Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I am in a guy-girl duo with a decent amount of success behind us. The guy has an extensive touring history and audio knowledge. I come from a very different background, but I have owned businesses before, and have written several extensive business plans. I also enjoy networking, so I have been a big asset when it comes to radio, touring etc. (I do all of our social media, interviews, merch, outreach to radio, and tour managing.)
But when we have a disagreement about something band-related (like a music video or photo shoot) he tends to talk down to me and act as if I don’t contribute to the band. He always acts like his experience is more important than my opinions. The thing is, he has never had this much success in music before. But it’s hard to give constructive criticism and still get respect from him. I am proud of all I have been able to contribute to the band but it seems like he can’t acknowledge or appreciate that. How do I get the respect I feel I deserve from him? How can you be heard and respected as a woman without being labeled a bitch or told you’re on your period?
Dear LL Cool Lady,
No matter how small or reasonable your ambitions may be, there will be dudes around you in the “music industry” who will be unsettled by them. The world tells boys and men that their experience is definitive, that their knowledge and feelings are more important than other peoples, their authority is ultimate even on topics they know nothing about; their entire lives and social grooming pressures them to be confident captains, to “know best,” to provide and never be vulnerable or without answers. So, someone who challenges that authority really disrupts their whole universe of self-conception and for some dudes, the way they deal is by steamrolling and gaslighting you, to undermine your sense of power and peership. That’s my experience and sense of what is happening here.
So, what to do about your bandmate’s patriarchal damage and mansplaining? It’s really the eternal question isn’t it–what is the paradigm shifting magic retort that you could say or do to shuts him down AND makes him respect you AND makes him see the error of his ways? It would be amazing if I knew–this would be the most read column in the history of the internet and I might even pull down a Nobel in the process. That said, let us first try the route of love rather than the route of cynicism in how we broach a solution, even though it feels a bit counterintuitive.
Next time you two are talking and the conversation feels energized, positive–when you are in the throes of your creative bond–address what’s up. Your “argument” for why he should respect you (sad) could start on the simple fact that you’re half of this band, and you are putting in work and while, sure, no one can argue with the road dog experience he has, that you can both see the soft skills you bring to the band and that balance is what’s making you thrive as a band.
Tell him you respect and trust his expertise, but that you are equal partners and that the respect and trust of each other’s opinions has to go both ways for your creative partnership to continue to thrive. Short and sweet, keep it reasonably neutral, do not phrase it in the form of questions, don’t preface things with “I think” or “I feel” or end with “You know?” Your experience here is your expertise, and taking ownership of your part in the bands success is crucial–and hopefully reminds him that without you, he is out in the wind. Practice on a friend. If you need to, do it over the phone and use some bullet pointed notes. This your band, too.
Now, in the heat of the moment you can also try making a bemused face and saying “Do you really think that?” It draws attention to whats happening, says that you thought they were smarter/cooler than that and says that it’s so ridiculous and you are so confident that this b.s. is not even passing muster for consideration. You could also try reminding him that you appreciate his ideas on this, and here are yours–assuming and asserting that this is a discussion. You could say “You are sooo right. I am a bitch and menstruating at this very moment.” And if that doesn’t work, jump atop a table a la Norma Rae and scream the lyrics to Bikini Kill’s “Resist Psychic Death” in his face while you whip a tampon lasso around your head like a demented cowgirl.
None of this may “work.” Saying it nice, or saying it tough, being resolute, or being vulnerable–none of it may change his bad attitude/reaction or the outcome, short of the nuclear option (threatening to quit). But this is not about him (patriarchy sold him a bill of goods, too), this is about you and what you are willing to live with in this situation. It is also about getting comfortable with the fact that in the music industry (and the entire world!) there will always be this man–he may not be your bandmate, he may be a booker or a doorguy, another band’s manager, a musician you brought on tour–and he will always think you are a bitch, he will always talk over you, explain like you are dumb, assail your ambitions. Knowing that man is there regardless means there is no use–absolutely none–in trying to contort to fit his unmeetable expectations, doing the whole kabuki of trying to be understood by him as an artist (and not a bitch). Do not trifle with that war, for it is a trap and it will tangle you up and keep you from your art. Do you without apology. Own your power. Own your bitchdom. Go hard and do not stop, for you are already on your way.
Yours in Downtown Bitchtown,