The Gender Politics of Music Festivals
This past weekend, I was one of thousands of people at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. As a young female musician, I was very excited for the lineup, which prominently featured female artists. (Something that doesn't always happen, though it should!) While Pitchfork was an amazing experience, there were several instances that reminded me of the ever-present gender disparity in the music industry. Yep, still.
One day, as I was trying to reach the Frankie Cosmos set, a golf cart cut through the crowd of people waiting in line for food. I ran behind to get to the set quicker and saw three beautiful black women sitting on the back. The cart was stopped, beeping, waiting for people to move out of the way. A tall man waiting in line asked the women, “Are you guys friends with one of the bands or something?” The woman sitting center, wearing a white turtleneck with “feminista” and the Venus symbol embroidered around the collar, turned to him. “Excuse me? I am the band.”
The man, shocked, watched as the cart continued to drive through the crowd. I ran after the cart, astounded by this woman. She and the women on the cart had performed earlier alongside Dawn Richards. After I caught up with her, I expressed my admiration and we talked about how ridiculous the guy's statement was. Not to mention, how hard it is for women to make it in the music industry without being diminished.
This made it all the more empowering for me to see the other fantastic female acts at Pitchfork. With Solange headlining the festival and the likes of PJ Harvey, Nancy Whang and Gavin Russom of LCD Soundsystem, Mitski, Frankie Cosmos, Cherry Glazerr, Dawn Richards, Madame Gandhi, and Priests, it’s clear that Pitchfork is moving on from the token femme that the music industry enjoys so much. In 2015, only 14% of the Performing Rights Society were women, which means a vast amount of women are not receiving royalties for the music they produce (remember the whole Taylor Swift vs. Apple Music showdown?)
And really, it's not the fault of the dudes at Pitchfork for questioning the women on the back of the golf cart. The representation just isn’t there for female musicians and music executives, and it never has been. From Billboard’s 2017 Power 100 List, you have to go all the way to No. 17 before you can find a woman without a man credited with her. In the 2016 list, that number was 18. In 2015, it was 22.
The DIY scene in Chicago is a prime example of how the lack of representation can affect what is produced. Of the recent shows I’ve attended, only two of them have had acts that included women.
For music to finally progress to a point where there is no gender inequity, we need to empower girls to make music and teach people that femininity in music is not a bad thing. Summer camps such as Girls Rock! and classes like School of Rock promote music and unity between musicians of all genders. For now, we have to turn out for our sisters. Sometimes, we’re all we’ve got.
By Frances Harris, 15