I’ve been meaning to write a blog about women, sexuality and the music industry for awhile. I got a little sidetracked but there’s nothing like a bit of vitriol in the belly to get one motivated to do one’s blog housekeeping.
Let me tell you something about me; I’m a sexual person, like pretty much every other person on the planet. Not in a weird way like I’m stealing your dirty laundry, but in a way where I think sex, flirting, and sexuality is fun on many levels. Here’s the other thing: I’m a musician, and a music industry professional, a person who has worked with bands for a few years now coordinate tour after tour. And I’m a woman. And that puts me in a very precarious position. You see, there are sometimes that I’d like to express myself on social media in a flirty or sexy way. But I don’t, and I can’t. My musical integrity hinges completely on how I represent myself as a woman, and the amount that I am taken seriously as a professional and musician is in direct proportion to what percentage of my body is either covered/uncovered by clothing. It doesn’t matter how much I rehearse; it doesn’t matter how many songs I’ve written; it doesn’t matter how many shows I play – people out there will always discount and discredit me not because they don’t like my style of music or think my musicianship is poor, but specifically, these people will count me out because in their mind clearly, I have used my sexuality to get ahead. My modesty can and will trump my years of professional experience as a booking agent in the music industry, my investment and my skill as a musician earned through countless hours of practice.
This leads me back to some facebook/twitter drama last week.
Due to my choice to spend money on my first tattoo in 2 years rather than musical instruments this random person who knows nothing about me went out of their way to judge my music and value. I have more than enough instruments, thank you very MUCH… I happen to have some very pricey and rare ones!
I reinvest every penny I earn back into my music career and haven’t had much in the way of disposable income lately. Soooo… I can’t treat myself once? Am I not allowed to post pictures on my personal facebook timeline to share my life events with my friends (of who this fellow is supposedly one)? He pulled the old “you don’t know who you’re talking to, little girl” (little girl?! I’m almost 30! the diminutization of women is one of the most common forms of sexist oppression that exists… when people call us “baby”, or “honey,” or “little girl”, it’s a way to let us know that we are not the equal of the person who wields that terms and clearly establishes them as the dominant/wiser/elder/more respected party in the conversation). Finally we got all the way to me being told that my band sucks and people only like me because I show my tits off.
aaaand.. this is why I DON’T show my tits off! Man… would I love to show my tits off. They are great tits. I am not ashamed of my body. I’m not exactly skinny, sure, I have some imperfections, but I love my body. It’s strong and healthy. I carry all my own gear, I lift weights, I ride a bike. And dammit, I’m sexy! But I know that once I cross that line, there’s no coming back. I’m not even anywhere close to the line and still the accusations of my sexuality being the only thing going for me come rolling in – this is not an isolated incident, but it is the perfect exemplification of my conundrum. In other words, this is what I’m fuckin’ talking about. My integrity as a musician, and the integrity of all female musicians, can be called into question at any time, trumped by sexuality. Insult us, tell us we suck, tell us our music is no good – but don’t dismiss our bodies of work, our mastery of our instruments, our power of composition, our artistry, simply because we are women who have tits. It is the epitome of insults, an implication that I don’t work as hard as anyone else and that I “get by” on my looks. Let me tell you something – looks only get you so far, and living on your looks is probably anything but easy (I imagine it takes a lot of work to look good enough that it can pay your way anywhere). But I digress.
If you’re a male-gendered or male-identified person who takes women in the music industry seriously completely apart from their sexuality, this article is not about you. And good on you. I just want to put that out there because by no means am I painting y’all with the same brush. Don’t feel defensive, but realize that what I say is true, and my experience is real. Sadly there are still a large percentage of menfolk out there who will simply not take female musicians seriously no matter what we do. No matter how good or how largely accepted we are, it will always boil down to – do we flaunt our sexuality?
This is where my dilemma comes in. I must tell you that I have, to this point, furtively guarded my sexuality like the good china you only bring out when company comes over, because I am aware of the system that I exist in. But I’m angry. Why SHOULD these two things be connected? We can accept that a person can be a talented artist as well as a father, or mother, or politician, or activist, or welder… whatever. You get it. People’s identities occupy multiple spaces at once. Your experiences as a father, mother, or sex trade worker might influence your material, but WHERE IS IT WRITTEN that a person can’t be an excellent performer, singer, guitarist – and a sexual being?
Women’s sexuality in music is problematic because for a long time, we know that it was used as a marketing tool above and beyond the calibre or quality of the product. Yes, it is true. Sex sells. Big breasted beautiful women sell. In the past, I would argue that these women’s sexualities were packaged and sold in spite of their talents and autonomy, often against their will, because there was no other choice for them and because someone with more power said they had to – check out Charlotte Church’s experiences here. But we are living in 2014 and this is an age where I think we are all a little smarter and we can engage with these kinds of issues in a more critical way. Whether a woman’s sexuality is in the hands of the record label or the marketing firm, and it’s being used without her participation to sell records, or whether a woman disowns her sexual self because society at large will discredit her artistry if she embraces it, is the same side of the coin. The power over her sexuality, the control and the decision making lies in the hands of others, not in her hands. Let’s take for example Nicki Minaj and the whole “anaconda” scandal – this amazing article breaks down why you should think twice about judging Nicki’s sexual displays. What about Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the hypersexual rap machine from South Africa, once voted one of the “Top 10 Ugliest Celebrities“. She’s certainly not playing the tired old trope of big breasted blonde Pamela-Anderson type – yet she owns her sexuality, wears it proudly and is one hell of a rapper, regardless of being sexual or nonsexual.
It’s problematic when we forget that a person can be sexual and can be good at something. Wait, did I say person? Let me rephrase that – that a WOMAN can be sexual and be good at something. You know who was really openly sexual and slept around and even got naked and waved their genitalia around in public? Charles Bukowski. Pretty sure no one accused him of getting by on his sexuality. What if Miley Cyrus waved her genitalia around in public – might she lose some respect as an artist? (oh wait). How about Jim Morrison, Pablo Picasso? Did anyone ever accuse Jack Nicholson, who openly alleged that he slept with more than 2,000 women, of NOT being a good actor and of having slept his way to the top? Gene Simmons, Charlie Sheen.. I could do this all day. You get my point. Women don’t get to brag about how many people they’ve banged because other people will already be talking about how many people they’ve banged in a negative connotation. Maybe women want to reclaim their right to exist as sexual beings AS WELL AS being respected as experts in other professional fields. I know I do. I’m envious of those awesome suicide girls fillin’ up my instagram but far be it from me to be able to engage in any kind of empowered, consensual, provocative photography – I won’t even wear a skirt without tights underneath at our shows. Frankly I’m a bit of a pariah when it comes to this stuff and this is exactly why.
In conclusion; I would like to think that as a society we are enlightened and sex-positive enough to move foward realizing that identity is not black and white, nor is it a one-sided thing. We are musicians, businesspeople, punk rockers, mothers, fathers, kinksters, femme fatales, nerds, composers, athletes, activists, academics and deviants ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Expand your mind, please and thanks. If and when you see me showing off a bit of skin just appreciate it but don’t devalue my art because of it.