In honour of International Women’s Day today, and all that means to women fighting the good fight for change everywhere, we invited XANTHEA O’CONNOR (with an introduction by NATALIE GILES) to help us explore sexism and misogyny in the music industry.
Women fight for visibility in a multitude of ways, but they want the right kind of visibility – and that is certainly not with the use of women’s bodies through sexualisation, exploitation and objectification.
So while marketing materials such as gig posters and the subject matter utilised in these may, at first glance, appear to be a trivial matter, step inside a woman’s shoes and consider the broader ramifications. It goes much deeper, and can be extremely challenging for the women already rallying against sexist attitudes and behaviour in music venues and throughout the industry. There is a pretty simple solution for this problematic issue.
Gig posters are universally accepted as difficult to make. Creating visual content for otherwise auditory material can be incredibly challenging from an artist’s point of view. Venues churning out several posters a week while maintaining a conceptual “edge” or a point of difference from their competitors is a huge strain on artistic energy and resources, often relying on the work of numerous independent graphic designers, who are paid to develop an aesthetic from often vague instruction. The same goes for musicians that are responsible for making their own visual branding.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that these venues, musicians and designers fall into traps that are often deemed acceptable by mainstream marketing- namely the unnecessary sexualisation and objectification of women.
If we could look at these visual offerings independent of their live music context, they may be individually considered “not all that bad”, but within an industry that has a mostly unchecked issue when it comes to the oppression and erasure of women and non-binary voices, it unconsciously feeds into a broader, more ominous narrative of sexism and misogyny within this industry.
Firstly, it has been widely discussed recently that the safety of women within bars and music venues in Perth is a big problem, reaching a national audience.
A most obvious example recently was The Brass Monkey loudly and proudly flying banners which promoted the glorification of rape culture for their advertised New Year’s Eve Frat Party celebrations. For a venue that is still infamous for a violent rape occurring only three years ago in one of its upstairs rooms, this fostering of dangerous social conditioning amongst this venue’s staff and patrons is deeply concerning.
As Clementine Ford explains in her take on the matter, “It isn’t a clever jape to hint at groups of men preying on drunk young women. It’s not edgy to mimic the actions of predatory, exploitative men’s only groups, especially when those actions have been widely condemned as predatory and exploitative.”
Turing our minds now to small, independent live venues locally and developing artists, it music be acknowledged that it takes huge courage for any person to tread those boards and play music publicly. Now consider how much more challenging it would be to perform in a space where you also feel the anxiety of being imminently under threat, due to gender biased sexual harassment and violence that goes on mostly unacknowledged within these spaces.
Women feel unsafe in venues from a threat of other punters. They feel unsupported by venues that advertise in a way that is displaying a lack of understanding when it comes to problematic, exploitative and misogynistic representations of women in their marketing material. As aptly explained by Emma Pitman recently in a piece concerning ironic sexism, “when you use sexualised images of women to brand your venue, you condone the male gaze and the objectification of women’s bodies, and that gaze slides down the walls and lands on the real women in these spaces.” Aside from a myriad of other issues, it is no wonder that women do not thrive or have equal representation on stage within our music spaces and communities when content like this is still thoughtlessly promoted.
One possible step away from this dark rhetoric is identifying when and why posters like this can be damaging for women. I’ve separated them into a few different categories, but am by no means suggesting that these are the only ways in which femme imagery is inappropriately used in posters and advertising. These examples are simply ones I’ve found to be the most prevalent.
All Dude Bands, All Woman Poster
This category is often mixed in with misogynistic overtones discussed later, but this is something widespread within all scenes and genres.
While great art can challenge and present new perspectives to all of us, we also crave a reflection of our own narratives in the art we consume. When men essentially misappropriate images of women as a type of desired object and muse for their art, this can feel like a misconstruction of our own identity and even autonomy within creative fields. Our inclusion in a music scene should not be at the mercy of the men who seek to control our representation for their benefit. If women are to be included, let them take up space on lineups, not just in marketing. Take this as a well mannered message of entitlement to representation within our community.
Women Are Not Anatomies
The woman’s body cut up and framed as simply an anatomical aesthetic again, removes autonomy and commodifies an identity. This is often paired with sexualised nudity (or inferred nudity) and hip bars that seem to honestly believe they are above the usual sexist tropes of less sophisticated branding often do this, usually in the form of collage design work. However ‘ironic’ this strain of misogyny claims to be, it often still works within the codes and techniques which play into pleasing the male gaze, which is ultimately problematic. Women have voices and musical skill as well as bodies.
There is a Woman Here That Looks Like She Will Be Imminently Raped And/Or Killed. Please. Just. Stop.
I feel like this is kind of a no-brainer, but it still happens. Don’t align your brand with the threat of violence towards women. As discussed previously, violence of a sexual or physical nature is a real threat to women, not just a conceptual fear. Steer clear and do not perpetuate. Duh.
Women Are Not Consumables
Again, this can intersect with every other category already discussed, but venues using women and their bodies as props to advertise their products is reductive of a woman’s identity. Essentially, women are not plates to serve food/drinks on and the use of this kind of imagery perpetuates the idea that women are consumable and exist within a world where hetero male gaze and pleasure is paramount. When a woman goes up to play music, she doesn’t want to see her sister resting a cocktail on her clavicle, hiding a breast with a hamburger behind her.
This is not to say that of course, the femme form is not a beautiful thing that should not be celebrated with every ample opportunity. I simply believe that women’s bodies should have more space to occupy than being present to sell a $7 taco from a smelly pub kitchen. If a venue’s advertising really can’t get past the sex sells mentality, at least have an equal representation of men and women in this kind of advertising. Hell, go as far to include the whole mélange of the glorious gender spectrum.
These stains of sexism are all linked. This notion of ownership perpetuates the culture that men think they can grab women at a bar with no consequence. Posters of this nature make women feel less trustworthy of the venue and whether that venue will do anything if they go to them for help when dealing with sexual harassment or violence. It is the responsibility of all venues and the bands that play in them to check in on the cultural undertones that they are perpetuating in their marketing because while it may not affect them, it sure as hell affects the perceived safety of the wider community.