“I’m sorry if I’m alienating some of you / your whole f*cking culture alienates me”- Bikini Kill.
A few years ago, I wrote a short article on the fated interview question faced by many, many musicians.
“Sooooooo…. what’s it like being a girl in a band?”
Having had a little experience of being a girl in a band at the time, I felt I could say my piece. I agreed with Kim Gordon in her autobiography (aptly named Girl in a Band) when I said that it was no different from being a boy in a band, as we were, quite simply doing the same thing. I recognised the barriers between women and music careers, but ultimately, I believed that things were by far better now than they used to be. I guess they are. Well, on paper they are. Is the music world still a world that excludes women?
Since starting my band, we have had some incredible opportunities, and of course, I am grateful for every single one of them. However, surely it is not unreasonable for me to be getting tired of being one of only two girls on an entire gig line-up. From what I’ve gathered, the type of music we play, and the music scene, in general, is a boy’s club. For a long time, I just didn’t think there was that many women in bands. But now I’ve learned that this is 100% not the case. We just aren’t getting booked as much as our male counterparts. Why is this? Surely, it’s not that hard to be a bit more inclusive?
However recently, promoters have started to cash in on this and have started putting on “female fronted bands…”. This is a commonly used term with promoters, bands and reviewers alike. I find it ridiculous. Would you describe a band of guys with a male lead singer as “male fronted?” No, no one would say this, because sadly the assumption is that musicians are male. Surely, it’s not fair then to disregard women’s songwriting and their art, and just make it about their gender? This has been happening to women ever since they started making waves in the music world. In the 1960s, all-girl Merseybeat band, The Liverbirds were booked to play in the famous Star Club in Hamburg, where The Beatles were also playing. They remember (telling Kate Mossman in her BBC documentary “Girls in Bands”) John Lennon saying to them, “Girls with guitars? I bet you that doesn’t work out.” A decade later, when The Runaways were formed, they were shamed for being sexual but leered at for the same reason.
Joan Jett and Lita Ford are incredible guitarists, but at the time they were only seen as leather-clad, jailbait femme fatales. Sadly, things don’t seem to have changed that much. When I went to see Wolf Alice last year, I witnessed a bunch of lewd comments directed at the singer Ellie. I’m sure she’s used to this, but she shouldn’t have to be. A woman should be able to get up and sing a song or play her guitar, without having to worry about what she’s wearing, or what people think of her. This is the kind of thing that Bikini Kill and the other bands of the Riot Grrrl movement were talking about in the 1990s, it really makes me really sad that these songs are still so relevant.
Pale Waves singer, Heather Baron-Gracie tweeted: “If you come to a Pale Waves show and you shout at me to “sing a song naked” I will have you removed in seconds.” Here is a woman in quite a successful pop band, getting angry about the way she is being treated by her audiences. It is good that she can stick up for herself so publicly, however, this treatment of women could possibly discourage young girls to feel that they would be welcome, safe and comfortable expressing themselves in the music world.
Being a woman in general, you are constantly being fed contradictions. You’re weak, but you must be strong, be smart, but girls are dumb, be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re a slut. This is, unfortunately, something that follows us into the music world too. Whenever I play gigs, I feel the need to dress up in my coolest clothes and wear lots of makeup. It’s that constant pressure to look good that affects so many women in bands, and a lot of the time it matters more than what the music sounds like sadly. Of course, boys in bands are scrutinised for how they look too, and there is, of course, an expectation for them to look cool. But for female musicians, it almost seems like they’re there to be sex symbols, and their music is secondary. According to Fender, 50% of new guitar players are female, but all of this gets me thinking, how many of that 50% will feel like they’ll be taken seriously?
Are gigs safe spaces for women and girls? Not yet.
Are women musicians respected and recognised for their art? Not yet.
What is it like being a girl in a band? Well, what do you think?
– Beth McLeish (@mixtapeheart)