtly. He idioted off somewhere to sulk.
This is not the first time I’ve been asked to leave my own show because a bouncer has no idea that women can be musicians. It’s also not the first time someone has assumed that Laura is a singer. Because women can’t be in punk bands and if they are they must be singers, right?
Men are given an inherent level of trust in this situation; why would they lie? But if you look like a woman, you must be one of the girlfriends, and girlfriends pay to get in this venue. *slow blink*
This next story is pretty recent so I’m going to leave a lot of the major details out, but I’ll give you the jist.
“I was told to ‘keep your feminist sh*t out of my band'”
A month or so ago, I performed a show with a large band. A female member of the band was taken ill and had to leave the stage, and I covered for her. During de-brief the following day, a male member of the band made a sexist comment about the ill band member in question. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it pissed me off. I asked the man to apologise and told him that I wasn’t comfortable with the comment, and to his credit he did.
“I can voice my discomfort at an offensive comment and as a woman, I am the one who is chastised”
This is a level of sexism I have, sadly, come to expect. Had this been the end of it, there would have been nothing more to note and I probably would have forgotten.
However, what came next was a barrage of insults from the show’s esteemed leader, in which I was told to “keep your feminist sh*t out of my band”, “for the love of God give it a rest” and the ever popular “it was just a joke.” The band member the comment had been directed at interjected, saying that she thought the comment was a compliment.
I guess I’d been in my Twitter bubble for too long, and had forgotten that people still existed that thought that way.
When I asked this particular person to apologise, I received something along the lines of “we both just have strong personalities.”
What struck me most about that incident was the fact that, in 2017, in a supposedly professional outfit, I can voice my discomfort at an offensive comment and as a woman, I am the one who is chastised – not the person who made it. It was made incredibly clear to me that the band’s freedom to make vile jokes was far more important than whether or not I felt comfortable.
I’m lucky that the majority of the bands I perform with are good people and generally feminists themselves. I’m lucky that in most cases, if I’m being cornered by a drunk audience member begging for a date or if someone tries to touch me, I’m not alone. But I shouldn’t be put in that situation in the first place.
And what would this rant be without a story about the biggest perpetrator of small-music scene sexism. The audience.
Now, there are several shows I perform in where I purposefully dress provocatively. It’s fun, I feel sexy. When I do that, I am putting myself into the male gaze and consenting that they look – much like a stripper or burlesque dancer, I am in control. I expect the comments and wolf whistles.
However, when I am in my civvies, trying to set up/break down a PA, when I am on a break, when I am writing a set list or anything other than putting on a show, I am not there to be gawked at. More importantly – I am not there to be touched.
In small, intimate gigs like pub gigs there seems to be a consistent stream of men who think that, because I put myself in front of them on stage, I am theirs to enjoy for the evening. I have experienced everything from unwanted hand holding, requests for my phone number, the ever popular hand-on-the-waist whilst they ask if I’ll play their favourite song (usually something awful from the 70s), and the incredibly confident full-on-ass-grab.
In short – yes, I am in the band. Yes, I know how to set up the equipment. Yes, I can carry it, too. No, I don’t have to ‘get over it’ if you make a derogatory comment. And no, you cannot touch me.
A Small Plug
I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I’m in a couple of bands. Here’s the latest single from my band Up&Go, Eleven. We play Skacore Pop-Punk, and yes that is a dinosaur on the cover.
You can download it on iTunes, Amazon Music & Spotify and if you really like us, you can come to our next show on 29 September in Romford.