Female indie artists don't have it so good

Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.

Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.

The accepted wisdom, when it comes to the music industry, is that the pop charts are where women are doomed to wear skimpy, spangly outfits in a parade of AutoTuned objectification, while the independent world is where female artists are free to express themselves without fear of dodging slings of sexist rhetoric from their peers or armchair commentators.

That would be a nice fantasy were it not for the fact that, if anything, the “indie music scene” appears to be just as much of a quagmire of retrograde gender politics as its supposedly less enlightened cousins at the mega-sell end of the chart spectrum.

This week, Lorde (Ella Yelich-O’Connor) - became the first female artist to take the top spot on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart for 17 years - specifically, since Tracy Bonham’s Mother, Mother was #1 in 1996, or the year of Lorde’s birth. That’s quite a sobering statistic for those who like to think of indie music as being somehow more civilised than pop (or, indeed, rap, which every lazy tabloid commentator must decry as a cesspit of “misogyny” once a year in order to keep their column inches).

Musician Claire Boucher aka Grimes.

Musician Claire Boucher aka Grimes.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that moving within the indie scene is simply the least-worst choice a female artist can make if she wants to avoid rampant music biz sexism, but when the long arm of the internet rape threat brigade even reaches artists who your average punter would struggle to name, the old “well, you put yourself in the public arena” stance doesn’t hold much water.

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Lauren Mayberry, of hotly tipped Glaswegian group Chvrches, wrote a scathing oped for the Guardian this week in which she railed against the treatment she - as the sole female member of the band - is expected to put up with as a fact of life in the information age phase of the music biz. Some of the edited ‘highlights’ she recounts, threats that will be familiar to any woman who has dared to share an opinion online, are as bloodcurdling as they are depressingly commonplace.

“Perhaps people assume we have a team of fancy PAs who deal with our social networks for us. Maybe the men – and I'm sorry, but they are all men – sending the notifications of impending unsolicited ‘anal’ bothering don't realise it will actually be me who reads the emails – or maybe they don't care either way,” she wrote. “During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a ‘Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this’ conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet? 

She’s not alone. Earlier in the year, Claire Boucher - better known as Grimes - posted an similarly impassioned screed on her Tumblr under the heading ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Compromise My Morals In Order To Make A Living’: “I don’t  want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m gonna have to start employing body guards because this kind of behavior is so commonplace and accepted and I’m pissed that when I express concern over my own safety it’s often ignored until people see firsthand what happens and then they apologize for not taking me seriously after the fact.”

If this is how it is in a scene where most listeners would consider themselves to be “above” contemporary pop and no doubt pride themselves on being reconstructed members of society who know about politics (“etc”), it’s tough to imagine what it must be like in other regions of the music industry. Then again, at least Motley Crue fans aren’t out there pretending to be righteous feminists. 

The soul-sucking cosmic joke in all of this is that none of these things - sexism, rape threats, being groped and catcalled - are specific to the indie music scene, or even the music scene full stop. Meme-like threats of sexual violence affect most women who dare to go online these days, directly or otherwise. But to throw our hands in the air and accept such utter rubbish as a fact of life is letting the terrorists win. Full points to Boucher and Mayberry - and every other female artist from Nicki Minaj through to Courtney Love - for sounding off about their treatment; I hope it continues and I hope whoever writes the next oped is even less polite about it.

As for what we mere mortals can do to help in the fight against sexist idiocy, the answer is simple: if you like a female artist, buy their music, attend their shows, wear their merch, help out with their online presence if you can (yes, grandma remembers the glory days of being a moderator on band forums and joining online “street teams”). It’s only through voting with our wallets and spare time that we can avoid scenarios such as there having been nearly two decades between #1 Alternative records for female artists.

We shouldn’t have to wait another 17 years for a baby girl born in 2013 to hit the top spot. 

16 comments

  • Does indie music treat *their* artists any better?

    Commenter
    Proof Reader
    Date and time
    October 02, 2013, 9:02AM
    • The sexist comments are vile. No doubt about it.

      But I don't think there is a way of artificially propelling a female artist to the top of the indie charts just for equality's sake. The disparity is similar to the lack of female scientists, engineers and IT professionals. You can't force women into these roles if they don't want them.

      I can tell you that the indie scene is a "sausage fest" whereas the dance scene has a higher proportion of females involved. It's just how it is.

      Commenter
      Mick
      Date and time
      October 02, 2013, 9:19AM
      • It is very disappointing to see such a wealth of amazing female indie talent go unnoticed - particularly in this country. Try supporting independent radio rather than the conglomerate record companies and Southern Cross Austereo/DMG that refuse to take a chance on some of our amazing local talent - unless they are an X Factor or Voice finalist. Oh, and if you want to discover some breathtaking indie female talent, go download Catcall's The Warmest Place on itunes...electro-rock sends shivers up the spine everytime i listen to it - and I am a bloke.

        Commenter
        Blame Major Labels & Radio
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        October 02, 2013, 9:30AM
        • What the hell is wrong with the large minority of my gender who feel that abusing women somehow makes them tough?

          How pathetic. How shameful.

          Commenter
          Guesty McGuest-Guest
          Location
          Newcastle
          Date and time
          October 02, 2013, 9:31AM
          • Musicians will use any excuse to have a good whinge.

            Commenter
            micko
            Date and time
            October 02, 2013, 9:40AM
            • What excuse? Being harrassed and bullied and threatened? Oh how dare they

              Commenter
              Lauren
              Date and time
              October 02, 2013, 12:02PM
          • Top notch article Clem. This is something that's disturbed me about Indie music for so long.

            Commenter
            Lauren
            Date and time
            October 02, 2013, 9:42AM
            • Absolutely atrocious to read that this is happening to musicians in any supposedly civilised country. Celebrity, artist or just your average nobody, no-one should ever feel like they have to put up with that sort of crap.

              That said, what does it have to do with getting to #1 on a music chart?

              Commenter
              Markus
              Location
              Canberra
              Date and time
              October 02, 2013, 9:46AM
              • Just because you like Metal, ,Thrash or Punk doesn't mean you automatically disrespect women. Rap on the other hand.... talk about idolising fools!

                At punk gigs (knowing the band) I have never seen female artists treated any differently to the males. However.... the females in the crowd want to 'bang' the male band members. Like another notch on the belt. The worst toads i know (if they are in the band) always 'bang' some groupie in the toilets or after the show.

                In any normal situation these guys would be lucky to get a look in.

                So who is worse beahaved? Who is acting up to the stereotypes.

                I won't swallow that it is all mens fault.
                Why do the ladies throw themselves at misogynistic horny toads?

                Commenter
                Cranky
                Location
                Pants
                Date and time
                October 02, 2013, 9:49AM
                • Cranky, I heard a rumour that some women actually enjoy sex. If girls (who are not under-age) want to have sex with band members who are happy to oblige, how is that your business? Do girls have the right to pester unwilling band members for sex? I'd much rather be a guy who is pestered by teenage groupies than a women getting vile rape threats, but still, being pestered by groupies could be very annoying.

                  Commenter
                  JohnA
                  Date and time
                  October 02, 2013, 12:15PM

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