A recent Twitter post by music critic Jessica Hopper ignited a long online conversation about the challenges women face in the music business. City Pages invited Claire de Lune, the Twin Cities-based singer-songwriter behind Tiny Deaths, to share her thoughts and experiences.
“A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it” — Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“A term used by feminists to blame men for all their problems” — top definition, UrbanDictionary.com
“What was your first brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) with the idea that you didn’t ‘count?'” Jessica Hopper, senior editor at Pitchfork, asked of her female Twitter followers this past week. I happened to be on Twitter and saw this on my feed at the moment when Hopper posted it, with the addendum “posted 36 seconds ago.”
I was immediately flooded with memories, little stories, fleeting interactions with strangers, more prolonged interactions with people who were actually meaningful in my life, comments on YouTube videos. I responded quickly, and watched for the rest of the day as Hopper retweeted hundreds upon hundreds of responses, ranging from the mildly comical to the offensive to the downright deeply disturbing.
Multiple media outlets picked up on the story, as Hopper turned her Twitter feed into a real-time marvel of grassroots investigative journalism. From where I’m sitting, the Twitter installation shone light on two things: 1) Women are being marginalized en masse in this industry; 2) We aren’t hearing their stories.
I think pop culture, when it deigns to acknowledge the struggles women face in the music industry, paints a highly sensationalized picture about what it’s like to be a female in music. Ass grabbing, casting couches, and the naïve ingénue are tropes we’re familiar with via Hollywood. Though some of the interactions I — and other women, as evidenced by Hopper’s feed — have faced are certainly crass and blatant, there’s a subtler, more nuanced side of misogyny in the industry that I think breaks women down on a day-to-day basis.
Being overlooked in favor of the nearest male when it comes to business matters is a great example of this. The project I am currently a part of, Tiny Deaths, has an interesting dynamic. On the record, it’s just me and a talented (male) producer, Grant Cutler. Live, it’s me and a group of three talented (male) musicians. Doing the math in this equation tells you I’m the only constant between the record and the live show, and for this reason I take the helm on the project.
I oversee everything from tours to merchandise, our branding to our social media. Consistently I find that when playing shows, if I don’t already have a relationship with the sound person or promoter, they will almost always seek out one of my older, male bandmates to direct any questions to about sound needs or business logistics. It doesn’t seem to matter if I was the only point of contact in advancing the show (and indubitably, given the dynamics of the project, I was).
I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, but I remember having a realization years ago that misogyny in music isn’t necessarily some creepy industry guy trying to pressure me into hooking up with him on the implication that it would benefit my career (though, yes, that has happened to me). It’s being made to feel overlooked, unimportant, and unqualified. It’s the perpetuation of imposter syndrome (“the psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments”), by simultaneously diminishing women’s accomplishments and diminishing our ability to accomplish them in the first place.
What do I mean when I say that? Well, according to a Huffington Post article by Lara Baker, “the gender divide across all music industry related jobs is 67.8% male to 32.2% female.” Baker adds: “Are women lacking the confidence to push themselves forward for these opportunities, or is sexism inherent behind the scenes in the music industry? I suspect it's a bit of both.”
I’ve encountered just what Baker is referring to, especially when dealing with musical equipment (“gear,” to those of us in the biz) and some other industry ins and outs. I’ve found that, as women, we may hesitate to ask for help or advice when we need it. Whether it’s avoiding feedback from a monitor or deciding what the next step should be in our careers, women in music are constantly combating the stereotype that we’re clueless and helpless, that we don’t belong. That is the imposter syndrome I referenced earlier. So we don’t ask, even when it would benefit us.
The issue with this is twofold: Not only is one’s growth as an artist stunted when we shy away from admitting the gaps in our knowledge for fear of being vulnerable, but we miss out on these moments of fraternizing and commiserating with others in the industry (the sound person, the salesperson at the guitar shop) that are key for networking. As anyone in any industry knows, networking is the number one key to success. So women in the industry face a catch 22: Our insecurities — based, often, on harassment, and real negative interactions — about becoming the stereotype ultimately prevent us from breaking it.
I had a realization upon reading Hopper’s timeline that felt so profound, it turned a seemingly endless stream of horror stories into something uplifting: I wasn’t alone. Every woman in the industry, it seemed, regardless of stature, of position, of age, race, or creed, had a story to share. Or two. Or 10. They varied in degree of severity and magnitude, but one thing was clear: This isn’t easy for any of us. And though I knew, intellectually, that this had to be true before reading her timeline, I had proof.
Because the issue isn’t only that these things are happening in the industry and that it needs to change (although, make no mistake, that is a huge issue, that needs addressing). It is also that we aren’t talking about it. Not to each other, not to the world, not to anyone. It is a huge red flag that all these women were so eager to share their stories. Why was this true? Because someone actually asked. Someone with a platform. Someone who was giving them a voice. And I saw male twitter users, left and right, responding the same way: “I had no idea this was happening!”
So the other issue is giving us a voice, a platform, a space to share our stories. To write musical history, so it’s not just his story. To shed light on what’s happening in green rooms, on tour buses, in offices, record stores. Hopper’s feed is a good start. Articles like this one are a good start. But it’s up to everyone in the industry, regardless of gender, to give women a platform to define our own experiences. Because if we don’t, they’ll be defined for us.