FEATURE: The Wrong Kind of Push: In 2019, Do We Still Have a Lot to Do Regarding Gender Rights and Treating Women with Respect?




The Wrong Kind of Push

IN THIS PHOTO: AluaGeorge singer Aluna Francis revealed her shocking experience of a collaborator sexually assaulting her/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In 2019, Do We Still Have a Lot to Do Regarding Gender Rights and Treating Women with Respect?


I might wander slightly off the music track…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Possible-future-P.M. Boris Johnson/PHOTO CREDIT: Tolga AKMEN/AFP

but this week has not been a good one for men who think with their temper rather than their heads. A report from The Guardian highlights how Boris Johnson and his girlfriend were involved in a dust-up. It sounded pretty minor but, with a lot of anger flying around the reports of objects being broken, the message one of the most powerful men in this country is sending out is not good. I can understand how people get fiery during arguments but there is never any provocation for the sort of anger that leads to the police being called. Ultimately, though, one story is in the news: Greenpeace activist Janet Barker being manhandled by M.P. Mark Field. Barker, with fellow protestors, were there to highlight climate change and the environmental plight right now. Rather than kindly being asked to leave, Barker was forcefully ejected and assaulted. This article from The Guardian catches up with Barker days after the assault:

Bruised and still shaken, Janet Barker is incredulous at the violent reaction of the Foreign Office minister Mark Field to her peaceful protest with fellow Greenpeace activists at the chancellor’s Mansion House speech.

However, she has no plans to press criminal charges over the physical assault. “I think it is something best dealt with in the court of opinion,” she said, while welcoming his suspension as a minister.

Barker said she had been trying to deliver leaflets to guests on Thursday evening when she was grabbed by the neck and arm and forcibly ejected by Field, despite her pleas for him to release his grip and allow her to walk from the dining hall.

IN THIS PHOTO: Greenpeace activist Janet Barker 

“I remember a chair being pushed out. Then being shoved. I was saying, over and over: ‘This is a peaceful protest, a peaceful protest.’ I was saying it quite audibly, certainly loud enough.”

She could not see the man’s face, and had no idea who he was: “I just knew it was a guy. And that he was very, very angry. You could hear that in the tone of his voice”.

The condemnation and outraged that was felt on social media after the attack raises some interesting questions. I have mentioned a couple of incidents in the political sphere but, in music, I worry the same sort of disrespect and abuse faces women. I was checking out songwriter Nadine Shah’s Twitter feed – as I do sometimes – and she posted about an experience where she was on public transport and a man spread his legs as to give her little leg room. She asked him, kindly, not to do so but he continued. I realise I am highlighting a minority of men but there is a problem across the board. We know there are cases of sexual assault and abuse in music but I am not talking about anything as serious as that. There seems to be a general attitude and ignorance that shows we have a long way to go. I have talked about a lack of female headliners and a lack of belief from the industry. Elsewhere, radio stations are not reflecting the terrific music from women in all quarters and I have seen far too many cases of women being belittled, patronised and ignored.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Nadine Shah/PHOTO CREDIT: Press/Getty Images

The cases involving Barker and Shah are cases where men, in different ways, have acted horribly and seen themselves as superior. There is ugliness in society at large that is not escaping the doors of music. I know I have covered gender imbalance a lot but I wonder, in 2019, are we as close to progressiveness, tolerance and respect as we should – women being treated equally and getting the dues they deserve. I note and respect the fact that some changes are happening. Seriously outdated and male-heavy events like the Grammys, only in the last year or two, are reflecting the realities of the industry today: women are at the centre and no longer ready to be pushed aside. I know so many great female producers, engineers; D.J.s, event managers and venue leaders who are shaping music in wonderful ways. I do think the industry has lacked a powerful female core – something that is starting to shape up now. Whilst it is good that, in some ways, there is advancement happening, I have witnessed too many troubling comments, events and actions that suggest women are not being given the props they have worked for. From sexist attitudes lobbed at them at gigs to the way, even now, there is a massive imbalance regarding gender rights on radio, at festivals and in studios…those in power still need to do a lot more. I shall not pour over the ugliness of sexual assault but, again this week, we have heard of a case where a woman has been treated in an horrific way.

AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis, as this article explains was the recipient of sexual advances and assault:

AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis has described an alleged sexual assault by a collaborator whose identity has not been revealed. Speaking on BBC podcast “The Next Episode,” Francis said the assault took place in the man’s hotel room during a break from a recording session. She says she tried to reason with him. “He pinned me down and he’d taken his trousers down and he was trying to put his dick in my mouth,” Francis alleged. “So I wrestled him off, and he was still laughing ’cause he thought it was a game and that I was having a really fun time having a pretend rape situation.”

Francis added that it took time to realize the seriousness of what had happened, saying shame led her to “compartmentalize all of this just for my career.” “Musicians are crazy ambitious about getting their craft out there,” she said. When she confronted the man, she says he apologized and said, “This has never happened before.” She said, “I thought that I was OK and I’m just so not.”

The podcast also includes accounts from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor and singer-songwriter Chlöe Howl. Taylor alleges that the visiting head of a U.S. label sexually assaulted her while “blind drunk.” Howl, meanwhile, described a situation where a member of her team became “possessive” over her and allegedly began to sexually harass her.

It boils the blood to think about women being harassed and assaulted but, as we have heard through the years, it happens too frequently!

 PHOTO CREDIT: @vidarnm/Unsplash

From physical attacks to a lack of balance regarding opportunities, it all comes down to a lack of respect. In terms of men who sexual assault women, they can be prosecuted and brought to justice but, for those ignorant when denying women equal say in the industry, it is not as easy to hold them to account. Maybe we are talking about a minority but, when I hear cases on social media – and I do every week – of women in music being snorted at, overlooked in favour of men and made to feel crap, it really does concern me. I feel, from label bosses and festival organisers, there are huge steps that need to happen. I do also feel that there is an attitude rising that feels women are weaker and less inventive than the men. Maybe past years have seen male bands dominate in the press and, when the old order have been fostering male acts too long, does this make it impossible to break the cycle and look at modern music in an objective way?

Sexist attitudes are never, sadly, going to disappear from music but women have had to fight their corner alone for too long. Extreme cases where they are assaulted and attacked is shocking but it is the everyday occurrences that are just as troubling. With few male musicians standing up and raising awareness regarding this sort of thing, I do think more needs to be done full-stop. This ideal of women being seen as too weak to headline a festival; being pretty and having to dress sexily to get attention; to bow to a man’s will and take a step back because they (the men) know best…well, it has to end. I have spoken to some of my female musician contacts on social media and they face oppression every day of their careers. Whether it is male venue organisers not giving them chances or the sort of casual abuse that passes for acceptable in some circles, it is appalling. From the female icons of old – everyone from Aretha Franklin to Annie Lennox – to the exciting new breed, women have a hugely vital place in music. They have been responsible for some of the finest sounds recorded and, in 2019, are rising to the top. This WIRED article shows how this year is synonymous with female power:

The assertion detonated in the form of prophecy: No longer will music's center hold. And no longer will women like Grande let it. Elsewhere, pop aspirants of uncanny talent—Noname, Cardi B, Mitski, Hayley Kiyoko, Rico Nasty, and Tierra Whack among them—are demonstrating an immodest, near-singular, anti-populist aptitude for industry-wide reinvention. Collectively, their work suggests not a move toward a new center but a removal of it altogether.

In 2018, Briana Younger investigated hip-hop's taste for repression, making note of how it had evolved into an ecosystem "that has kept women at bay, never allowing for more than one female superstar at a time while treating the other women as incidental, pitting them against one another, or ignoring them entirely." (A Billboard chart analysis conducted by Pitchfork further substantiated the claim.) Perhaps by some unknown miracle, 2018 hinted at a future where the cage of history no longer barred female progress: Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé all commanded public consciousness with comparable and lasting resolve (to read Everything Is Love as anything other than a rap album is to misread Beyoncé's artistic mastery of genre).

..This break, this decentering, is more than symbolic. Often a spectacle of embarrassment and missed opportunity, the 2019 Grammy Awards hewed closer to reality, reflecting the notable strides of its women artists. There was soul enigma H.E.R. winning for best R&B album. Cardi B again made history and became the first woman to win best rap album as a solo artist for Invasion of Privacy. The night's top honors went to country royalty Kacey Musgraves as she won Album of the Year for her magnetic folk incantation, Golden Hour. It was, as several critics and fans noted, a year for women”.

There are still some genres – such as Country and Rap – where women still are struggling to have their voices heard and not getting enough respect. I don’t think it is the case that women do not want to be part of a genre: the truth is that, with so men being promoted, it is hard for them to break in and be taken seriously.

Given what we know of music this year – women are storming it – this surely means that attitudes and perceptions have to change. Listen up those who are too keen to book only men for gigs or feel there is an inherent weakness regarding female artists: there is no denying they are every bit as mesmeric, original and popular than their male counterparts. I know change, real change, will take years to affect but everything from stupid, sexist remarks and unwanted advances to flat-out assault and abuse is happening more than it should. In pure musical terms, women need to be part of the larger dialogue. Radio stations, festivals and venues need to take note. If we do not create more balance in studios, at labels and in positions of power than the female musicians owning 2019 will not have common allies and the same support they’d get from the men. There are so many talented women who could fill these roles but, with rigid barriers, age-old attitudes and a lack of men speaking out, something needs to happen. I, obviously, truly respect and am thankful for women in music and, to be fair, this year would be perilously bleak without them. If we can seriously reduce sexism, abuse; get more respect the way of women and give them the platforms they have fought hard for then this golden run of music we are seeing…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @antonmislawsky/Unsplas

WILL continue for years.