We reached out to 37 female musicians about their experiences with sexism, only 5 responded

August 26, 2014 by Cassie Whitt

We reached out to 37 female musicians about their experiences with sexism, only 5 responded

Last year, we published an article detailing just a select few things women in music are sick of experiencing. The response was overwhelming, with currently 170 comments left on the article, some of which asked us to revisit the topic and involve musicians.

After toying with the most effective context for the story for almost a year, I was finally overwhelmingly compelled to reach out last month in the wake the onstage assault of Pity Sex’s Britty Drake and Tigers Jaw’s Brianna Collins and the immensely empowering #YesAllWomen movement.

Out of the nearly 40 musicians we reached out to asking for stories of how they have faced sexism, only five responded, which begs a few things: that they didn’t have time to respond, that some didn’t have experiences to share or, more troublingly, that female musicians still feel intimidated to speak up about their experiences.

In a scene where unity and acceptance are revered, it’s easy to sweep experiences like the following ones under the rug for the sake of maintaining an imaginary punk-rock utopia, but how does burying the experiences of female musicians (or any woman in any circumstance) really affect us? Simply, it hurts us.

Members of Candy Hearts, Dangerkids, Perfect Pussy, War On Women and Crystalyne shared their experiences and perspectives.

Candy Hearts vocalist/guitarist Mariel Loveland
Candy Hearts Mariel Loveland live
Sexism in music is a constant eye-roller for me. Normally I try not to get mad because I really feel like people are just ignorant to the fact that women really do play music, especially in the supremely male-dominated pop punk scene.

One of the most headache-inducing experiences I've had is being straight-up blocked from getting onstage by security even though I was carrying equipment and had a laminate. I walked up to the bouncer and asked him, “Hey, how do I get on the stage?” And he was like, “Why do you need to go there?” I said, “To sing,” and he sill wouldn't let me onstage until I was like, “Well we can wait here until no band starts playing because I'm not there.” Then he finally let me on.

Crystalyne vocalist Marissa Dattoli
Crystalyne live at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre.
Being the frontwoman for a band has always been my dream job. I remember being 10 years old and fantasizing over the perfect life, where everyone would know who we were, and we got to get dressed up every night, receive VIP treatment and play arena shows to thousands of people. As I got older, I quickly realized that the music industry was a tough environment to grow up in. Crystalyne started its journey a few years ago, and I don’t think we could have ever prepared ourselves for the amount of obstacles we’ve had to face so far. Most shockingly to me, a lot of them centered around sexism. 

One of the most eye-opening experiences for me happened on our latest tour. We had just finished a quick soundcheck and were about to head out for dinner when we realized we hadn’t been given any marker to show the venue that we were one of the bands playing the show. We couldn’t find the promoter, so I walked up to the security guard with the boys in tow and explained the situation. The security guard raised his eyebrow, gave me the up and down, and said “Are you really in the band?” I was so in shock that it took me a second to process what had just happened. Was this guy seriously suggesting that I was a groupie trying to sneak my way into the venue for free? I laughed it off and pointed to the poster taped on the wall behind him, which had a huge photo of our band on it. He didn’t apologize, or look phased in any way, just took my wrist and wrote the letter “B” on it, and did the same to Josh, Justin and Scotty. It really bothers me that in 2014, people still have a hard time processing that women are musicians, too.

Dangerkids drummer Katie Cole
Dangerkids drummer Katie Cole
I think sexism is still a very real thing in the music industry. At the same time, I feel like people are becoming more accepting of females involved in it. I’ve never had a major situation that bothered me personally, but I’ve dealt with a lot of the stereotypes. People make a lot assumptions about girls in bands but should really be taking it for what it is; it’s about the music!

There have been times when people thought I was just a gimmick or thought I wasn’t going to be a good drummer just because I’m a girl. It sucks hearing those things, but it’s always before I play so it makes me want to kill it onstage so they can see that what they're saying doesn’t matter. I’m the only girl in the band so I’ve heard all the typical remarks at shows : “Are you the merch girl?” “What time do they play?” “That’s cool they have a girl drum tech.” Just little things that I know wouldn’t happen if I were a guy. It’s time for everyone to realize that we’re all equal in this. Sexism should never be tolerated, and one day I hope seeing females in the music industry becomes so common that people don’t even question it.

Perfect Pussy vocalist Meredith Graves

Initially I just wanted to do the damn assignment: Craft an essay about an eye-opening experience I’ve had with sexism. But when I sat down to write, I realized there were too many experiences I wanted to write about, both my own and those of others. I’ve been through, and I’ve seen my peers go through, so many repelling or frightening situations where they’ve been the victims of blatant misogyny. And misogyny doesn’t show up to the party empty-handed: depending on the person being victimized, it’s concurrent with transphobia, it can be racist and classist, certainly ableist, whatever dominant qualities the woman in question presents become the attacker’s justification for sexism that often turns violent or deadly.
 
Just in the last few weeks, the sexual assault of an adolescent woman of color resulted in a widespread internet meme; Hobby Lobby legally proved their dedication to ensuring their employees don’t receive access to birth control; it was exposed via Tumblr that Men’s Rights Activism from hellish corners of the internet had developed anti-feminist, racist ‘divide and conquer’ programs in a bizarre attempt to end feminist solidarity on social media. A few weeks before that, Elliot Rogers went on a killing spree after being “friend zoned” a few too many times. I watched the protracted fights for justice after the imprisonment of CeCe McDonald, and the brutal murder of Islan Nettles. It’s everywhere. It shapes the world we live in, and it is endless.
 
For me to sit down and bang out a couple of paragraphs about the relative unpleasantries I’ve personally experienced seems to pale in comparison. I can only do it because I know it’s not unique to me. This or something like it has happened to every non-male person in a band, ever. More than once. This is just my most recent story.
 
Because of our band’s provocative name, lots of people think it’s ok to make sexually provocative fliers for our shows. When we can see the fliers in advance, we veto them. However, we don’t always see the fliers beforehand, and it’s always immensely disappointing when we arrive to see boobs and vaginas with our band name hastily cut-and-pasted over top. It’s gross, and more importantly, it’s totally cissexist. We’ve stated from the beginning that our name isn’t an earmarker of genital binarism. But it’s somehow always a cis woman (Ed. Note: “cisgender” refers to someone whose gender identity aligns with their birth-assigned sex.) on those fliers.
 
Anyway, our last show in Dallas had another sexually gross flier: women in high heels and nothing but panties, tied up and helpless. To add insult to injury, a thin censor bar was placed over their breasts, as if to reiterate the common belief that secondary sex characteristics are somehow more provocative than images of violence against women. It was weird and made me feel totally violated and disgusting. I got on the mic when our set was over and said something about how it’s not okay to do that kind of thing.
 
The reason I said something about the flier is because I know that it also happens to bands that don’t have the word “pussy” in their name. It happens to any band that prominently features feminine-spectrum people. These are people who come to our shows and pay to see our bands and still manage to enact this type of violence. And other men, seeing these things go down, often don’t even attempt to stop it. This complete lack of accountability, or rather, the complete acceptance of the “boys will be boys” argument, is how teenage boys saying gross things about teenage girls at showed turns into men in their 20s and 30s from my city who didn’t like me talking about racism in our scene and used it as an opportunity to talk shit or threaten me with physical violence. Some of those men have wives and daughters. Some of those men have a known history of physical or emotional abuse against women.
 
In the grand scheme of things, it was a mosquito bite. 99 percent of the time, when a dude starts going off about women this and feminism that, I can turn my ears off and walk away. But it wasn’t the first time this has happened to us; it might actually have been the 10th or 12th. It’s an epidemic, seen in places metropolitan and rural, on college campuses and in bars and the odd DIY space. I feel like every show we play, I talk to a young woman who tells me a story about how she’s been sexually harassed at local shows. More than once, I’ve had young women cry as they tell me stories about how they’ve dated guys in their scene who have abused them or stalked them after the eventual breakup. They tell me that the things I have written and talked about that happened to me are the same things that happened to them. That they felt safe coming to our show, but they didn’t feel safe going to shows in general anymore.
 
That’s why I said something after the show: because I’ve never met a woman in my entire life who doesn’t have a story of men enacting gendered violence against them. Not one.
 
War On Women vocalist Shawna Potter

War On Women live
We played this past February in LA at Echoplex. It was part of a short run of shows up and down the West Coast opening for Propagandhi and the Flatliners. It was the last show, and the tour had gone really well, and for a pretty unknown band like us the response was great. Halfway through our set a guy started yelling super-loud "I like your ass!" in between songs. It was too loud to ignore, so I tried to deflect it with humor, saying on the mic to my drummer "Hear that, Evan, that dude likes your ass." Well, dude didn't get it, and yelled, "No, YOU! The singer!! YOUR ASS." Meanwhile, Nancy had her own jerk to deal with. He was standing right under her yelling, "Yeah! Sexy baby! Nice ass!" for a few songs.

Some might ask what the big deal is, or say if you go on a stage you should expect to hear some shit. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you are one of those people, you've probably never been afraid of being harassed, followed, groped or assaulted because of your gender. This isn't your average heckle. Sure, onstage, in that moment, we were in control, and I have a very loud mic and the opportunity to call that dude out. But after the show I just kept thinking, what if I didn't have a mic? What if I wasn't on stage, but on the street, and this stranger spoke to me like that, commanding I pay attention to him. It wasn't hard to imagine, because for most women and LGBTQ folks it's a daily reality. Then I hesitated to go into the audience after we played because what if I saw him? Or what if he snuck up on me and touched me? The threat of violence doesn't disappear when the show is over and you make it to the floor you're sleeping on that night. It's constant, oppressive, wrapped in "compliments," and dismissed as an ovaryaction. Of course we're freaked out by seemingly innocuous comments, because when we do stand up for ourselves, harassers get more aggressive, and when they take their aggression out on us, we get blamed. It's in our best interest to avoid any interaction with anyone in public, ever. If that doesn't sound like a way to control women, I don't know what does.

The idea that women's bodies exist for male consumption, that we as human beings are to be judged solely on our fuckability, is so pervasive that even a front person on a 10-foot-high-stage and amplified microphone can't escape it.

The entire episode maybe lasted two minutes and ended with me going on a rant about how women do not think of pleasing anyone but themselves when they get dressed and leave their homes every day, and that if you're going to be an asshole you can at least buy one of our shirts to help us pay for gas. It was quick, the show moved on, but I'm still thinking about it. It's one of the many harassment experiences I think about whenever I pass a strange man on the street. ALT

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candy hearts dangerkids crystalyne perfect pussy feminism war on women women's rights

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