I’ve read several disturbing articles this year on sexism in music. This one from Grimes was much-read and discussed earlier this year.

Another, this week, was a lot closer to home. A local Dunedin musician shared her experiences this week in this Critic feature.

But it was this seriously disturbing piece from Lauren Mayberry of Scottish electro-pop trio CHVRCHES this week that tipped me over the edge into anger and action (not that writing about it is action as such, but it’s a start…). Have a read of it (or a summary of it at least), if you dare.

Here’s CHVRCHES for your reference if you haven’t heard them. They are playing Laneway in Auckland early next year.

This isn’t a feminist issue, it’s a humanist one. It’s not something that women (musicians or otherwise) should have to deal with and fight on their own – anyone who values the worth of others and seeks fairness, equality and freedom from the tyranny of oppression should be just as outraged. And take some action. I feel strongly about this because I value the significance of women in music, and in the music I love.

My ‘formative years’ for music listening were in the punk and post-punk era. That was a time where, in hindsight, women appeared to have a strong presence in alternative music I listened to, and appeared to me to be welcomed, accepted and valued for it. I’m thinking of Patti Smith, The Slits, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, Cocteau Twins and so on. It’s been normal since then for a significant slice of my favourite albums to be by, or include, women musicians – PJ Harvey, The Shop Assistants, The Pastels, Grouper, Tiny Vipers, Samara Lubelski, Opposite Sex and Ela Orleans to name a few that come quickly to mind.

Generally, female perspectives in alternative popular music over the years have been much more interesting, challenging and adventurous than the standard rock and roll perspectives. So it troubles me that some sub-sections of society do things that, wittingly or unwittingly, may discourage participation in all forms of music by women. Patronising attitudes to female performers, whether well-meaning or not is one thing to deal with. But the ugly misogynist threats mentioned in the Lauren Mayberry piece is another altogether.

At first I thought this was an unfortunate feature of the internet age and social media; providing an anonymous platform for miscellaneous drunks, idiots & sociopaths/ psychopaths to vent their poisonous thoughts without fear of retribution or being answerable for them.

It’s not just the anonymity of the internet… these people are amongst us and walk (or more usually drive) our streets. It’s difficult to fully understand or appreciate the impact of a culture of fear of violence – sexual violence – when you are not directly affected by it. But it is real – the blog links above make that abundantly clear.

So what can we do about it? I’m mainly directing these comments at the male of the species – I’m sure that women are already actively trying to eradicate sexist (and worse: misogynist sexist) behaviour. It shouldn’t be their fight alone. It shouldn’t need to be their fight at all. It would be much better if the rest of us took some responsibility for our own words, actions and behaviour and for the words, actions and behaviour of our friends (and anyone else we encounter). Here’s some ideas:

1. Recognise this is a real issue and treat it seriously;
2. Take responsibility for your own words and actions – don’t be part of the problem;
3. Call out your friends, peers, associates etc. when they say or do things that are sexist or make women feel uncomfortable or unsafe (new poster slogan: “Stop a mate from being a sexist prick – bloody legend!”?);
4. Call out those in society who threaten, intimidate, terrorise women (and anyone for that matter). Make sure they know their views and behaviour are unacceptable.

As for the ugly-minded idiots who make sexual violence comments online (or on the street) like those mentioned in the Lauren Mayberry interview – I’d like to see them tracked down, social media accounts terminated, made to undergo compulsory psychological assessment & counselling/ behavioural education, and then placed on a watch list for future reference.

Rock Against Sexism, please.