Is pop sexist? Canadian musician Grimes thinks so

Four female artists respond to Grimes' blog about male chauvinism in the music industry

Elisa Bray,Miranda Kiek
Thursday 09 May 2013 15:28
Grimes blogged about male chauvinism in the music industry
Grimes blogged about male chauvinism in the music industry


This is an edited extract from Grimes' blog post on Tumblr

I don't want to have to compromise my morals in order to make a living

i dont want my words to be taken out of context

i dont want to be infantilized because i refuse to be sexualized

i dont 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 dont want to live in a world where im 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…

I'm tired of men who aren't professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to 'help me out' (without being asked), as if i did this by accident and i'm gonna flounder without them. or as if the fact that I'm a woman makes me incapable of using technology. I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers

I'm tired of the weird insistence that i need a band or i need to work with outside producers (and I'm eternally grateful to the people who don't do this)

im tired of being considered vapid for liking pop music or caring about fashion as if these things inherently lack substance or as if the things i enjoy somehow make me a lesser person

I'm sad that my desire to be treated as an equal and as a human being is interpreted as hatred of men, rather than a request to be included and respected (I have four brothers and many male best friends and a dad and i promise i do not hate men at all, nor do i believe that all men are sexist or that all men behave in the ways described above)

Sharleen Spiteri

It is refreshing to see a young artist coming out and saying that there is sexism in the industry. So often and so many times you are referred to by words like "bird". At one point early in my career I was called a "bint" by a record company executive and I thought, 'what a w****r'.

It is difficult when people ask, 'Oh, so you play guitar on your record then?' I'm a musician; what do people think I would be doing?

I thought Grimes' post was 100 per cent true – but sexism in the industry extends to whole other areas, too. You get asked to do things, or things are expected of you that you don't want. The men in the record company think that because you are a woman, if they ask you 45 different ways they will eventually wear you down. You need to stick to your guns. Don't break; if you don't believe something is right, then don't do it.

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I found it interesting that just because she has called the music industry sexist, she's now being labelled as a man-hater – that is so out of order. Just because you stand up and describe the way you've been treated, suddenly you're a diva, or a bitch, or a man-hater, or a lesbian.

The record labels always want you to make your album covers a bit more sexy – show a bit more flesh. I don't get asked that any more. They don't want to see the flesh of a 45-year-old. When I did the White on Blonde sleeve, all you could see was my eye. The point was to make the viewer start to question what I was thinking about, looking at and even hiding – all things to do with the brain. To me, that – rather than having no clothes on – is truly sexy.

There's far more exposure of yourself expected as a woman – and when I started, there wasn't the social media out there. More sex is expected now. Women are getting judged on the way they look and not on their talent – they very rarely are.

Texas release the album The Conversation on 20 May

KT Tunstall

It's a completely subjective experience. But having said that, I can see it and I am completely sympathetic. The way Grimes has been treated doesn't surprise me at all.

For me, personally, I was terrified of falling into any stereotypical trap in terms of image when I entered the music industry, because I didn't want to be judged by how I looked. Fashion is not that important to me. I want to do this because I want to share what I think, play gigs and make something that's an emotional statement that communicates with people.

Historically [pop music] has been a very sexualised affair. I'm in a very different bracket – I'm 5ft 2in and not a magazine-cover beauty. If you look that way, you're into more dangerous territory. Grimes is a very interesting example, because she's very beautiful and doll-like, and very interested in fashion and extrovert in the way she enjoys that. And because there's such a strong culture of sexualised female music artists, the public expects that anybody who employs that criteria is the same – and they're not.

I don't use sex as a creative aspect of my music and because I've dressed androgynously, like Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde, a lot of people think I'm gay. If you don't fit the mould and don't sexualise and show your body, obviously you must be gay. The thing that has been most frustrating for me as a female artist over 10 years, is that it was impossible for me to be compared to anyone other than female artists. I was like Dido and I was like Björk. I was like anyone with tits who played guitar. That's definitely lessened in the past few years, as more successful female artists evened the market out.

I've had a very positive experience on the road and in my area of music. I find being a woman can actually be an asset in that situation. The guys who are usually rude are more pleasant because there are women around. For a long time I've used a female tour manager and female monitor engineer. I've not seen anyone upset by sexism within my team. But it certainly can happen.

KT Tunstall's album 'Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon' is out on 10 June

Kate Nash

There is sexism within the music industry and when you experience it, you really want to voice it. I've met a few people in the industry who've tried to get me to produce something I didn't want to do; I was told to meet up with songwriters when I first got signed. I said, 'I am a songwriter. I have no intention to co-write'. A lot of people would say they couldn't believe I write my own songs and music.

I did a panel talk with Miranda Sawyer about the gender gap in the music industry – just 14 per cent of PRS goes to females – and I started an after-school music club in 2011, working with teenage girls who wanted to play bass and drums.

On tour I was dancing in the crowd and a guy groped me. I had to address it onstage and make a point of it. Another time, a guy came to the front and shoved a condom in my face, and I was really uncomfortable.

In the media there's a lot of focus and pressure on the way that we look. I get asked in interviews why I don't care about being sexy, and why I don't do sexy photo shoots. When I first started, they highlighted my acne in the tabloids.

When I put my single "Under-Estimate the Girl" out – and the video that went with it, in which I'm pretty angry – there was this poll on who prefers the old Kate Nash. It was about how I should still have red hair and be 17. I thought that was regressive: why do people expect me to be trapped in a time warp and be a 17-year-old girl forever? I'm not allowed to grow and develop as an artist?

Elizabeth Sankey

I read Grimes' blog post when it came out and I've definitely experienced some of what she was talking about.

I've had people shout things at me on stage that have made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. And one label didn't want to sign us because of how we looked. I was wearing dungarees.

People never assume that I know anything about musical production. They will always direct questions to Jeremy [Warmsley]. I'm not actually that interested in talking about pedals and gear, but they never bother to find out. That's the main thing: other people in music question my ability to know anything about technology and production, or my ablity to decipher the difference between a kick drum and a snare drum. Jeremy has to say: "Elizabeth wrote that bit – you'll have to ask her."

On tour you encounter far more men. You get used to the fact that you're in a male environment. The majority of the time, I'm the only woman among the people we meet. Sexism definitely exists, but it's difficult because it's so easy for those kind of things to happen in an industry where the majority of people are male.

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