It’s a year to the day since Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry stood up to internet misogynists in a remarkable essay published by the Guardian. Men were confronted with evidence of the destructive effects of their sexist, abusive comments. Women found themselves a new role model.
Swathes of musicians joined a chorus of admiration for Lauren’s courage in refusing to accept a type of behaviour regularly consigned to a box marked ‘too onerous/common to deal with’. Music executives must also be regarded as complicit given the institutional exploitation of female artists.
It’s difficult to say with any conviction that the situation has improved. Seedy, depraved attitudes towards women persist in mainstream forums. But, certainly, more men are being publicly called out on their harmful prejudices and victims are increasingly finding the strength to speak out.
If the purpose of Lauren’s piece was to increase awareness and widen debate on misogyny then it succeeded emphatically. Twelve months on, The Pop Cop asked four more Scottish musicians to share their own experiences.
STINA TWEEDDALE, HONEYBLOOD
Glasgow duo Honeyblood released their self-titled debut album on revered independent label FatCat Records in July 2014 and have toured the UK, Europe and North America extensively. Singer-guitarist Stina Tweeddale, 25, announced in September 2014 that drummer Shona McVicar had been replaced by Cat Myers.
Have you ever been subjected to online misogyny?
“We’ve had comments on our social networks and videos. There have been messages including a picture of a guy holding a banana and two oranges in the shape of… well, whatever shape he was going for.”
How about in person?
“There’s been a load of things over the years. I’ve had people grabbing me after I’ve come off stage while walking about the venue. I had my dress pinned to a seat by a couple of men after a show at Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh. We’ve had people shouting comments while we are on stage… ‘You’re hot’, ‘Nice ass’, ‘Get your tits out’. The sad thing is it happened at really important shows for us including T in the Park and Webster Hall in New York.”
How did you react to those remarks at the time?
“At these specific shows I tried to ignore them. But I lost confidence in myself. I became wary and it put a dampener on the experience, which I should have been enjoying to its fullest and giving my best performance. When things have been shouted at other shows I might address whoever said it with something non-offensive but joking. That usually diffuses the situation and puts me back in control of the stage. But speaking out can be very difficult. These people have the aid of hiding in a crowd, whereas I’m on stage with people watching.”
Being in a band made up of two female members, have you ever noticed guys in your profession behave or act differently towards you?
“We have had men in the music business such as sound technicians at venues snub us for being women. They treat us differently by assuming we can’t or don’t play our instruments.”
Where do you draw the line in terms of the type of comments you are prepared to brush off as so-called lads’ banter?
“None, really. The thing is, it happens to men also. I know guys in bands who get a lot of unwanted attention from women. They’ve been grabbed or shouted at on stage and off. They have had their groin groped or a hand shoved wherever, and then made to feel less ‘manly’ if they don’t enjoy it.”
If internet stats were an accurate measure of popularity then Rebecca Shearing would be one of the biggest stars in the country. The 22-year-old films herself reworking the latest pop songs in her own style, typically stripping them back to keyboard and vocals. She has 142,000 subscribers and almost 30 million hits on YouTube, while her artist profile has 445,000 Facebook likes. The majority of her followers are from outside the UK. Originally from Ayr, Rebecca now lives in Edinburgh. She was a temporary member of alternative hip-hop group Stanley Odd from January to August 2014 and is currently putting together a band of her own.
How much can you relate to Lauren Mayberry’s article?
“Quite a bit. I would say at least half of the messages I receive are very sexist or something sexual, like ‘I want your number’ or ‘I want to sleep with you’. People send me dick pictures too. I don’t know what’s in their head that makes them think I want to see that. It’s really gross.”
You’re only 22, how long have you had to deal with this sort of thing?
“My mum used to read through messages sent to me when I was 16 or 17 and she would delete ones that were horrible. She would scan the public comments on YouTube to see if there was anything horrendous. Now she leaves me to it. I know I’m going to get them, I’ve always had them. I’m used to it, which is really sad.”
Is it just messages?
“There are quite a few fake profiles of me on Facebook. They used pictures from my graduation, it was really creepy. People can be creepy.”
Do you think guys need to be better educated?
“Most of my messages aren’t from this country, so I don’t really know how people are taught about all this elsewhere. I’m not sure if they think that’s what girls like, or if they’re just being extremely forward, or if they’re doing it for a laugh. I can’t tell. It’s not very pleasant.”
Does the amount of misogyny you encounter online make you wary of playing live?
“I’m used to it through a text sense. If anyone was like that to my face I’d be a lot more shocked. I haven’t come across that at gigs. I’m hoping not to, but we’ll see. You learn how to deal with it because it’s always going to be like that, which is really sad.”
Katie Sutherland is a singer-songwriter from Kirkintilloch. Between 2008 and 2011 she was signed to Universal Republic/Island Records under her former stage name Pearl & The Puppets. The 27-year-old has since reverted back to her given name and released her debut album Canvas on Christmas Eve 2012 through PledgeMusic. Her Meddle With Hearts EP came out in August 2014.
Do you receive many misogynistic messages?
“I got a lot of when I was on Universal. MySpace back in the day was awful, that was when it was at its worst. I still get some but I just block them. When I was starting out I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t.”
What did you do about the comments?
“The label and I used to delete them. YouTube was really bad. I used to get messages from people saying they wanted to do stuff to me. I remember showing my mum my new music video and being horrified to see inappropriate comments within hours of it being launched. Guys saying, ‘Go to this point in the video, just had a wank’. It’s horrible.”
Do you believe these people understand the effects of what they’re writing?
“I think some people don’t see it as an individual – it’s as if they don’t think that message is going to get to the person. For example, if they send a message, a lot of them will put your name in the third person rather than direct it to you. They don’t realise that you own the account.”
What sort of people do you think make these comments?
“There are some who take it too far but there are also people who write inappropriate things that have nothing to do with the music – they’re not being horrible or vulgar, just complimenting you too much. I sometimes meet these people at gigs and they’re not how you perceive. They tend to be older men and they’re lonely. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t know who these people are. They can act a lot younger. People think it’s OK to cross the line when they’re online and anonymous.”
Singer-songwriter Isobel Campbell was Belle & Sebastian’s cellist/vocalist until 2002, and released two solo albums during that time as The Gentle Waves. Since leaving B&S she has brought out two records under her own name and is working on a third. Isobel, 38, has also made three collaborative albums with former Queens of the Stone Age member Mark Lanegan, earning a 2006 Mercury Prize nomination for their first, Ballad Of The Broken Seas. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Is the online abuse suffered by Lauren Mayberry something you can identify with?
“I run my social media pages so I really understand how intrusive the bad messages can be. I’m lucky not to have had many but a weird Facebook message first thing in the morning or before playing a show can throw me for six. I read one derogatory message like that before a gig in Norwich once and I didn’t want to go on stage. Eugene Kelly had to talk me round.”
Are there any examples of sexism or misogyny you’ve faced in the music industry that you’d be willing to share?
“One manager and record label head talked about my physical appearance as if I was not there. The manager told me he did not like my press photograph because I looked like a lesbian. I’d never told him my sexual orientation, so what if I was gay? And what would be wrong with looking like a lesbian in any case? Then the label head told me he could understand me looking the way I did if I made music that sounded like Sheryl Crow. That’s how a lot of these people in the industry talk about our appearance, that whole ‘sex sells’ mentality. I felt like a piece of meat. I was due on a 9pm flight to Glasgow. I took a cab to Heathrow, paid extra to get on the 6pm flight, got home and burst into tears.
“In 2010, a female MD of a well-known publishing company told me, ‘You’ve got four more years, love’. Sexist and ageist. Nice. She’d never have said that to a male singer-songwriter-producer. If I’m using my brain, creating music and writing these songs, why should it matter how I look or what age I am? My songs are not of the teenybopper production line variety. I always think I’ll be playing and making music till the day I drop. The old guys keep going, why shouldn’t I?”
When you were working/touring with Mark Lanegan, were there instances when people acted differently towards you than they did with him?
“I think so, yes. They were always a little scared of Mark. A lot of people never believed I wrote the songs for us to sing. There was a lawyer at Beggars Banquet who specifically went out of his way to state to my lawyer that Mark must have written them. That hurt. These songs were my labours of love. Part of the reason I hired him to sing my songs was because I was so tired of how cruel people and journalists could be. They attack mean. Really personal, nasty and judgemental. I gave myself a rest and consciously hid behind a big gnarly bloke. Now I realise that wasn’t really a solution for me for the long term. I got respite, yes, made some good work that I’m proud of, but I also missed out on some other good stuff.”
Have you ever suffered inappropriate behaviour while on stage?
“When I toured Ballad Of The Broken Seas in 2006, we’d been driving in a van for 10 hours to get to a gig in Cologne. I felt like Quasimodo, my body was sore and twisted and run down after the long drive. I said something to the crowd about being tired and some guy shouted, ‘Shut up and play some sexy music’. I don’t think anyone would shout that to a guy.
“One time, when we were playing a show in Italy, a band member alerted me to the fact that a couple of guys were trying to take pictures up my skirt. That was really upsetting. I’d never thought anyone would be so disrespectful.”
What positive steps can be taken to change attitudes?
“Gender issues are a very sensitive subject but dialogue, debate and discussion can only be a good thing. We are constantly sent complex mixed messages and I admit at times I’ve been a bit confused about my role as a woman. It’s easy to sit in the shadows and criticise – much braver, bolder to put yourself out there with your head on the block and actually take a risk and do something.
“I’m grateful for brave, strong women who are prepared to speak up. As women we all discover our own personal coping mechanisms, or things we tell ourselves to feel better. Men and women are both conditioned from such an early age. Some people are not even aware that it’s happening or of what they’re implying, saying or doing. Society is steeped in it. It doesn’t have to reach the crazy repulsive heights of the vile internet misogynists. It can be subtler than that. In everyday life. Sometimes even appearing from informed, cultured, educated folk one may expect to know better. And sometimes, dare I say it, that person can be a woman. Or perhaps an ignorant work colleague or family member. It takes many shapes and forms.
“The next time I hear a tasteless sexist comment, if I feel safe enough, I’ve promised myself to speak up and tell them, ‘I can’t accept what you say’. We need to keep this conversation going.”
I’ve never met anyone who loved living with their parents as much as I did. Obviously there’s little choice in the matter when you’re of school age, but when most of my peers began renting flats or staying at halls of residences, I wasn’t even remotely tempted to leave the family home.
I couldn’t complain about a thing. I paid digs out of my two part-time wages and in return I enjoyed perks aplenty: my mum’s heavenly cooking; my dad’s wisdom and ability to repair anything; keys for the family car; my clothes hand-delivered with the scent of lemon Persil. It was a cushy deal.
I was 22 when I eventually plucked up the courage to leave home. Without meaning to sound unduly harsh to the people who brought me into the world and doted on me, the question of whether we were better together was irrelevant.
There comes a time when you have to take responsibility for your own actions, to make mistakes and learn from their consequences. I detached myself from the financial security of living under my parents’ roof and my disposable income took a hit, but I was in control of all the major decisions which affected my day-to-day existence. That feeling of empowerment and self-determination is exhilarating.
This was my first experience of true independence. If it was yours too, then you’ll know that choosing to follow your own path is not about who or what you’ve left behind. It’s about believing your future should be in your own hands, for better or worse.
A few months ago, The Pop Cop published a ‘day in the life’ feature on Bronagh Monahan which touched on the frustrating scenarios that unsigned musicians commonly encounter when striving for recognition. With Bronagh and her career about to experience a change of scenery, now seems like a good time to introduce her to new fans through the Music Alliance Pact network of blogs and their readers. Help yourself to the exclusive free download of Wait, taken from the Flicker EP released earlier this summer under her Bronagh & The Boys guise.
Click the play button icon to listen to individual songs, right-click on the song title to download an mp3, or grab a zip file of the full 21-track compilation through Dropbox here.
SCOTLAND: The Pop Cop
Bronagh Monahan – Wait
Scotland has long been an embracive, inclusive place to live. When looked at in the context of the music sector, both performer and population reap the benefits. Bronagh Monahan is a wonderful example of this. Since moving from Belfast to Glasgow in 2008 she has given so much to her adopted home, immersing herself in the local music scene, hosting live nights for fellow songwriters and showcasing her sultry piano-pop and striking vocals in weekly residencies. Such drive and enthusiasm can’t be contained, though, and the next stop in Bronagh’s search for stardom is London, where she’ll no doubt dazzle another city.