The only woman backstage

I don’t often find myself the only woman in the room. I sit in classes, go to parties and participate in student clubs, and I can’t even remember the last time I was the only woman at any of them.

That’s not true, though, when I am waiting to interview musicians after their soundchecks. Whomever I’m writing for, whatever venue I’m in, one thing is the same: I am almost always one of the very few women in the room. Oftentimes, I am the only woman in the room, which doesn’t come without its dangers and downfalls.

Maybe I’m overreacting. I’m “just a girl,” after all. But when guys shake my hand, I’ve often been told that I wasn’t expected to “be so pretty” or “so young” or “a woman.” And these remarks get old after a while. “So, which of the guys are you with?” is a question I’ve been asked time and time again, when really, I’m just there to write about the music.

I’ve never seen anyone, ever, look shocked when a man walks into a room and says he’s there because he writes for newspaper or a magazine. But it’s happened to me time and time again.

I’ve been asked if I have a fiancee, a boyfriend, a girlfriend. I’ve conducted an interview where a male musician mentioned my breasts and said some clothing would be “dangerous” for me to wear. This isn’t polite in any situation, and it surely isn’t professional. My appearance has no place in my reviews, and it should have no place in an interview.

The thing is, sexism isn’t just my experience. It’s the experience of women almost anywhere there’s music. Over this past weekend, one of the biggest music festivals in the United Kingdom took place — Reading and Leeds. It featured a lineup that, on its initial release, was 83/92, or nine-tenths, all-male bands or artists. That is, for every one band with even a single woman in it, there were nine bands that were irrefutably, 100 percent male.

Our own Outside Lands fares better, but not well enough. Two-thirds of the bands that played at Golden Gate fields earlier this month were all male, too.

Jessica Hopper — author of “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic,” senior editor at Pitchfork and editor in chief of the Pitchfork Review — recently tweeted, “gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t ‘count’?” and was met with hundreds of responses in 24 hours. Stories flooded in. One Twitter user responded, “when they shut the door on your face at a venue your are invited to play bc they didn’t believe you were the dj.” Another said, “finding out the first publication I shot for was paying my male co-workers after being told they didn’t have budget to pay me.”

After posing that question to her Twitter followers, Hopper tweeted a follow-up the next day: “Imagine what music would be like if we didn’t make young women jump through such demeaning hoops to show they belong here.”

I don’t know how soon we’ll get there, but I know we will. There are so many great albums and editorials and shows out there. They’re coming our way, just waiting to be recorded, written and produced.

And until then? There’s Burger Records, hosting a festival, Burger A Go Go, featuring only female-led acts this month for the second time. There’s a magazine dedicated solely to female guitarists, She Shreds. Online spaces such as Rookie equally examine music and culture alongside feminism.

Growing up, there was nothing like these platforms for me. I can’t wait to see what there will be waiting for our generation’s daughters and sons.

When I talked with longtime feminist and rock critic (and three-time British Press Awards winner) Caitlin Moran in July, she spoke to the future ahead of us, saying, “Keep writing, baby — we need more girls out there. It’s all hands on deck!”

We make up half the world, and one day, we’ll make up half the room at soundchecks or in press suites, too. But first, we have to get ourselves through those hoops.

Contact Tyler Allen at [email protected].

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