Society’s awareness of gender is often brought up in my conversations with artists. It’s an awareness we just can’t seem to get over as a collective whole, and when it comes down to gender inequality, many artists and music production professionals I’m speaking with say that pointing out gender is society’s main crux. The issue becomes one when we give it power, people have been telling me; however, gender inequality in music – as in any industry – has always existed and it still does. The question is: how do we change that culture of inequality?
“To point out the fact that an artist is a woman… shouldn’t even be part of that discussion,” Boulder-based artist Esme Patterson said when I talked to her earlier this week. “Gender shouldn’t even be a factor in it, but sadly, especially in music which is a very male-dominated industry, it is novel to have a woman doing many aspects of this job.”
This awareness has led to the current feminist trend in mainstream media. It’s also led to a dichotomy in the music industry: men dominate production overall and the small community of women who do hold the same positions as men have respected reputations. Th awareness led to the 1990‘s riot grrrl movement; it led to feminist music festivals like Lillith Fair and Denver’s Titwrench Festival; it’s led to Ladies Rock and Girls Rock camps across the country, and to Beyonce’s Big Moment in August.
People often don’t understand the ways their prejudice is sneaking into conversation, explains Esme. “It’s easy to disregard the amount of work it takes to be a singer,”
“It is common to see a woman as a singer, and as a focal point. And it’s easy to disregard the amount of work it takes to be a musician and a performer. And I often get people assuming I don’t write my own songs.”
Saying, “No, you’re just an artist,” is one of those sneaky prejudices.
Video courtesy Tedx Talks.
Esme told me that people ask if her album, Woman to Woman was written in a feminist context or if she is a feminist. The album is feminist, but it wasn’t written in a feminist context, she says. The album is also a lot of other things.
In Woman to Woman, famous songs written about women, including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” are re-examined from the woman’s point of view.
The work was meant to take unapproachable songs off their pedestals and to reexamine them from a human perspective. The record was meant to have a more raw, unpolished work; it was meant to open up a conversation about the characters, their stories, and the relationship listeners have to music. The album was recorded over the course of a day to “capture a feeling of urgency, energy – it’s conversational,” Esme says.
With so much artistically going on in Woman to Woman, Esme doesn’t want to stick her art or her image into a box by labeling it as one thing or another. It becomes easy to dismiss something when you don’t like its label, she explains.
Unfortunately that’s today’s polarized stigma with words like feminism, a word that has worked for decades to do good is often villainized by political parties and uninformed tumblr groups. I tell Esme how the word feminism can be alienating as I’m talking with so many strong and creative women in the music industry for this thesis project; people do think of the word negatively and dismiss the project.
She gives me the most badass and empowering advice I’ve needed throughout this whole semester.
“People are afraid of standing firm in a positive… you expose yourself to attack. You become a lighthouse that any ship can find. It takes courage to stand for something. Fuck everybody who wants to tell you that’s a dirty word.”
Women in the music industry are strong, powerful, and creative individuals. They form a tight knit, yet expansive community and they’ve reached in ways I hadn’t imagined. It’s made me question why I’m having to do this project and why I’m doing it at all. This isn’t necessary I’ve thought at times. But that’s the scary thing: the general public doesn’t consider what happens behind the scenes. Misogyny is neglected, yet it’s right in front of our eyes. That is why albums like Woman to Woman are getting the response they’re getting. It’s why someone created this trending video (race is a completely relevant topic, but let’s talk about that another time). It’s why this kind of stuff makes me furious. It’s one of the many reasons feminism has come to the forefront as an issue in our society right now (again). It’s why we need to stop disregarding things as one side of the political spectrum or the other when they are elements of simply being human.
Take some advice from a musician: Take the issue of labels and apparent everyday inequality off a pedestal. Take the spark of anger seen in the media’s obsessions or everyday irritations. Use that spark to create something meaningful. Have courage and take a stance on something you believe in. The rest will follow.