So for a strong minute now, I’ve been researching, writing and rewriting this article about the gender bias in music, focusing on Glastonbury. I also intend to enter this for a writing competition run by Rockhaq (The Student Music Journalism Community) and Artbeat Arts Community Festival. I have tried writing this on Rockhaq, but adding images proved difficult, so I’m writing it on here and i’ll post it in some way or another on Rockhaq with a link to this. Enjoy…
Last year, there was a campaign by Crack in The Road, they took that year’s major UK festival lineup posters and removed any all-male bands (shown directly below), leaving just a tiny minority of female-inclusive bands. This year, Emily Eavis stated in interview that there would be a lineup “strong on women” at Glastonbury 2016. If anything shows that the issue of gender bias is getting into the mainstream, it’s this, but what has the extent of the gender bias at Glasto looked like over the years?
Certainly Glastonbury is one of the most diverse festivals in the world, so surely they must represent the forefront of equality in music, so I thought it could be interesting to have a look at the gender balance in the artists playing Glasto in recent years.
I’ve taken the lineup posters from Glastonbury in five-year intervals from 1995 to 2015 and applied the same criteria Crack in The Road did in their campaign, producing the following data:
What’s really interesting is while the number of female-inclusive acts decreased from 2010 – 2015, the total number of female members of those bands increased. This suggest that the women playing Glasto are clustering together more, making up a larger portion of the bands they’re in. Maybe as a backlash against the fact that it is still way more difficult to be successful in the music industry as a woman than as a man, especially for women who are instrumentalists rather than vocalists.
Recently, I have noticed a few examples of female artists who are really drawing attention to the issue of gender bias and trying to address it:
Savages defy the expectations of what women in music usually look and sound like. They play punk, an otherwise male-dominated genre, and look and dress very differently to a lot of women in music. Savages generally wear monochrome clothing, which is somewhat different to the colourful and revealing dress most pop artists adopt.
Last year’s discussion show ‘Whatever Happened to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ featured Savages’ singer, Jehnny Beth, talking about the issue of sexism in music and the assumptions made of all-female bands. “The easy thing people assume of us, because we’re a band of women, is that we’re a feminist band” she said. Given that all-female bands are still so rare, maybe people assume that they must be making a statement about feminism.
Whether or not you like her music, you have to respect Charli XCX, a Pop singer/songwriter who is very successful in her own music and who also writes for other artists. Since playing Glasto last year with her all-female band, she has used her success to increase awareness around the issue of gender bias, presenting ‘The F Word and Me’, a documentary looking at the trials of being a woman in music.
Another like this is Adele, who has achieved enormous fame, created enough wealth for The Sunday Times to name her the richest female musician ever, and this year became the first female to be booked to headline Glastonbury this century. So, even if the number of women at Glastonbury this year has not significantly increased, they do seem to be occupying the higher profile slots.
Regardless of this trend though, there is still a tiny minority of women in the main bands playing Glastonbury, and there has been since at least 1995. So why is this? Is it that there have not been any campaigns as strong or impactful as Crack in The Road’s? It seems unlikely, as we’ve seen feminism in music for decades now, and have had plenty of strong and influential gender-equality campaigners for even longer.
It starts to look like the music industry is such a sexist place that it does not include enough women to instigate a natural change in its gender equality. Whether this is down to conscious gender bias from those who could make a real difference, or simply that female musicians are being put off by the lack of female success in music. However, the tables are slowly beginning to turn: there has been a small increase in female artists at Glastonbury in recent years and more and more people are talking about the issue and beginning to take action on it.
The pace of change could increase in the near future due to the efforts of people like Emily Eavis and Crack in The Road, but it’s hard to imagine it would be that easy, otherwise why would it not have happened already? More likely, the change will need much more substantial support from bigger institutions. If female musicians are being put off music as a career because it is so hard to be a success, then maybe there needs to be more encouragement at an educational level to develop their musical abilities into a career. It’s this kind of grassroots action that could make the real difference to the music industry’s gender balance.
In the near-future, Glastonbury will probably see changes similar to those of the past 6 years, but possibly more exaggerated, thanks to awareness-raising by a combination of strong female role models (Savages, Charli XCX and Adele), Crack in The Road’s festival posters, and media discussion of the issue of gender bias in music. Once there are sufficient numbers of women in music, this change should become self-sustaining because of the perception of better gender equality in music, and the change may then even accelerate.
Since starting this article, the initial lineup poster for Glastonbury 2016 has been released and Crack in The Road have again removed the all-male bands (both shown below), showing a still considerable minority of female-inclusive acts. There has been a slight increase since last year, but a closer examination should show the bands listed containing more women overall, and so there being a bigger increase in female presence at Glastonbury than is immediately obvious.
Let’s hope that if we revisit this subject in another 10 years, gender bias in music will be much less of an issue that it still is today.