In 2019, why are we still not respecting female musicians on stage?

In 2019, why are we still not respecting female musicians on stage?

Time and time again, female musicians are being harassed by the people that have paid to see them - and it's not on.

Header Photo: Angie McMahon (L) by Zachary Snowdown Smith; Maggie Rogers (R) by Joseph Okpako.

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch Angie McMahon at the tail-end of her ongoing album tour. As you'd know if you've been lucky enough to catch the tour, it's a remarkably special hour-thirty of Angie reinventing her debut album Salt - plus a few surprises, like a second album tease and covers of Fleetwood Mac and ABBA - in the live realm, giving the already empowering record a new light that when performed live, seems to only increase its power and strength (a difficult task, knowing the strength of the album on record).

However, at one point, when removing her suit jacket due to the heat, a couple of dudes within the crowd thought it'd be a good idea to heckle McMahon from the depths of the pit, wolf-whistling at her and shouting in her direction as she took off the jacket. In response, Angie looked to around where the guys were, raised her finger, and bluntly spoke into the microphone: "Fuck off, no."

Alarmingly for 2019 - a time where you'd think that the constant reinforcement of polite gig etiquette and drilling to dudes to just stop being an asshole regardless of the scenario would welcome otherwise - this disrespect towards musicians on stage is becoming more and more prominent, and more often than not, it's to women like McMahon - someone who at the end of the day, is just doing their job, and not wanting to be harassed for doing so just like anyone else would.

In another case to arise over the weekend, Maggie Rogers posted to Twitter this morning blasting two men in the crowd of her show in Austin, Texas. In the middle of a moment of gratitude she shares with the crowd before playing her final encore, a man in the crowd yelled at Maggie to take her top off, while another man joined in, yelling "you cute though" from the crowd shortly after. "I was stunned," she says in the note posted onto her socials. "Furious. Fuming. Confused. And also — on a really basic level — it really hurt my feelings."

You may think that these two cases are bad - and they are - but they're something occurring week-in and week-out for female musicians just trying to make a living in the harsh world of the music industry (which has enough mental health issues as it is), and they're enough to turn women like McMahon and Rogers off touring altogether. "I want to use this moment to be very clear," she continues. "There is no space for harassment or disrespect or degradation of any kind at my show. Be kind to each other out there."

These two examples are ones that almost every single female, trans or non-binary musician could relate to, and it's a part of a larger problem that concerns the lack of respect towards female musicians on stage. In another example (albeit one less direct than the two mentioned above), this disrespect may come through people talking throughout the sets of female musicians, something I've found on the opening slots of festivals - like Miss Blanks at Perth's Listen Out leg - right through to Lily Allen in headline mode; a blatant disregard to the musician on stage that can really make someone feeling like shit.

Unsurprisingly, it's something coming up more and more often. In April, WAAX frontwoman Maz De Vita posted on Instagram about an incident where she was assaulted at a show in Newcastle after venturing into the crowd mid-set, while just a few days later, Kira Puru posted a similar message after she was verbally harassed in the middle of a show in Townsville. I've heard everyone from Stella Donnelly and Grimes to Tkay Maidza and Alison Wonderland harrassed and whistled at while on stage over the years in Perth alone, and the problem isn't characteristic to the west coast either: it's happening in every venue, in every city, in every country.

To an artist like Kira Puru or Angie McMahon, this harassment is bad enough. Stella, Maz and Kira are three musicians we've had the privilege of spotlighting over the years and they're all incredibly powerful and confident women, as is Maggie Rogers and Angie McMahon who touched on this issue in her song And I Am A Woman ("I wrote this song And I Am A Woman with the idea that our bodies and the spaces around us are our homes, and that everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in theirs," she said at the track's release).

However, think about the women who don't have the experience of Kira Puru, or don't have the confidence and empowerment of Stella Donnelly and Max De Vita. To a woman just finding her ropes in live performance, getting on stage in front of people is scary enough - but to be harassed and subjected to abuse while doing so, would be enough to turn women off performing live altogether. By disrespecting those on stage - whether it just be talking through their sets or whistling at their presence - you're effectively telling them that their talent is worthless, that their craft - which they may have spent years perfecting - is nothing compared to the appeal of them taking off a jacket.

A music industry without women is a music industry that can't run - it's no music industry. While the jokes and articles that touch on how the industry's 'big dogs' are all old men are true, the ones putting in the hard yards and keeping it afloat are often those that are anything but. I know more female radio presenters, publicists, marketing managers, writers and general industry figures than I do non-male, and to shut out their careers at the threat of harassment at their workplace - like on stage - is to basically deny those who run this shit the respect they deserve - and that's a horrible, horrible thing.

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So, what can be done to help? As pointed out by triple j's Bridget Hustwaite earlier this year, much of the change comes from the bottom. I know it can be tough - and I'm definitely guilty in not doing so - but if your mate is being a dickhead at a show, call them out. Pull them up on their actions and educate them, and if they tell you to get stuffed, it's clear that their sheer disrespect for women makes them someone you probably don't want in your life regardless.

If it's someone you don't know, call security or notify a bartender who may be able to get someone to help - Laneway Festival, for example, have their hotline for abuse launched a few years back - and keep an eye out to those being harassed. If a dude tries to start on you for telling him to leave a girl alone, chances are a lot of people in the crowd - and security - and going to be on your side and help you out. 

This isn't to say that men aren't the target of harassment either - because they are, and it's a very real problem in itself - but the gist here is, if you see someone doing something you don't agree with; if you see someone being a dickhead or being an asshole whether it's in a crowd at a festival or just in day-to-day life, don't be afraid to call their ass out. That's where this starts.

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