Some thoughts on the past week of misogyny in music

no excuse for it luv x
It's been a pretty large week for misogyny in the music industry. Now I know what you're thinking: surely the music industry has always been rife with misogyny? Isn't that like, the whole point of The Femme Collective? Correct. But this week, the boys have really outdone themselves. 

Let's rewind a little and look at the week that's been. On Monday, Reading and Leeds announced their line-up for this year's festival, which, out of over 100 artists announced, included only 19 (nine-fucking-teen) female artists, and, uh, 0 female headliners. The reception among women (apart from that weirdo gal who claimed that "women make shit music" (hope he texts you back, hun)) was rage, and rightly so. It's so disheartening that in 2020, just two years away from many festivals' pledge for 50/50 line-ups, women are still so wildly unrepresented in festival circuits, and the conversation of line-up inequality is still happening. 

Line-up equality, among other things, is just one of the things that we've been fighting for over the past two years in a bid for a more gender balanced music industry. While the music industry has always been a boys club, we've never seen such a blatant disregard for female musicians at the hands of Reading and Leeds Festival. It's not like they're unaware of their grossly unrepresented line-up - when their boss was called out on it in the past, he simply dodged the question by placing the accountability on the rest of the music industry (magazines and radio stations), instead of taking any accountability himself. Just say you hate women and leave, tbh. 

Yes, inequality is an industry-wide issue, but the big bosses across all sectors need to step up their game to make a change. Whether Reading and Leeds like it or not, as one of the largest music festivals in the UK they have a responsibility as tastemakers and gatekeepers of the music industry to set an example for the rest of the industry to follow. It's not like there's a lack of female musicians, - particularly within rock, indie, dance, and pop, which Reading and Leeds mainly showcases - that could bring a crowd, many of which are played frequently across Radio 1 and Spotify charts. By having such a complete lack and disregard towards female artists, Reading and Leeds have ultimately said "fuck women". Many of the people attending Reading and Leeds are teenage girls attending their first festival - what does this actually tell them about the world around them?

In 2018, 45 music festivals across the world made a pledge to PRS' new initiative Keychange in a bid for 50:50 gender balanced line-ups by 2022. Since then, some 300 festivals have also pledged, and, shock horror, Reading and Leeds was not among that list. Primavera Sound and End of the Road Festival are also not on that list, yet year after year manage to have a more-or-less gender balanced line-up. Step your pussy up, Reading and Leeds. 

Okay, now we've got that out of the way: we need to talk about Slowthai. 

For anyone who might not be aware of Slowthai-gate - where he so effortlessly ~cancelled~ himself in front of a boatload of fans and prominent industry-types - here's what happened. On Tuesday night, grime artist Slowthai won 'Hero of the Year' at the NME Awards - a title that would soon become so hilariously ironic after the events that followed. Now, we weren't there, but from the coverage that we've seen of the event, Slowthai harassed the event's host Katherine Ryan live on stage after accepting his award. He hurled lewd comments at Ryan and invaded her personal space for like, a really long time, and it was genuinely uncomfortable to watch. Luckily Ryan, being the absolute and total legend that she is, managed to defuse the situation through humour, but his behaviour didn't gel well with the audience, with one member shouting "misogynist" up at him. This then led to him throwing a glass towards the audience, jumping down, and ultimately being held back by security.

Shortly after this, a media storm ensued. Sexual assault allegations and hot takes were thrown around across Twitter, with neither Ryan nor Slowthai yet commenting on the situation. While context is crucial here and Ryan shortly after debunked any claims of sexual harassment in her public acceptance of Slowthai's apology via Twitter, the situation does however open up an important dialogue surrounding harassment and aggressive male behaviour both within the music industry and wider society.

Call it what you want, but Slowthai's behaviour is something that nearly every womxn has had to experience. For many of us, music and gigs are our safe spaces, and Slowthai's behaviour unfortunately sets an example to the (mostly young) men listening to his music. Gigs are already a hot bed for sexual harassment and assault, we really don't need someone as prominent as Slowthai demonstrating this behaviour himself - we need him on our side. What makes this situation much worse, and Slowthai much less credible, is that he was often praised for his respect for women in his music, with lyrics such "I appreciate queens 'cause they made us" - tbh mate, there was nothing appreciative about what you did to Katherine Ryan.

Slowthai has since apologised on Twitter, with Ryan accepting the apology, saying that she knew "he was joking". It's up to Ryan how she chooses to see the incident, and we can't blame her for her acceptance of him. What we should do, however, is take the microscope away from Slowthai and Katherine Ryan, and instead look at the issue as a whole. Much like the term "banter" became synonymous with bullying in the early 2010s, the expectation of women to be able to "take a joke" has always been parallel to sexual harassment, heckling, and sexism. The expectation that we have to be able to accept jokes that are essentially at the expense of ourselves is inherently misogynistic, and needs to change.

So whether Slowthai was "joking" or not, he was objectively inappropriate with Ryan and his actions cannot go un-rebuked. Who knows how the industry will reprimand Slowthai, and if they will at all, as situations like this tend to blow over within a few weeks with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. With this incident, hopefully the discussion of acceptable behaviour lingers and remains an important to the music industry and the surrounding wider media. 

Words: Dani Ran


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