Female artists like Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga may rule the charts, but that doesn't mean that they haven’t had to deal with sexism in the music industry – even chart toppers aren't immune to misogynistic band stories. Most music executives and producers are male, so though the calendar may say one thing, the working environment in music may seem more like 1957. Stories about sexism from female musicians, from being plied with sexist interview questions to having unbelievably misogynistic articles written about them, abound.
Sex sells; that’s a fact. So when a new hot young female artist puts out an album, many music executives are going to push her to show a little more leg or perhaps undo a couple top buttons. If the artist is okay with doing that as part of their image branding, that’s one thing. But what if, like a young Alicia Keys for example, the artist does not want to sell records based on her sexual image, but the merit of her artistic talent?
Female artists face a double standard that their male counterparts may never understand. How close is the line between sexy and slutty or driven and bitchy? Add in all the negative sexist social media comments, and it’s easy to see why so female musicians have had enough.
Perhaps Madonna said it best: “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean a female entertainer.” Check out her story and more. Women musicians share tales of sexism, and it ain't pretty.
During a 2013 speech in honor of John Peel, pop singer Charlotte Church slammed the music biz for its "cartoonish" sexual depiction of females in the industry. She warned other female artists to not belittle themselves in the face of the male-dominated music world.
“The irony behind this is that the women generally filling these roles are very young, often previous child stars or Disney-tweens, who are simply interested in getting along in an industry glamourised to be the most desirable career for young women. They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.”
The "Call My Name" singer also said that her early decisions are making it difficult to promote her current music.
"When I was 19 or 20, I found myself... being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits and the lines that I had spun at me again and again (generally by middle aged men) were ‘you look great you’ve got a great body why not show it off?’ or ‘Don’t worry it’ll look classy. It’ll look artistic.’”
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Taylor Jardine, the lead vocalist in the pop punk band We Are The In Crowd, talked about being trivialized because of her womahood in an interview with Fuse in 2014. The singer-songwriter recalled having to deal with a sound guy who would ignore her simply because she's a female:
"Before we had our own crew, we'd use the house monitors and we're checking all the instruments and the sound guy would ignore me. I'd have to say 'Excuse me, I need the bass up.' And he'd say, 'Honey… Honey, we already did the bass.' I'm like, 'I know, but I can't hear it now.' I'm not stupid! We just played a song and now I can't hear it. That was just awful. It used to happen all the time."
Bethany Cosentino, of the rock duo Best Coast, discussed the misogyny and sexism that she faced as a female musician in a 2016 article she wrote for Lena Dunham's newsletter Lenny. One of the main focuses of the singer-songwriter's piece was how she would never apologize for being outspoken. Bethany also addressed the misogyny women have to deal with on social media:
"Yet sometimes people dislike me or discredit my talents because I am a female musician who is not apologizing. I know that being critiqued is part of life, and especially part of work; that even if I were slinging soap at Lush (which I used to do), someone would still be telling me if I was doing a good or bad job, and that critique would determine the conditions of my employment. And a critique can be constructive. But with social media's omnipresence, it seems women can't do much of anything in public without someone making a misogynistic crack. Why has it become acceptable for 'criticism' to take the form of abusive online commentary or vulgar, inappropriate heckling?"
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Liz Phair wrote a piece in 2017 for Can You Deal? zine. She opens up her article by talking about how when she was a child, she was told: “Little girls should be seen and not heard.” The indie queen doesn't think that times have really changed that much.
"There’s a reason I wrote my first songs quietly, in my bedroom. Seen and not heard is still the most popular role for a woman to play. Men often write the song lyrics that many female performers sing. Male directors and script writers often dictate what female actors do and say on screen. Male owners and executives of businesses are the tone-setters, the focus-trainers for their subordinate female (and male) mouthpieces."
What does this have to do with female fronted bands? EVERYTHING!! For a woman to lead, for her to speak her mind loudly, in front of people, is still radical. STILL?? Yes, still, in 2017. Probably until 2185. So settle in and lend a shoulder because this boulder we’re pushing uphill is f*cking heavy."
Phair also wrote about the early struggle of trying to figure out where she fit in as a female rocker in a man's world:
"Was I a sex-crazed hedonist or an intellectual feminist? On photo shoots, magazines tried to portray me as naked and as sexualized as possible. I did hundreds of interviews about what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. No one seemed to understand that I was just making rock and roll and happened to be female while doing it. The prejudice hurt, I resented it, it frustrated me. But I’d crossed that invisible line: I’d been both seen AND heard."