Throughout CMJ 2015, Meredith Graves — Honor Press founder, Perfect Pussy frontwoman, Brooklyn resident — will be keeping track of her adventures here. As a showcase presenter, performer, and music fan, she’ll be running around Manhattan and Brooklyn, singing new songs, watching new friends, and taking notes in between. Stay tuned for more.
Early yesterday afternoon in the Electric Room at the Dream Downtown, I spoke on an official CMJ panel called “Cracking the Glass.” It was meant to gather a group of female “innovative industry disrupters” to discuss direct action tactics meant to “overcome adversity and empower more women to take similar steps” to become leaders in the music industry.
The lineup shocked me — I was obviously very much the least qualified person present. The panel included lawyers, VPs of digital commerce for major labels, high-ups at Live Nation, with decades of combined experience between them. If you’re new here, just know that while I’ve been in dorky punk bands for a really long time, I’ve been in the public eye for under two years and started my first “real” label less than a year ago, which so far has put out one release.
The panel was standing-room only, and I’m very proud to report that the crowd was comprised of mostly beautiful youngs with notepads and handheld recorders. We were seated on director’s chairs facing the audience, which I figured was meant to provide more convenient direct hits if anyone decided to hurl maggoty tomatoes at me. A gallery of youthful faces, mostly female-presenting (I hate going out on a limb and assuming peoples’ genders, I’m sorry for that), who are there to get answers as to how they can best survive on this male-dominated trash planet, is not a group I want to let down.
I assumed the safest approach would be to talk as little as possible, which, if you know me, is something I’m physically incapable of doing. That plan was cool for maybe five minutes. I have zero experience in the corporate world, lasting less than two months at a franchised skate shop in the mall when I was fifteen. I have heard tales of this “leaning in” and the arbitrarily-numbered habits of highly effective women: becoming so good at one thing in your field that no one can deny you your expertise, raising your hand and taking charge of situations. I was sitting amongst a group of incredibly successful women for whom these tactics have absolutely worked. I couldn’t imagine what I would contribute to a conversation about success in the corporate side of the music industry.
And then, audience questions started coming in, and I realized that before you can lean in, you have to deal with the very real fact that most men, regardless of their professional field, are obnoxious children who seemingly only exist to make your life harder.
The questions asked by these young people were the same questions I’ve been asking for years, the questions that continue to plague me every time I run into sexism in the music industry, and presumably the same ones the women around me have asked repeatedly over the course of their careers. These questions transcend one’s station, applying to women at Island Records as much as they do to me dealing with sound guys at festivals in rural France. Men are the same kind of problem from Olympia to Mount Olympus, wasting our time with their seemingly endless desire to prove how committed they are to enacting their privilege against us, and preventing us from doing our jobs, let alone enjoying them.
One young person — one of two female DJs at a college radio station with eighteen male DJs — raised a hand to ask how she could better fake it around dudes who wanted to challenge her background knowledge of music. I cannot imagine what a challenge it has been for the brilliant women who I was lucky enough to share a stage with. These are women from the highest echelons of the music industry, who LITERALLY RUN THIS MOTHER (Girls!), regaling the crowd with stories of pretending to follow baseball so they’d seem more human to male employees, who needed that in order to work more efficiently. For their boss. Do you hear how insane this sounds? They needed their very human boss to do extra emotional labor outside the parameters of her job in order to seem human, a thing she definitely is already, so they would be more willing to do the work they are contractually obligated to do.
This is insane. Who are you horrible men who require so much of women just to earn your basic respect and attention in a work setting?
The panel, which mostly allowed questions from presumably female audience members, turned into “why is having a body so hard” and “how can I survive men” quicker than you can say Equal Pay. We women in music have been dealing with the same fucking problems for decades, as was proved by the end of this conversation, especially when a man in the audience asked how “we” could best systematically reprogram society and change the tendency to use sex as a marketing strategy. I told him that the onus is on men to educate their fellow men on these topics, to work within the dominant group, the oppressive group. He corrected me and specified that by “we,” he meant “everyone.”
Well, no, that’s not the way it works. Non-male people, especially in the music world, have shared our experiences with sexism in the music industry in every available format. Artists have made albums, critics have published volumes, organizations have been started, CEOs and VPs have sat on panels. Men who want to change the sexist climate in the music industry have just as much access to these histories as we do. We have done the work, whereas you have not.
TL;DR: If you want to make things better for an oppressed group, start by listening to us. Find out what it is we want. Read what we have to say. Listen when we talk. And stop making us do even more work. Recognize that this much emotional labor isn’t required of you and yours. Teach your goddamn self, dude. And don’t look at me like I’m a six-headed level twelve Gygax creation when I tell you that this is simply what’s required for you to meet the basic level of human decency.
I don’t ever want to sit on a panel of female experts ever again and talk about “work-life balance” and pink tablecloths in the break room. I want to talk about instating systems of community-based mutual support and accountability to elevate literally anyone who isn’t a cis male into leadership positions in separatist groups that purposefully exclude men.
Because, let’s face it: There’s no such thing as a truly safe space when men are allowed in, whether it’s a DIY venue or a boardroom or the audience at a panel discussion.
Bands to make me dance: Warthog, Downtown Boys, Skylines
G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy dudeS): The white supremacists in my Twitter mentions who rediscovered an article I was quoted in about bands like Slaves, Black Pussy and Viet Cong. I wish you all had but one mutual neck, and my hands closed tightly around it.
Looking forward to: Releasing the lineup for my secret show at Silent Barn tomorrow at noon.