Originally published on gentnormal.com
August 16, 2016
Dear @meandthebees, @gentnormal, @fademaldir and everyone else who might be interested in a text much more than 140 characters long,
The other day, I had my very first “Twitter battle” because I posted the following text in response to an article introducing a new band comprised of 7 white men: “@gentnormal No puedo esperar a escuchar cómo uno se siente al estar en una banda solo de chicos #AllStarAllPenises” (“I can’t wait to hear what it feels like to be in a band of only guys”)
The ‘tweet’ was intended to be ironic, not as commentary to the article or the band, but speaking generally to the different reactions that happen in response to gender and music. Despite my continual classroom attendance, my Spanish and Catalan can be a little ‘creative’ so perhaps my humor was missed somewhere in translation. Instead, I’ll rely on the gift and brilliance of an actual translator and explain in my native tongue.
I had just finished having a conversation with Eva, one of my closest friends and a member of the group Kelly Kapøwsky, who relayed to me her frustration that during literally every single interview they had done, the interviewer asked the question “What does it feel like to be in a group of all women?”. This is something I experienced as well when I played music in public. And, working for a Magazine about lady drummers and musicians, I have heard countless similar stories.
Eva and I pondered for a moment, “why don’t people ask this question to bands who are all men?”. The answer, of course, is simple, because most indie music groups here in Barcelona are all white men and no one finds it surprising enough to elicit questioning.
When I asked that question on Twitter, this very same question women are constantly asked, asking only once, there was an immediate, negative, and defensive response. How fragile is the male ego and the people who seek to protect and be praised by it.
From the little knowledge and experience I have with Twitter, I imagine it is quite easy for people to answer in a different way then they might in person. So while I do not dwell on the interaction, I do plan to use whatever writing skills I have to take full advantage of the opportunity it presents to continue a conversation I deem very important. I write because I want to connect with people, all people, especially those who think differently than me.
I’d like to directly address the response to my tweet that proposed it is insignificant who is making music, be it man or woman (not mentioning there are so many beautiful non-gender binary-conforming options besides men and women). And that we should all just make as much music as possible and stop critiquing.
Arguing that it shouldn’t make a difference if a musician or someone working in the music industry is a man or woman or person of ‘other’ gender is like arguing that the world is flat. All you can do is simply point to science and reality. I’d like to take a note from the wisdom of the incredibly important Black Lives Matter movement. There were a string of counter-movements that proposed the slogan ‘All Lives Matter’, they similarly believed that we must express a general interest in all people, not differentiate between specific groups of race, gender, class, etc (another example would be the people who say ‘I’m not feminist, I’m humanist’). All Lives Matter were quickly brushed aside when presented with this infallibly, scientifically-backed logic: in our society, some lives are valued over others. So unless you want to further this inequality, you have to actively uplift the people who are being persecuted.
Society does differentiate between men and women, the scales tipping heavily towards men. And that is simply reality on this planet, and in our little Barcelona orbital as well.
Like job availability and pay, women do not have the same opportunity to make music as men. Maybe we can’t say exactly why this occurs, but blaming coincidence seems illogical and is definitely not a solution. Looking at facts, we see study after study that shows women have far less free time because of a variety of other burdens placed upon them. Plus, if all you see is men on a stage or in the production studio, society is telling you this music space is not for you, there is less incentive and it’s just scarier to try. Because there are fewer women playing music, a group of lady friends are far less likely to be able to pass on, teach, or encourage musical skills. This is only a few reasons on a long list.
Sitting around and waiting for equality to happen through osmotic optimism has never accomplished or changed anything. More so, it is a true privilege to be able to believe that by simply saying all genders, classes, and ethnicities are the same, others will treat them as such. In order to actually achieve this equality, we must first diagnosis the true state of our music community and openly talk about which groups of people are sorely underrepresented (for example women).
Directly addressing circumstances of inequality is never popular but sometimes the most necessary conversations are also the toughest to have. I’ve found it’s even more difficult speaking up as a woman knowing you are mostly surrounded by men who are so comfortable and confident in their rightness and right to be heard. It took all of 5 minutes for me (not my opinion, but me) to be called both an ‘idiot’ and an ‘imbecile’ (this is the very mildest of insults in the grand scheme of Twitter trolling).
Many men tend to prefer those ‘smart’ women who don’t challenge their positions of power. It has always been the ‘cooler’ position to be ‘one of the guys’, the woman who stands beside men, no matter how their intentional or unintentional actions affect them and others. Some women, like most white men, have not experienced any type of discrimination but that shouldn’t mean denying that it is a rampant problem for others.
Even now that feminism is more fashionable, wearing this badge comes with a price. And that is to truly be invested in the well-being of every woman, and actively working to make equality happen. For feminist men, it can be hard to hear that despite your best attempts, like all humans, you can still make a mistake and let societal pressures get the best of you. But listening to women, attempting to grow, and being patient with faults, is the very best way to be an ally against sexism.
We can’t forget, having equality in a music scene or in general, is something that benefits men every bit as much as any other gender.
Why? Because diversity always brings richness and growth. Which also brings me to my next concern and question. Dear indie rock scene of Barcelona, do you actually want an open, progressive scene? Perhaps no one has yet to ask this question with sincerity. This is a question of curiosity, it is without judgment or condemnation. Is it possible that the goal of this scene is not to create ‘new music’ but to recreate the same things that have been happening since who knows when?
Or else why attack someone for having a difference of opinion? Why feel personally wounded when someone points out the obvious– we have a lack of lady musicians, or musicians who aren’t straight white men. Why aren’t we all, especially men musicians, working extra hard to change this and make sure we see more women playing music? This does not take anything away from these people being good people and these bands being great bands. What big ideas are we sacrificing when we are too self-obsessed to obtain a broader perspective? There are problems that are larger and more important than our own feelings.
In this particular scene, my only real difference is I’m new and I’m American. I wear the same clothes, look like everyone else, grew up listening to almost the same bands. Now if I am not allowed to have this conversation, question this mentality, participate in this community, can you imagine someone from a totally different background feeling invited or comfortable to do so? For example a pansexual trans-man from Taiwan who plays the harp heavenly. How incredible could it be to have their input into the music scene; someone with their own diverse background and experiences, sharing, learning, and creating music. Can you image? Not just borrowing from the music styles of India or Senegal or England or The Americas but actually having people from those backgrounds incorporated into bands. It is absolutely my personal dream to see a Barcelona music scene so rich and beautiful, blooming with diversity, and overflowing with totally unique, collaborative music. Unfortunately, it will always have to remain in our imagination until we either decide to actively open up the music circle or be honest with ourselves and admit we would like to keep creating cover versions of ourselves and our friends.
Music is about having fun with friends. But let’s not stop there. Shouldn’t we make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to have this level and type of fun? Make shows safe and inviting for everyone to have fun. Include and invite all types of musicians to become friends to make music with. Why not? Isn’t our goal to have more fun and with more, new friends?
Now, this is no way saying people shouldn’t make groups with whomever they want. No matter what type of human they are. I am anxious and excited to hear new music from anyone at any moment. Being self-aware if there is another group comprised of only white men does not take away from the valor of said group. It is being critical, but it is certainly not a personal attack or a musical review.
And why is being critical a negative thing? Since Socrates, we’ve been using the dialectic form of questioning to develop and progress as a human race. And we know it works. In fact, the only people who advise against questioning are usually those in positions of power who wish to maintain and manipulate this power. There is no need to fear those who are different from us, no need to fear someone from ‘outside’ who questions something or has an opinion different than our own.
It’s not the first time, and I’m sure far from the last where I have been ridiculed for being a woman who expresses myself and my discontent with an unequal society. Nevertheless, I have no plans to ever stop questioning if the path we are on actually leads to equality. Anyway, as Eleanor Roosevelt advised, “well-behaved women rarely make history”.
So Barcelona indie music scene, I am criticising you. Because I am you. Despite the potential dissatisfaction of some members, I am a part of this community. And I feel so grateful to be here. I love music and being a part of this community so much that I want to see it grow and prosper. Just because my opinion is different, I don’t feel like I should be silenced or shunned. Instead, let’s talk. Let’s use our intelligence to do something positive together; to go from a strange, misplaced Twitter argument to treating each other like the good humans I know we all are.
Let’s use our gathered brilliance to talk about lack of diversity in the music scene and if and how we can continually change this (Workshops? Collectives? Conversations? This example set by the band Wavves). You have my formal invitation to a respectful and open conversation in the comment section below. I’m here, ready, and anxious to participate, listen, and learn.