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Editorial: Where Are The Women In Heavy Music?

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NOTE: This feature was originally published over at AMNplify – since it carries a message that BLUNT agree with 100% and would love to spread, their team were awesome enough to let us republish it here. Make sure to show them some love!

Unify has done a great job in facilitating a festival that is, for the most part, a welcoming environment. They have filled a hole in the heavy music festival scene in Australia. They have organised a great location, they support the local community and it is a festival that brings together lovers of heavy music. Since the announcement of the festival’s 2017 line-up, however, the question has been asked by many people across the board: where are the women?

Pedestrian.TV ran an article calling the festival a sausage party, which doesn’t seem far off the mark when you consider that the line up features 26 bands, and only two have a female member. That a total band member ratio is 117 males to 2 females. Surely anyone would stop and question this obvious imbalance? However, this piece is not in and of itself a criticism of Unify. UNFD have done a great job in organising an amazing line up, but the point stands that there are barely any women on that line up.

Unsurprisingly, Pedestrian TV’s article picked up the attention of some angry males, one of whom is ex-Confession frontman Michael Crafter. If you don’t know who he is, you can be forgiven for that, as his biggest claim to fame was a three-day stint on Big Brother.

Crafter took to his Facebook recently to attack those who are concerned about the gender imbalance on the Unify line up with his eloquent statement, “I’m sure there’s enough girls get (sic) finger banged in the tents to be happy enough about the festival.” He then followed this up with, “Women want to be equal… get fucking better at being in a band,” whilst later stating that despite having never listened to them before, he would rather “rub salt in his eyeballs” than listen to Babymetal, a female-fronted metal band whose most recent album debuted at #2 on the iTunes album chart, and peaked at #7 on the ARIA charts. For comparison, Confession’s album Life and Death peaked at 19 on the ARIA charts, and Crafter never charted higher. His post has since been deleted. By any reasonable measurement standard, the points he makes don’t stand up.

I believe music is about bringing people together. It is essential that festivals and shows are about creating a space where everyone feels safe. When these views – that women are unwelcome in heavy music, and unable to create heavy music – present themselves, how is anyone, artist or attendee, supposed to feel safe and welcome? How do you attract more young women into making music when they are being told by someone they might idolise that “most chick bands suck”?

The fact remains that there are plenty of bands, both in Australia and internationally, with female members that would fit the Unify line-up. I am not suggesting that Unify put “pity bands” on the line up. I am simply asking if 117:2 is really a ratio representative of heavy and alternative music. With that being said, I believe heavy music in Australia has a predominantly ‘blokey’ culture – and I can tell you that from my own experience.

At Unify festival this year, a group of guys set up a “rape tent” near the entrance of the festival and yelled abuse at most females who walked past (myself included). Thankfully, there were male punters at the festival who put their hand up to walk people past these guys if they were worried. There were also some guys who invited me to sit in their gazebo with them when they realised I had walked past their tent three times at 2am because I had lost my tent. They introduced me to the others in their gazebo who couldn’t find their tents, and it seemed they were essentially making a lost and found. While the amount of great and kind people at Unify certainly outweighed the scumbags, the scumbags still stuck out. Especially when people later defended it as just being a joke.

This sort of unwelcome behaviour is not exclusive to festivals, and has been addressed by High Tension – a female-fronted metal band who I feel would be great on the Unify line-up – in their Facebook post about intolerable pit behaviour, after a fan was assaulted at their recent Melbourne show. It certainly makes it difficult to promote women in heavy music if the fans are being assaulted at shows, and the potential musicians are being told by Michael Crafter that they are “feminazis who need to get off their “I’m a C___ Rocket” and start a decent band.” What incentive is there to start a band when that is the attitude of some of the established artists already in the music scene? While it isn’t the view of the majority, this is a case of a very loud minority. And if that school of thought is the loudest in metal and hardcore scenes, how is anyone who doesn’t identify as male supposed to feel safe in that space?

More and more bands are starting to look at ways to keep punters safe at gigs, with Modern Baseball setting up a help hotline, encouraging anyone who feels unsafe to text that number so that the tour manager can alert security. It comes down to the fundamental argument – music is supposed to be a safe place. No one, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion or any other factor should ever be made to feel unsafe or unwelcome at a gig.

There is also an argument that putting female bands on the line up won’t sell tickets. When you consider Unify sold out their pre-sale in a few hours, despite not having even announced a line-up, I don’t think changing the mix would be an issue. Despite the comments of Crafter and his (unfortunately large) supporter base, there are a lot of great bands with females in them, both locally and internationally. To support this, Short.Fast.Loud posted a list of 50 punk and metal bands with female members, and stopped at 50 only due to Facebook not allowing them to tag any more than that.

Unfortunately, we seem to be destined to have to deal with idiots who just don’t seem to understand common sense. If I am considered a “feminazi” because I want to feel safe in a public space, and want bands to have the opportunity to play festival slots in Australia regardless of the gender of their members, I guess that’s a badge I’ll have to wear. The fact that I can go to a show and still see a dude wearing a shirt saying “No clit in the pit” shows that we still have a long way to go.

The fact that I went to two shows in a row recently where I was physically assaulted at one and had a female friend verbally assaulted at the other shows that we still have a long way to go. This is more than a question relating to the Unify line up. In my view, this is an issue of an ingrained sexist culture, and the habit of attempting to silence and cut down those who speak out against it.

Unify have since responded to the gender imbalance, which you can check out here!

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