Laura Burgess and Imogen Allen review a wonderful musical treat, delivered by the University of Birmingham's Medical Society Big Band, singing groups and dance troupesWritten by Imogen Allen on 21st March 2017
The Voices of Women in Rock & Metal
Anna Pitts shares the experiences and struggles of women in rock and metal
“Women find it difficult to talk about the traumatic experience of being sexually assaulted at a gig because not only can it feel degrading but there is added pressure to not want to be disruptive in a white male dominated environment
Caroline from The Charm The Fury states: "It strikes me that sexism is actually a thing - and still is in 2017. To start off, it's one of the reasons I've started this band. As a female in the music industry you always get treated like a minority. It's because people instantly think that you are the plus one, the merch girl, the groupie. You are faceless in a sense. It's so frustrating. Nowadays, reactions to our band are always drenched with the female singer point of view. It can go either two ways: 'Oh, this is a female fronted band therefore I don't like it' or 'Wow, I actually like it because of/even though it is a female singer'. It's stupid because it NEVER really is about our music." PR Claire summarises: "It’s more the lack of women represented within metal that concerns me.”
Also, as a female listener and crowd member at gigs the issue of sexism is prominent. In fact, there is still a lot of stigma around speaking out against this issue. Women find it difficult to talk about the traumatic experience of being sexually assaulted at a gig because not only can it feel degrading but there is added pressure to not want to be disruptive in a white male dominated environment. PR Laura Wright says: “I still feel acutely aware if I'm on my own at a show - this doesn't deter me from attending but you look around and women are rarely spotted alone." While PR Lauren Reading shares her own experience - "I also recall an incident at a festival - I was attending due to having one of my artists playing and whilst waiting for another act to come on, I was stood with a number of colleagues when I was groped by someone in the crowd. I remember being not only upset it happened, but also very embarrassed about it happening in front of industry peers.” Nyah, vocalist in progressive groove metal band Aramantus, comments: “Women [at gigs] are not given the respect they deserve when it comes to their bodily autonomy.”
These experiences are shocking, even if the women in the industry that I contacted described them as rare occurrences. Yet, when I discussed this topic with female students it seems to be a recurring theme to brush off sexual harassment in a gig environment because of the fear of not wanting to make a scene or even feeling like they wouldn't be supported if they did speak out. Perhaps this is due to the atmosphere created by some bands. Andrea, the drummer of Can't Swim comments: "Most of the bands are male so most of them are talking about ex-girlfriends and sometimes also just completely degrading women. Women in videos are more likely to be the hot girlfriend, model, background sex sells stuff, than someone in the band who people respect and look up to. Moshing at shows is a 'man's club'. I don't feel I can keep up with that and I don't feel safe. That for sure doesn't mean all girls feel this way and when a girl gets in the mosh pit I'm like yaaasss girl get it!"
“'I felt right away I had to work twice as hard to prove myself and earn my stripes. In the beginning, I had to deal with quite a few negative comments, mostly online, which isn't surprising'
Moreover, these doubts are not only expressed towards women working in the industry but it becomes all too frequent that you are conditioned to ask these questions of yourself, which just simply isn't the case with male counterparts. Frequently female artists are dismissed, Cici from Aramantus comments: "Well quite often we don't get taken seriously as musicians, and as a band, until people have seen us play.”
It is widely accepted that female band members face greater pressures and are under higher levels of scrutiny. Mel Clarke, a prominent Rock DJ, states: "I felt right away I had to work twice as hard to prove myself and earn my stripes. In the beginning, I had to deal with quite a few negative comments, mostly online, which isn't surprising. I knew not to let these negative, doubtful comments get to me as I knew if I was a new male DJ I wouldn't be getting these comments, it was simply because I was a woman, how can you judge a DJ you've never seen perform?"
Other female artists note this apparent shift in abuse and criticism being carried out online. Nyah from Aramantus explains: "It can be quite difficult to deal with some of the sexism that we are faced with on a day-to-day basis. It can be anything from creepy and invasive messages online, to being taken less seriously than our male counterparts in other bands.” While Cici states: "There are people who completely ignore and refuse to acknowledge your playing ability, and will only comment on your looks. There are people who brag about their extensive music knowledge, and refuse to listen to anything we have to say.”
“'I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have heard the comment 'You're good for a girl', and I also can't even begin to tell you how demeaning it is'
Sometimes barbed comments are hidden behind supposedly positive feedback, for example Alice from Aramantus comments: "I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have heard the comment 'You're good for a girl', and I also can't even begin to tell you how demeaning it is." This is just one display of the internalised stigma women face not only from men in the industry but from female fans as well, which is part of the bigger issue of dismissing women on face value.
Some PRs in the genre have actually had mainly positive experiences, such as Lauren Reading: "Within a publicity capacity I am happy to say that I can’t recall any situations where I felt that my sex affected how I was perceived or treated within the industry. This may be in part due to the fact that there are more women in this field, meaning it is more of the norm." Therefore, perhaps the issue is not that there aren't women working in the industry but that there isn't wider awareness of this which perpetuates the idea that women are not interested in the genre. Also, other female artists, such as Noora from Battle Beast state: "I’ve always been treated very well and people have been very respectful – and to be honest, I like that I’m a female singer in a heavy metal band.”
So, what advice do women succeeding in the industry today have for other women? Mel Clarke's mantra is to: "Work like a horse wearing blinkers, stay focused, ignore any negativity around you. It's important to surround yourself with positive people who support you no matter what you do." While PR Jenny Cotter notes that: "The number of women who are growing or entering the profession is growing rapidly. The list of 30 under 30 from Music Week is constantly littered with amazing women, and the future [of women in rock and metal] to me looks bright."
Women and Sexism in Rock and Metal event is taking place on Saturday 18th March, 6-8pm in Rosa Parks. We will be raising awareness of sexual harassment at gigs and the views of women in the industry, in aid of RSVP.