Gender Equality Is A Myth, Even In Music; Whatever Happened to the ERA? Two Journalists Who Kicked My Arse Down the Road to Feminism

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Listen to Aretha Franklin - "Respect"

My thought process: When you have held a certain set of beliefs for a long time, such as we are all created equal without regard to sex, race, religion, or politics, you tend to take it for granted that issues like gender bias are basically in the past. It's sad to realize that here in 2015 we are still a long way from gender equality in the USA, and sadder still that we have not even achieved it in music. Why music? Because of all the elements of culture, music has provided the most free thinking idealism. It was music that heralded the cultural and sexual revolution and brought the Woodstock Nation to the world in the late 1960s. You would just hope that the music community would have progressed a little further by now than the society at large. But, perhaps not.

Reality check: In this country, women have only had the right to vote since 1920 (this period was nicely depicted in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire). I just received a shock that I was completely unprepared for. I had just typed the next sentence, "If you are old enough to remember Woodstock, then you also can remember when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution became law." I was going to say in the 1970s, but after a few minutes with Google looking up the date of ratification, I am totally floored to learn that the ERA passed Congress in 1972 but fell short of the necessary 35 state's approval needed for ratification by just three states and is still not the law of the land. The website has an excellent FAQ about the ERA and why it has not yet been ratified. I'll just say instead that if you are old enough to remember Woodstock, it's likely that your grandmother was alive before women had the right to vote. We are clearly not as evolved on this issue as we think.

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Although it's beyond the scope of this article, I must mention that the global picture isn't good. There are too many parts of the world where women are denied basic human rights including some areas still forcing women to undergo the barbaric practice of genital mutilation. The World Economics Forum ranks countries based on gender equality, and the 2014 rankings can be viewed on their website . The Scandinavian countries are at the top of the list, the U.S. comes in 20th. We consider ourselves to be one of the most progressive and enlightened societies on Earth. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go.

A columnist that I enjoy reading, Bob Lefsetz, is fond of saying, "What kind of a crazy f*cked up world do we live in, where...". On this site, I don't normally use that turn of phrase, but on this topic there is truly no better way to say it. What kind of a crazy fucked up world do we live in, where we don't have complete gender equality, where we haven't had it since day one of the human species. I know I'm taking in a lot with that statement, but there are many parts of the world that are far worse than here and over the course of history, things have been way worse.

The Inescapable Conclusion: The idea that half the population would subjugate the other half and deprive them of basic human rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness based only on gender, is messed up to its core. No one, female or male, with a working brain and a sense of right and wrong, could think otherwise. This is maddening to say the least. The dumb thing is that this information is nothing new. I could have looked at this from the big picture perspective at any point in time and come to the same conclusion. But, for some reason, reading the following two articles struck a chord in me and has caused me to reexamine this issue and I can only come to one conclusion. I am horrified that this situation exists, but proud to say that I now consider myself a feminist. And as hard as it may be to change laws, it seems to be harder still to change attitudes. Sexism is ugly no matter where you find it and it has surfaced again in the realm of music, as follows.

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Erin Coulehan is a free-lance journalist who writes about music for Rolling Stone and other publications. The following appeared on, October 15, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

Recently acquired music site Pitchfork is excited to grow for its "very passionate audience of male millennials." But what about the women who are fighting to be included in the boys' club?

​I got into music journalism for very specific reasons: I love both music and the rush of writing on a topic about which I am so passionate. I entered this world in the hopes that my stories would touch artists and readers the same way certain songs and bands have inspired me.

Over the course of two and a half years of covering music for outlets such as Rolling Stone, I quickly learned that the world of rock and roll is tainted by a pervasive sexism. Moments I've gotten used to: a nonprofessional squeeze on the shoulder by an artist or manager at a show; being referred to as "girlie" instead of, you know, my name; jokes about striving to be like Penny Lane from the movie Almost Famous.

The work, for the most part, outweighs whatever male-dominated BS to which I've been subjected. Like catcalling on the sidewalk, misogyny in this industry is something I've gotten used to in order to keep moving. And, my gender aside, I've always believed that this industry rewards its talented disciples.
This belief was challenged by a single quote regarding Condé Nast's acquisition of Pitchfork, the independent music site that's earned respect as a major player in music media in the digital age. In a statement to the New York Times, Fred Santarpia, Condé Nast's chief digital officer, said the new merger introduces "a very passionate audience of male millennials" to the company.

It's true that many of Pitchfork's readers are male. In fact, 88 percent of its readership, according to a recent census conducted by the outlet, is male. But shouldn't music—​and therefore music coverage—​be gender agnostic? (After all, a 2013 Nielsen study found that women buy more music than men. Not to mention the fact that women like Taylor Swift are singlehandedly shifting the industry's business model.) Why, then, did Santarpia feel the need to exclude Pitchfork's equally passionate female readership? Certainly he didn't understand the impact the comment could have on women who, like me, are fighting to make an impact as music critics, editors, writers, and photographers.

I remember the first major music festival I covered. It was a sweltering weekend in Philadelphia, and I was there for the 2013 Made in America show. I watched in awe as Beyoncé prepped for her set backstage and then I interviewed a number of bands and artists whom I admire. One group in particular had been pushing me off all afternoon. "Just a second, sweetie," the band's manager kept telling me. "They just have one more interview before you." They eventually got to me, but I was told to make it quick. About 10 minutes into our conversation, the lead singer put his arm around me, which made me stumble over my question. I quickly wrapped up the interview and was about to leave when he said, "Thanks so much, sweetheart. Which blog is this going on again? Maybe I'll check it out."

"," I said and smiled sweetly before turning to leave, blood rushing to my cheeks.

This experience is not exclusive to me.


"I can't think of a show or festival I've shot when something hasn't happened," a photo editor friend told me Tuesday night at CMJ, the New York–​based showcase that exposes up-and-coming bands to the media. "I mean, stuff has even happened tonight."

She then described an experience she had while in a photo pit for a popular alt-rock group. A man associated with the band's management grabbed her waist from behind to direct her through the pit, his hands locked on her hips the entire time she photographed the set. "How many times have we each been called 'someone's girlfriend' while waiting to interview or shoot somebody?" she said with a laugh. Before ending the conversation, we noted the look of surprise we've often received once our knowledge of music is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The realization is usually followed by a statement like, "It's so hot that you're into music!"

Personally, I'd like to believe that we're thought of as more than silhouettes in skirts, swaying mindlessly on beer-sticky floors.

Some of the most influential figures in music journalism today happen to be women, many of whom are on the Pitchfork masthead. Jessica Hopper is Pitchfork's senior editor and the author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. She has served as a role model for female journalists—both inside and outside the music realm—by encouraging us to discuss instances of sexism within the industry via Twitter.

Hopper and a number of other female contributors to Pitchfork have inspired girls who want to get into music. "I've read Pitchfork since I was 15," says Zoe Leverant, a contributor to the The Pitchfork Review and the Village Voice. "I wouldn't be a music writer, or by extension a writer at all, if Pitchfork hadn't shown me it was a possibility."

But with a single line from a press release, many of us have felt shut out by the community that inspired us in the first place. "After reading that line, I felt that it erased my contributions and fandom," says Nilina Mason-Campbell, a former contributor to Pitchfork. "I never felt like I was writing for a 'passionate millennial male' fan base."

The real problem is not that men in this industry agree with or condone sexism, but rather that they don't acknowledge it at all. "It's a big uphill battle that we have to fight every day," says Courtney Harding, former music editor at Billboard. "The good ones are at least thoughtful and responsive when I point [sexism] out."

Each woman I spoke to for this article had her own horror stories pertaining to sexism in editorial offices and within the music industry as a whole. Each vignette was like a different version of the same sad song. It's not new that we're faced with sexism in this industry, but isn't it about damn time something happens about it? The only way to enforce change? "Doing this," says Leverant. "Talking about it, naming it, and demanding better."

Let's hope this message reaches its intended, passionate male audience.

Email Erin Coulehan at

Well said, Erin. This article reminded me of one published at on September 08, 2015 on a similar theme.

Photo courtesy of Kalliope Jones

Teenage girl group Kalliope Jones told by Three County Fair judge to 'use the sultry'
The teen band Kalliope Jones says they lost points at the 3 County Fair's junior Battle of the Bands for their lack of sex appeal on stage.
By Mary Serreze | Special to The Republican

NORTHAMPTON — Members of a teen girl rock band say they lost points at the Three County Fair Battle of the Bands for failing to "use the sultry," a piece of advice they deemed "glaring and crude, sexist and stereotypical."

The pop trio Kalliope Jones — Pioneer Valley residents Isabella DeHerdt, 16, on vocals and guitar; 14-year-old Alouette Batteau on drums and vocals; and Amelia Chalfant, 14, on bass — competed in the junior division of the contest Saturday and came in third.

According to a scoring sheet provided to the band (see below), one judge on the three-member panel gave the group a "3" out of "5" in the "Stage Presence - Showmanship" category with the following notes:

- Good outfitting style-matches music style well
- ♥ the sultry in bassist voice + Guitar singer's too (sic)
- Use the sultry to draw in the crowd.
- Audience participation opportunities missed

The unidentified judge, whose name was not printed on the sheet, issued Kalliope Jones one extra bonus point with the brief note that "Chicks Rock."

The band quickly responded on Facebook:

"Today, we played at the Tri-County Fair at a Battle of the Bands for ages 12-16. Everyone played spectacularly. For instance, 'Nomad vs Settler' and 'The Negative' are wonderful bands and everyone should go check them out.
There were three judges who decided who got first, second, and third place in the competition, and they ranked each band on different aspects of musicality and performance. They also commented on what each band's strong points were and how they could improve. After they gave out awards, everyone received the judges' sheets so they could look at the said comments.
We received third place, a cash prize and gift certificates. In the comments, we were told to "use our sultry to draw in the crowd." We ended up losing points for not utilizing this aspect enough.

As Amelia Chalfant said, "A woman's sex appeal, or anyone's for that matter, should not be the defining factor in their success in the music industry, and in addition to that, WE ARE CHILDREN! WE ARE 14-16 YEARS OLD."

The judges tried to say they meant it as a positive thing; that it was supposed to mean "soulful". They did not understand why we confronted them about it.
From Merriam Webster - 
: very hot and humid
: attractive in a way that suggests or causes feelings of sexual desire.
We then asked if they had made similar comments to any of the bands that were made up of only boys. They said, "Oh, no. It is a completely different thing."

Actually, it really isn't. This conspicuous act of sexist and stereotypical thinking was deplorable and pathetic. The fact that they made these glaring and crude, sexist and stereotypical notes about our performance was made worse by the fact that they did so while drinking beer, blowing their bloated beery breath in our faces. It was astonishing, revolting, and VERY offensive.

We are grateful to have ranked among the top three performers (who, by the way, besides us, were all boys), but to be judged on our sex appeal and told that we need to be more sexy in order to make it as musicians goes against everything we have been taught."
The lengthy comment thread following the post included this from musician Katryna Nields, mother of bass player Chalfant, who charged that teenage boys are not subject to the same sexual scrutiny that girls are:

"That is not acceptable to say to a 14 year old. (That) sex appeal is part of rock N roll - male or female. No one felt the urge to talk to the 14 yr old adorable boys to grind their hips a bit more. This is a double standard that goes far beyond the music business. 14 yr old boys are just cute boys. 14 yr old girls are sex objects. Unacceptable and I am proud of these girls for speaking out about it. (Judges) feel free to tell them to practice; to write catchier songs; to have better transitions between songs; to connect with their audience; but don't tell them they are sultry and they should use that to connect with the audience. We have to look at this. (Whether it is a) reality in the world or not, it is not acceptable."
Northampton resident James Ryan, president of the fair's Board of Directors, said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of the controversy because he's not on Facebook. He added that no one has been in touch with him about the matter.

However, he said that judging a teen girl band on their sex appeal is "completely unacceptable" and that conversely, he wouldn't want to see teen musicians overtly expressing their sexuality on stage at the Three County Fair.

"I have two daughters and a son of my own, and wouldn't want to have anything like that happen to them," Ryan said.

Ryan referred a reporter to Sandra Stanisewski, the board's secretary, saying she organized the Battle of the Bands.

Stanisewski, reached by telephone Tuesday, declined to speak with The Republican / MassLive. Before hanging up the phone, Stanisewski said that the fair's executive director, Bruce Shallcross, "is the only one who can talk to the press." Shallcross did not immediately return two telephone calls Tuesday morning seeking comment.

Band parent Amelia Maloney, in an email to The Republican / MassLive, said she did not know the names of the judges, only that there were two women and one man, and that the two women "referred to themselves as DJs."
Maloney referred to an online essay by blogger Ashley Xtina that decries the "twerking/half-naked stunts" female musicians such as Miley Cyrus "have to use to pull them to the top."

This conspicuous act of sexist and stereotypical thinking was deplorable and pathetic.
"This is certainly something we should not condone, perpetuate, allow our daughters to be subjected to or our sons to think is permissible," she wrote.

Katie Hennessey, the mother of drummer Batteau, had this to say on Facebook:

"Also, for the record, one of the comments from the judges (after the comment about their "outfits") was, and I quote: "Chicks Rock." Uh huh. Chicks. Rock. Didn't know the Tri County Fair happened in a time warp. Hello 1950's. We want our dignity back."

Hennessey added in an email to The Republican / MassLive that the goal at this point is to educate and engage in dialog:

"We realize that it's actually TRUE - they DO need to be sex objects in order to get ahead in the music biz. Our goal is to change that."

By Tuesday morning, the band had taken a more conciliatory tone, saying on Facebook they appreciated the opportunity to play and were thrilled to earn a third-place prize. They said they didn't want to "demonize" the judges or the fair, and did not wish to exaggerate what happened:

"Our goal is to educate people who think this, and change the paradigm. We sincerely hope the judges made an honest mistake in their use of the word 'sultry,' and that they, the sponsors, and the fair organizers join us in eradicating sexism wherever it may show up."

The girls said they hoped the fair would work with them "to transform this whole unfortunate experience into an opportunity for positive change."

Hennessey said Tuesday that the band had written a letter to fair organizers and were awaiting a response.

Kalliope Jones can be seen performing here in a 2014 YouTube video:

Battle of Bands Judge Feedback


Charlie Ricci said…
Even though I'm not a big fan it is nice to see that someone like Courtney Barnett can win a lot of publicity without turning up the sex appeal. No, she's not a star yet but she could be. Excellent, thoughtful article that I would love to see go viral. I bet you'd get quite a reaction.
Charlie Ricci said…
Part 2! I don't think things will ever change unless the women start their own companies and promote their own music.

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