There is a culture problem in the music scene in Australia. Instances of unwanted groping and invasive actions at gigs have become all too common and there are many stories of abusive behaviour that circulate. During a chat we had with Karina Utomo of High Tension recently, the problem was made clear – there is a respect issue that exists within the music scene.
But it’s not only punters who are responsible for this inappropriate behaviour. The music industry mirrors society more generally, as it is rife with gender bias. If you take a look at the comparisons made by journalists between Alex Lahey and Courtney Barnett, a sense of laziness starts to become apparent. Granted, they are both women who play guitar and sing about the everyday, but that’s really where the similarities cease – their songwriting techniques and performance styles are very different, as are their aesthetics.
When addressing the Courtney Barnett comparisons, Alex Lahey said “I’m just not convinced that these comparisons would be happening if I was a guy. It’s just silly and easy. I think it’s easy to lump girls in with each other and it’s stupid.” And indeed, such shallow comparisons just don’t seem to be a problem for male artists- do we instantly compare Seth Sentry with Ivan Ooze because they’re both white guys who rap? Do we immediately associate Angus Stone with D.D Dumbo because they’re both introspective men making off-kilter music? We tend to give more credit to the men of music, while it is difficult for women to break out of the genre of “female artist”. This is something that must be addressed openly in order to be changed.
This situation in the music industry spotlights a culture of gender bias within the broader societal context where women are not viewed as individuals in the same way as men are. Just as discourse within the music industry is dictated by archaic and deeply rooted sexism, so too is other media coverage of women. No example is clearer than the treatment of Australia’s first female Prime Minister. When Gillard was elected, the media analysed her outfits and hairstyles rather than her politics, and her family life rather than her leadership abilities.
More often than not, these were all criticisms. Because she has no children, she has “no idea what life’s about”, her outfit was “a shocker”, she had “grey roots” showing, even her earlobes were criticised for being too large – “there must be a surgeon who can help”. Gillard, Australia’s leader on an international stage was reduced to little more than her physical appearance.
This deep, underlying disrespect is afforded all women who dare to take up high positions of power. A study found that in the senate women were more often interrupted than men, limiting their abilities to contribute. Abroad, the problem is just as real. During the recent US Presidential campaign, one of the biggest stories was the now infamous 2005 recording of President Elect Donald Trump using the vulgar phrase “grab ’em by the p****”. This man will now be one of the most powerful people in the world. While reactions were critical, pundits and politicians were still unable to see women as human beings. “I have a daughter” or “this is someone’s mother, someone’s wife” were the most common responses to Trumps comments. The idea that a woman is a human being deserving of the most basic respect and dignity in her own right seems to have been overlooked. And really, to not live in fear of harassment is only the most basic ask. Let’s not get into equal opportunities in the workplace or equal pay for equal work. If such treatment of women is normalised in the highest offices in the country, where will the change begin?
It is this treatment of women at the highest levels of society, which allows for casual sexism to seep into the everyday treatment of women everyday. The music industry is not exempt from this.
Camp Cope recently called out yet another example of casual sexism on Instagram, with a photo of an article published about them entitled “Camp Cope: This Year’s Girl Band.” The poignant post read; “Quit gendering music. You’d never write ‘this years boy band,’ you’d never write ‘all male band’, you’d never ask ‘what’s it like being a man in music?’ By lazily saying ‘girl band,’ you are pigeonholing us, you are saying that we don’t deserve the same respect as our male counterparts. You are gendering music, and you are part of the problem. Boys get ‘bands,’ and girls get ‘girl bands,’ right?”
As local sensation Ali Barter pointed out in an essay on the issue, women in music are often sidelined in terms of history, forgotten completely, or never been given the time of day to be of note at all. In her essay, she said “while growing up, I learned that a women’s chief purpose in music is to play the supporting role to men. Sure, there were mentions of women in my classes, but it was buried in the extra reading and centred on their capacity to be a muse; to inspire the ‘serious art’ of a man.”
While a man has the opportunity to be judged on his policies as a Prime Minister, or his music as an artist, women cannot escape being judged for their accomplishments and their inadequacies through the female lens. We still live in a society where a woman is judged first and foremost by her gender – in everything from politics to the arts. And for that to change it has to be addressed and stamped out wherever it comes up – from the highest levels of Australian and international politics, to the local music venue, to the media and the world at large.
Cowritten with Lainey Allen