I had heard of Anna’s writing through friends and was fascinated by her personal efforts to challenge sexism in the Rock and Metal industry. She had done this by giving women in the industry a voice through an event she hosted at Birmingham University…
I understand that you have been looking into sexism at heavy metal gigs?
Yes, I ran an event at Birmingham University looking at what women in the Rock and Metal industry thought about how they were treated and also looking at sexual harassment and assault at gigs – it was the first event of its kind. It was a series of talks from different people, from people who were lecturers in music, people in bands ect.
Part of the preparation, was collecting loads of quotes from different PR’s. As I do a radio show, I have lots of contacts in the industry and so I reached out to them and asked them for their opinions. It was really interesting. I wasn’t originally going to write an article or give a talk but so many people got back to me who wanted to come to the event but couldn’t make it, that I felt I needed to share their experience.
I thought it would be amazing if Rock and Metal could be the genre that acts an example for how we are moving forward.
How did you come to be interested in Rock and Metal?
I am the outgoing president for the University of Birmingham Rock society. I also have the Rock and metal show on Birmingham FMC radio show - I always liked Rock and Metal but I became more actively involved at university. As a genre, it is not the worst for sexism, although different genres have different issues so comparing them is difficult.
I thought it would be amazing if Rock and Metal could be the genre that acts an example for how we are moving forward. As in the article, some of the women said rock and metal have always been the genres that let artists express themselves freely. There is therefore, a divide between artists being able to say what they want and express themselves, and women in the genre not being given as much of a voice. It is an issue that is not really being spoken about.
I spoke with women in the rock society about sexual harassment at gigs, and what they thought. We discussed the little things they had experience, and that they had brushed aside. They did not necessarily think these smaller acts were a big issue but when it is persistent it is not okay and I think it is important to raise awareness.
What were the stand out aspects of the event?
Dr Asier, gave a talk about the history of women in rock and how their roles have changed. She looked at the riot girls movement in the 70s. Then Rosie gave a talk which was about the response to her article which was insightful. We have a campaign at university called the ‘not on campaign.’ It is about raising awareness of sexual harassment and assault and saying that that is not okay. They do lots of training which I have taken part in, so I asked them to come along. They did a presentation on the role of the bystander. The final part was then my talk followed by a really interesting open floor discussion.
Your talk was about raising awareness to what is going on in the industry?
Yes, I wanted to look at how females in bands, in PR and rock DJ’s felt about their role in the industry. So, it was not just about sexual harassment in gigs but also about whether they felt that their voices were being listened to. What kind of pressures they were under ect. a lot of them felt that sexism still was a thing and that is shocking in 2017. It’s not that there is a lack of women in the industry, it’s that they are underrepresented and not given a voice. Part of encouraging women to join the genre is partly raising awareness that women are present and active.
I think that from the feedback I received it is not so much the big gestures of sexism that are the most silencing, though they still happen and a lot of the people I interviewed had at least experienced it a couple of times,
The thing that has the most profound effect not only on artists and PR’s but also on female listeners and people in the crowds at gigs is that you become conditioned to question yourself and your right to be heard
Women are asked by fans “do you actually know how to play that” even though she is the professional. As a female listener and a female fan you condition yourself to question yourself. It’s not just men actively saying sexist things, you internalise and reproduce that thinking, even though it’s not intentional. I know myself that I have probably said before; ‘ you are really awesome for a girl.’ Or i’ve drawn attention to the fact that it is female fronted band, as though that makes it separate and other. When we talk about women joining bands, any women can in theory pick up an instrument, learn to play and then join a band. It’s the part where she has to find a band to join. A lot of the bands are male dominated and there are many cases of the band members not thinking she is good enough because she is a women.
There are these invisible barriers that prevent women from joining and getting into the industry.
If you have the really traumatic experience of sexual assault at a gig when you’ve just gone to enjoy the music - you are in a white, male dominated environment and you do not want to disrupt that. You don’t want to be the one who ‘in a way ruins everyone else’s fun’ – you’d be blamed for causing a scene or get that eye roll - ‘are you really going to make a fuss about it’. That is really powerful and it is part of the reason why women don’t feel they can talk about these issues in the industry, or assault at gigs. There is a stigma around it.
Also a part of it is the pressure of the professional environment - there was a PR women was groped by someone in the crowd, now she was really upset that she got groped but also it was next to all of her peers. Imagine what it would be like to get groped at work!
There was this recurring theme, especially among the students I was talking to, of brushing off sexual harassment.
You feel like maybe you won’t be supported if you speak out. People think your only allowed to speak out if it is at a complete extreme. But any touching, anything you do not feel comfortable with is not okay, it’s not in the eyes of the law. With my friends case she got the police involve and they were very supportive.
It is terrible for your mental health as you feel that you do not have the right to be as upset as you are.
Exactly and also especially when a lot of the bands are male dominated and mostly what they are talking about is ex-girlfriends and their music videos are degrading women. Even moshing is a bit of a man’s club. It feels to some women that it is not your space even though it is and that means if you are violated it is harder to speak out.
What do you think needs to happen?
There needs to be a shift in how people view female artists. The questions they are asked in the media, how they are represented. We need to raise awareness of sexual harassment at gigs so people feel they can talk about it and that stigma is broken down. Especially with PR’s there is a change happening in the industry. I think there is a time and exposure issue – more people will feel it is not okay.
We actually had some criticism before the event, a man that said it was all going to be man hating and a criticism of rock. I don’t view it like that,
I think if rock can lead the way in changing how women are viewed and accepted in music then that is an amazing thing.
I’d like to do another event which would be mixed with a gig – talks and also music. In a dream world I would love to do a festival so you can hear different points of view. Also intersectionality is so important. That is a really key issue.