7 Female Musicians Discuss Their Experiences With Sexism
For female artists in many areas of the music world, dealing with gender inequality is a regular part of the job. In their own words, here's what that's like.
For many women in music, sexism in their professional lives is commonplace.
Experimental pop musician Grimes outlined what this means for her in a Tumblr entry about the behavior she finds most disturbing and offensive. Here's just a small piece of her post:
i dont want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction
i dont want to live in a world where im gonna have to start employing body guards because this kind of behavior is so commonplace and accepted and I'm pissed that when I express concern over my own safety it's often ignored until people see firsthand what happens and then they apologize for not taking me seriously after the fact…
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
It's not just Grimes who feels this way. Female musicians spanning many genres and levels of fame have been open about their experiences in ways that speak to gender inequality. In an email to BuzzFeed, Heather D'Angelo of electro-pop band Au Revoir Simone referenced the last paragraph, quoted above, of Grimes' post and how it relates to the ways she's felt condescended to by men:
Au Revoir Simone has been on the receiving end of completely unsolicited advice from the most random dudes since our first show in 2003. And it's also true that as an all-female, all-synth band, we seem to be susceptible to a very special brand of "advice": "You know, you ladies would be so much better if you had [insert any instrument here]." As if we never before thought of having a live drummer or guitars until it was suggested by some guy whose musical prowess most likely doesn't extend much farther than a Saturday night playing Guitar Hero.
These "helpful hints" undermine D'Angelo as an established, professional artist, but at least they acknowledge that she's in the band at all. D'Angelo's bandmate, Erika Forster, recounted the many times she's been mistaken for a hanger-on as opposed to an actual musician:
Since the early days of our band we experienced a lot of, "Are you the merch girls?" and being sternly told that we were't allowed access somewhere by men, or sometimes women, who assumed we were the girlfriends or groupies.
Women in more niche genres say they also experience gender inequality in their jobs.
BuzzFeed spoke to Sarah Manning, a professional alto saxophonist and jazz composer, about her job. In an email, she described what it's like to be a successful female musician in a genre viewed as predominantly male:
[Female jazz musicians] are still considered "the other" and the assumption is that we are not as capable as our male peers. To believe in a player or innovator with a different sound devoid of the usual influences requires an assumption that he/she knows what they are doing, and so residual concern with whether women can play leaves little room for female innovators to be taken seriously.
She puts forth the idea that while men in jazz are encouraged to experiment and find their own style, women have to work harder to prove that they can actually play to begin with.
Female rappers have also spoken extensively about their treatment as women in the hip-hop world.
In an interview with Hip Hop Core, Jean Grae talked about the ways she's treated her differently than her male peers:
I'd like there to be no line between the requirements to be dope as a female emcee or as a male. If you like me, you like me because you think I have the skill to represent the art form. If not, then don't dislike me simply because I'm female. Also, never call me a femcee. That is so insulting. Mancee? We don't say that, do we? Why the separatist approach then?
Grae outlines her frustration with being pigeonholed because of her gender, which, as she points out, isn't a problem that men in her genre have to face at all.
Being discounted for one's gender isn't limited to musicians outside the mainstream, either.
Super-famous women have discussed their frustrations about the way they're treated as females in the music world, as well. In the MTV special Nicki Minaj: My Time Now, the rapper discussed the inconsistencies between the treatment of women and men in the entertainment industry:
When you're a girl, you have to be like…everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice and you have to… It's like, I can't be all those things at once. I'm a human being.
The expectations of character that Minaj says women face are impossible to uphold all at once, obviously.
Although all of this can be quite aggravating, some also acknowledge those who came before them and the advantages of being a female musician.
In an email to BuzzFeed, Caroline Polachek of the band Chairlift wrote that she believes things are becoming easier for women in music, especially because of the internet. She also feels gratitude toward women who have paved the way for current female musicians:
Music has been a very difficult terrain for women to do anything but be pretty puppets in, or finely tuned instruments for male hands, at best, and I feel very indebted to the few decades of badasses that came before me and turned shit on its head and made it an accessible playing field.
Forster says that her experience, though occasionally frustrating, has been a positive one, as well:
It has in some ways been an advantage to be a female band. I think we've gotten opportunity and exposure from being different.
While these perspectives are positive indicators of forward motion for female musicians, it still feels like there's a long way to go before women are on equal footing with men, Manning says. And she wonders how these challenges might affect less fortunate women in the field:
I love music too much not to learn to dial out and continue to work hard to record, compose and perform despite the obstacles, but how many others never make it out of the shadows?
It's a question well worth considering.