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Not With The Band: Women In Music, Have We Really Made Any Progress?

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Jack White’s all-female band

Where are we regarding women’s status in music? With all that talk about feminism, Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and the reclaiming of women’s sexuality, have we really progressed? I don’t think so.

I will not talking about sexuality here, I have never thought that mimicking sexual acts on stage was a victory for women because, let’s admit it, it is much more fueling men’s fantasies than affirming I-do-whatever-I-want-because-I-am-a-strong-woman… I am talking about equality, are women equal to men in music? Not at all! In a recent interview for Siriux/XM station, Jack White, who has an all-female back-up band these days, had this interesting part to say:

‘It’s a real shame that if a woman goes onstage with an instrument, it’s almost a novelty. Like, ‘Oh, isn’t that cute.’ It’s a shame that in 2014 that’s a little bit of what’s going on in the perception in the room.’

And he is totally right, there’s always this cuteness happening when a girl comes up with a guitar or a bass on stage… how many times did I hear during a show, ‘your bassist is sexy!’ because the bassist was a woman? Many times. And many times a band will add female back up singers as accessories, tambourine holders who won’t do much more than being eye candies for the night.

Jack White also said that someone asked why all the musicians in his band were female, to which the female drummer responded, ‘That’s funny, because no one ever says, when there’s all guys in the room, ‘what’s the deal with all the guys?’’ And this is, sadly totally true.

May be it is also because all-female bands are still a rarity compared to all-male bands, this should not be the case in 2014, but it is a reality. This article, published by the Telegraph, reports that all-female bands represented around 3-4 % of the bands at major European festivals whereas all-male bands topped between 26 to 56% of the acts at these same festivals. Men solo artists are also more represented that women solo artists. There were only 14 all-female bands of the 659 acts playing across festivals such as Isle of Wight, Glastonbury, Latitude, V Festival, Reading, and Bestival…. Plus they are never the headliners. More than ever, it’s a men’s world… When I think about it, I can’t even think about a female act headlining one of the festivals I have attended here in the US, except the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with a female singer, two years ago at the FYF fest. Who can blame the organizers? If they are not Beyonce, female acts are far less lucrative than male acts, and the all-female festival Lilith Fair gave up in 2010.

Women are not taken seriously in many fields, how many major female figures you can name in science? And it is the same thing in music. Canadian electronic musician Grimes wrote this on her tumblr: ‘I’m tired of men who aren’t professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to ‘help me out’ (without being asked), as if i did this by accident and i’m gonna flounder without them. or as if the fact that I’m a woman makes me incapable of using technology.  I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers.’

She also wrote: ‘I’m tired of creeps on message boards discussing whether or not they’d “fuck” me’… ‘I’m tired of being referred to as ‘cute,’ as a ‘waif’ etc., even when the author, fan, friend, family member etc. is being positive’

She is right, and this says a lot about how men, how the world continues to see women: they are either sexualized or infantilized or both, no matter how good they are. I am with Grimes, it’s hard to not feel tired, and the Miley, Beyonce, Rihanna of this world do not help at changing this perception.

Sure there are the Adele, Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey of the music industry who are selling a lot of albums, making a lot of money and selling out places without twerking or showing their naked breasts and buts… but are they really breaking the pattern? Adele only sings about ex-boyfriends, heartbreaks and anger, Taylor Swift only sings about nagging ex-boyfriends and Lana del Rey is such a calculated gangsta-wannabe poser that I am not sure what she is singing about, but one thing is sure, they are all singing in reaction to men. Men don’t always do that, they have a larger range than these very successful female artists… I am sure women can do the same, let me rephrase this, women already do the same: Neko Case, Cat Power, Feist, Angel Olsen, Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, Laura Marling, Jenny Lewis, Kate Nash, Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, Karen O, tUnE-yArDs, Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey, Lykke Li, Bjork, Amanda Palmer,… anyone else? All these women should headline festivals if the world was fair.

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