Equality in Rock?

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

The Slits

1970’s London. A dark and dangerous place, laced with violence, rejection and political unrest. Female musicians are aliens in a male dominated world of music.

This pivotal era in history saw the emergence of punk rock, a new means of promoting social awareness, a voice that screamed for the disenfranchised youth protesting the status quo. With bands like The Sex Pistols being idolised for their anarchic behaviour, how could it be that four women with a passion for music could cause such an outcry?

The Slits formed in 1976. Their sheer strength and determination led them to create one of the most influential albums of all time, ‘Cut’ – a pioneer infusion of punk, dub and feminism. Although the band were only together for a few years, their turbulent existence saw them rise against the social boundaries, paving the way for hundreds of female artists since.

The four-piece were on a mission. A mission that would bring heartache, rejection, and outright violence. Girls didn’t play instruments, nor did they have role models. Unlike their male counterparts, they didn’t grow up with icons. They didn’t spend their idle Sunday afternoons practicing their favourite Bowie stance in front of their worthy reflections.

“Wearing a tutu with an electric guitar was a complete ‘up yours’ to the male rock industry.” – Viv Albertine

The years that followed saw the band constantly undermined by male authoritative figures. They were stabbed, mocked and spat at whilst daring to walk the city streets, their bold, feminist demeanour seemingly terrifying to onlookers.

Male musicians would leave the stage if attacked, yet The Slits would stand and revel in the abuse. It was different being a girl, they had a point to prove. For them, the threatening responses  meant one thing, they were at the forefront of social change. They were being heard – the movement had begun.

Guitarist, Viv Albertine recalls many sickening scenarios throughout her memoir, ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys.’ A brutally honest account of the blood, guts, sweat and tears that were poured into becoming a woman in the seventies.

The band accompanied The Clash on their 1977 ‘White Riot Tour.’ An adventure which should have oozed excitement and opportunity, yet instead saw the band once again victimised for their ‘intimidating’ feminist attributes.

The girls weren’t allowed to stay in any of the hotels, and if they did they had to go straight to their room and remain unseen. They weren’t to drink at the bar or enjoy breakfast, instead they had to bribe the driver of the tour bus every morning, just so they could get to their next destination.

After being attacked relentlessly for such a period of time, it’s no wonder that The Slits’ musical venture was short-lived. What kind of relationship could withstand such constant abuse and strain? Nevertheless, they changed the music industry forever.

Many would argue that this type of discrimination has been laid to rest, yet many would disagree. Have Mods, Punks, and Skinheads merely being replaced by Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat? Society buys into these social trends and identities, who’s to say which is the least volatile?

Although present day sees females within the music industry more socially acceptable, women today are still victims faced with constant unrealistic expectations and under representation.

The age of social media has bought with it yet more political unrest. One of the only positives being that contemporary media has ensured young women are now more aware of feminism and the issues surrounding prejudice. We live in an age where young girls can explore their passions. They have their role models, female icons such as Beyoncé or Courtney Love – they have a guide. They have hope.

But let’s face the facts. The music industry is submerged in male dominance. From record producers to event promoters, women are drowning in a sea of men; leaving them desperately struggling to reach the surface.

In an analysis of the top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017 – defined by Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart – the study found that of 1,239 performing artists, 22.4 percent of them were women. It gets worse. Of the 2,767 songwriters credited on those songs, 12.3 percent were women, with the same nine male songwriters holding responsibility for almost one-fifth of the top songs throughout the last six years.

Do these figures shock you? Here’s a few more.

Female producers seem to be a rare phenomenon, with a measly 2 percent being involved in a subset of 300 songs from this same period. It’s no wonder then, that of the 899 artists who have been nominated for the last six Grammy ceremonies, 90.7 percent were men and 9.3 percent women.

North East singer-songwriter, Lauren Wilson is no stranger to gender discrimination within the industry.

“You’ve got to look at the reasons why less women musicians are booked for gigs. Men are doing the booking, typically it’s men who are promoters, men who are sound engineers, men who run pubs.
“For me, it took until I was older to have the confidence to do anything in terms of music. Although many of my favourite bands were female fronted it felt very much like a man’s world.” 

It’s 2018. How could this be? In a year that has seen various radio outlets and festivals criticised for not supporting enough female artists, it’s hard to deny that the music industry is still light-years away from achieving equal gender representation.

We can only hope that the next 50 years will bring change. After all, as the late James Brown once said:

“This is a man’s world. But it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” 

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