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OPINION: Why we need to keep calling out sexism in the music industry

Laura  Barnes
OPINION: Why we need to keep calling out sexism in the music industry

In her first column for MI Pro, radio presenter and DJ Rowena Lewis looks at recent cases of sexist incidents from bands, how they affect their fans, and why we still need to call it out every time we see it…

It was the early 1990s when Riot Grrrl pioneer and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna declared “Girls to the front!” for the safety of female fans at Bikini Kill shows. Nearly thirty years on and women are still in danger of sexual harassment, bordering on assault, at gigs.

Countless female friends, and myself included, have an abundance of stories of unwanted and inappropriate touching at shows – simply for being in a public space, our bodies suddenly deemed “up for grabs”. The dark and crowded environments appear to provide a degree of anonymity and act as a catalyst for seedy opportunists. How is this problem still so prevalent this many years on?

We witness glimmers of hope and change with the creation of groups like ‘Safe Gigs For Women’ and ‘Girls Against’ that raise awareness to the dire situations for female gig-goers, as well as a platform to voice their experiences. Bands, such as Honeyblood and Slaves, being publicly vocal on the problems is a start, but it is clear there are bigger and more complex issues at play: how women are seen all across the music industry.
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A recent report by PRS Foundation discovered that nearly 80 percent of female performers experience sexism in their work environments, and this is discounting any artists who may have suffered but fear speaking out due to possible backlash to them personally and their careers.

Only 37 artists (a measly 15 percent) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are women, and there are zero female managers, producers and executives. Only last year, music journalist Rachel Brodsky was left feeling vulnerable after an interview with the band The Last Shadow Puppets. She was subjected to uncomfortable and suggestive comments from Miles Kane, as well as non-consensual physical contact. When it is clear that sexism and misogyny is still so rife in the industry as a whole – it is inevitable that fans and audiences will also subscribe to this lack of respect shown to women.

This has been exemplified horribly by a recent sexual assault allegation against Lee Broadbent, the lead singer of the punk band Cabbage, to a young woman during their support slot for Kasabian at The O2 Forum in London.

Whilst the band firmly denies the event occurred in spite of witness reports, what is undisputable are the photos and video footage that have emerged from fans at their previous gigs of Broadbent performing onstage with his hand down the front of his trousers. However the band dresses this sort of thing up as just part of the show, there is never an excuse for such public acts – it is simply a display of someone asserting their male dominance for all to see.

This message is sent to fans and immediately legitimises unacceptable male conduct throughout the crowd. This became clear with those on social media leaping to the defence of the singer and band, showing that demonstrations of male power are deemed as the norm. This attitude is so woven into the fabric of our culture that explaining and excusing this type of behaviour takes priority over the worrying claim that there is a teenage victim out there.

In the current social and political climate, we are already witnessing the rise of sexism and misogyny once again – the epitome of this being a man who bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy” managing to take the most powerful position in the world. Day in, day out, women are dealing with a catalogue of offensive actions and comments by men, so the least we could hope for is a safe haven to relax, enjoy ourselves, and indulge in our passion for music without fear of harassment.

It is apparent that this is a deeply entrenched problem that has little sign of abating any time soon. All we can do to fight back is to report any incidents, no matter how small, and to ensure they will be taken seriously. People must keep raising awareness, not only in calling out perpetrators, but also those who are complicit: those who accept, defend and normalise the problem. Perhaps we need resurgence in the stance of Kathleen Hanna and have girls return to the front?

Rowena Lewis is a BBC Three Counties Radio entertainment reporter, radio presenter on Hoxton Radio and Boogaloo Radio, and DJ.

Tags: Opinion , sexism , Rowena Lewis , sexism at gigs

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