I’m no stranger to sexism in indie rock. The subject has been oft-written about by me for various sites that I’ve contributed to, namely the now-defunct Awe Chasm, and one I’ve had to deal with in various forms for a number of years now, being a young woman in the music industry. As a music journalist, my second interview ever walked out on me when I refused to get sexy with him, even though I was on the job. I remember the horrible feeling that accompanied the scene as it played out before me and the crushing realization I had as I drove home: Being in the music industry is one small step above prostitution. I comforted myself with the idea that, well, isn’t any job one step above prostitution? Especially as an artist, you’re being forced to sell yourself, your art, your ideas, and thus, you let others appropriate it as they see fit.
There’s a number of things glaringly wrong with that statement, namely the fact that journalism in any form should not make you feel like a whore. No job should, except for maybe prostitution itself.
In the subsequent years since that realization, I’ve seen friends, colleagues, musicians, and strangers treated similarly to how I’ve been treated and all of these groups had one thing in common, other than being in an artist’s industry. They were all female. It’s very rare that you see an article concentrating, say, on Matt Berninger’s physique, however women like Lana Del Rey and Grimes are commonly referred to as “cute” with their music being a slight afterthought.
It’s offensive but the fact of the matter is that it’s something I never truly grasped the complete grossness of until recently. You see, readers, I’m not just Amber Valentine, your friendly Michigan pal who likes to force her musical tastes upon unsuspecting interweb strangers. As of late, I’ve also been the gal behind Amber Valentine’s Shriveled Heart & The Skeletons Left Behind. Recently, we released a new single and an accompanying video. In the words of my bandmate, the incomparable Zunk, the vid was meant to leave the viewer feeling “a little f–ked up after watching it.” When Hearingade’s own Abby said the finished product “made me feel nauseated,” I knew I could borrow George W.’s Mission Accomplished banner, wrap myself in it like a human burrito, and sleep soundly.
Being a musician in a fledgling band isn’t easy. It isn’t exactly hard because, well, music is a blast! But there’s more to trying to be successful than just playing a few songs. There’s a whole business side to music and sometimes, it can be remarkably unsavory. For one, you have to gather press and, if you’re working as your own press agent, there’s no management team to stand in between your fragile artist’s ego and things you might not want to read.
“At this point, my romantic life is so awful that the accompanying video (search it on Vimeo)–which features some depressed girl trying her twee little hardest to off herself in the john–practically serves as porno for me. Oh yeah, depressive tattoo girl, swallow them pills. Oh baby, right there.”
After that statement, the song was finally mentioned in one brief half sentence. It was called “promising” and had been interesting enough for the writer to say he’d be down to hear the album. Awesome! Only … Except for all that stuff at the beginning about porn and junk. And you know, the fact that I don’t even get a name. I’m “depressive tattoo girl”. It’s not the “depressive” part that bugs me because, let’s face it, “Razor’s Edge” doesn’t conjure images of puppies and kittens playing together in a sunlit flower patch in perfect harmony. The music I make is dark. What bothers me is the fact that I’m called “girl” and then, words later, “baby.” “Baby”? Excuse you? My boyfriend hasn’t even called me “baby.” But he did call the writer of this article a “douche” and I’m inclined to agree.
“Razor’s Edge” wasn’t the only song written up as a track to stop sleeping on, though the other artists mentioned were treated as musicians and songwriters, getting called “depressing yet uplifting” or “ballsy.” Their songs were actually reviewed. But, you know, they’re all dudes and that, I believe, has a lot to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that I got written up by SYFFAL but it’d be way more thrilling if the article wasn’t so objectifying and the music wasn’t such a brief afterthought. My bandmate isn’t even mentioned. Hell, the song is barely mentioned! All that’s concentrated on is the fact that I’m a girl who made a kinda porny music video. Personally, I don’t think the vid is that sexy at all and it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be dark and unsettling. Blood and vomit, to me, doesn’t scream “do me.” Maybe I have a skewed perception as I’m not the most avid porn watcher but I do feel strongly that the same video, featuring a male musician recreating a suicide attempt, would not get called a turn on.
The most frustrating thing is that female musicians everywhere are treated this way. Last year, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek gave an enlightening interview to Pitchfork about her experiences as a female musician, saying “BrooklynVegan is the worst, it just becomes like a rating board for guys to have at it. They’ll be like, ‘I wanna cum in her ear’ or ‘fucking 1 out of 10.’ They’re all sexist.” Recently, Grimes posted on her tumblr proclaiming herself “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.” You know why Grimes has never seen this with her male peers? Because it doesn’t happen to them, at least not nearly as often as it happens to women. I’ve never witnessed a male musician being asked if he needed a hand loading gear or helping set up his pedal board. I’ve never seen a male musician get their drums set up for them without asking or overheard a venue explaining how the pay out worked at the end of the night. Women don’t get this luxury. They get coddled and babied every step of the way and the more polite a woman is, the more it seems she’s treated like an idiot. And just like in the real world, in the music industry, a woman who does her own shit, kicks ass at it, and doesn’t stand for objectifying behavior is quickly dismissed as a “bitch.”
This behavior isn’t anything new. In fact, Marianne Faithfull wrote about this in the ’60s. Yeah, the ’60s. That means for the past 50 years, the treatment of women in the music industry hasn’t changed. If anything, thanks to the Internet, it’s gotten worse (it’s so easy to dismiss Lana Del Rey as cum dumpster behind the anonymity of a blog message board). But what can be done about it? To me, that answer is simple. How about everyone just starts treating women like human beings? Really, it doesn’t seem like that novel of an idea or a hard one to execute. If you wouldn’t say something about a guy, maybe you shouldn’t say it about a lady.