The fact that we still get excited about all-female bands and use an appendage, ‘girl band’, like we used to say ‘lady doctor’, indicates that we still have a long way to go.
The night I meet The Franklys there are four bands playing and they are headlining and so they should be. They are live genius.
Identifying their audience as 80% male and 20% female, The Franklys are more than aware that they are a rarity. For singer Jen it is still “a matter of perception. People are waiting to see what you will be like and then they decide how they are going to react to you.” There does seem to be a little bit more to prove if you are an all-female band. As drummer Lexi points out, “There is still a stigma about girl bands. They are still seen as something ‘special’.” I guess anything in a minority just is.
“It’s as if female has become a genre – rock, pop, female bands,” adds bass player, Zoe Biggs.
“People just want to put you in a box.” It is interesting to study the press coverage of The Franklys to see how they are referred to. It’s difficult to find any pieces that don’t identify them as ‘female four-piece’, ‘all girl band’ or simply ‘the girls’. Fanny Broberg, the charismatic lead guitarist, acknowledges that they’ve, ‘still got to work twice as hard.’ The cliches still exist because the inherent sexism still does. But, they say, they have plenty of male fans and ‘it’s refreshing to be supported by just music lovers.’
I watch the crowd whilst I’m here. And they’re right, there is no obvious sexism. There’s definitely a bit of older male interest and some sustained close-up recording of Broberg that will probably pop up on Youtube somewhere.
Rather that than purely personal use.
There are a number of female bands, however, who have had quite different experiences. Cassie Fox, now with GUTTFULL, has been very vocal about the treatment of women by male members of the audience. “My old band, The Wimmins’ Institute, was all-female, all over-35, and our songs were about gender roles and everyday sexism. So as you can imagine we were an ‘easy target’ for a lot of online misogyny. Our video for our song ‘Mansplaining’ attracted utter charmers, many just calling us ‘fat and ugly’, with a few prize trolls coming out with quite astounding comments, like: “a bunch of old hag women (wouldn’t surprise me if they are HIV+) who are all on their period because no man would want to sleep with them”.” Weaknesses of reasoning aside, this kind of abuse can be extremely damaging. You have to be pretty resilient to put yourself in the firing line of such comments, especially given the enormous bravery it takes to get up on stage and perform in the first place.
There is a definite distinction to be made between all-female bands and female fronted ones. Much more traditional, in a sense, female fronted bands are very much the accepted, often desired, make up of a group. Nina Courson singer with Healthy Junkies echoes The Franklys, “There’s a core amount of men who love to go out and support and often follow round female fronted bands, lots of photos are taken, before after and during the gig.”
Similarly, she identifies the audience as being 80% male. “I think female musicians get a lot more attention from a male audience than male musicians do but you want it to be the right attention for your music…that’s why some musicians feel the need to dress down so they’re not judged on their appearance.” It’s difficult to imagine the likes of Mick Jagger consciously dressing unprovocatively to go on stage.
It’s not a compromise Courson is prepared to make either. Sofia de Oliveira Martins singer with Starsha Lee, renowned for her breast-baring antics on stage is someone who has also spoken about her sense of empowerment in doing so. However, it is important to remember that both Courson and de Oliveira Martins are in bands and on stage with their partners and that a certain degree of protection will be felt.
Talented artists such as Bjork and Kate Bush have had their musical skills undermined by a focus on their strikingly beautiful looks. Whilst each one is aging gracefully, comments on the aging process indicate that for some audience members, their musicianship is not their main appeal. We still have a fixation with what they look like rather than the music they play. And we’ve all been at gigs and encountered men whose priority has been to get a flash of Kim Gordon’s or P.J. Harvey’s knickers on the front row.
Having women in audiences affects the balance of everything – not just hormones, like having daughters makes men more likely to vote left wing. Women in bands are often regarded simply as equals by male musicians, ‘It’s no different than men. Respect to those genuine, authentic, living, breathing musicians,’ says Huw Edwards of KOYO.
The problems can start, though, when romantic relationships are formed between band members. Rather like mixing the genders in the army, women and men together can have a destabilising effect. Jerome Alexandre of Deadcuts has had experiences of being in all male bands and ones with women, “Everything is fine until they start not talking to each other. Otherwise it makes no difference who is in the band.”
“Addiction transcends gender,” adds Mark Keds.
As with so many things, except poorly paid social work, cleaning and waitressing, women remain a minority in an industry that has no reason to be inherently male. People’s perceptions of women in music won’t change until the balance does. Whilst I am not advocating positive discrimination, it is the responsibility of all aspects of the industry to make sure that women are given equal representation in the press, on festival billings and all aspects of production. Let the normalisation begin.