You’d have thought, by now, really, that it didn’t matter what tackle you were or weren’t born with – if you’re feeling it, you can rock as hard as anyone, cock out or never there in the first place. Boy or girl, however you define yourself: it should be no obstacle to playing music to people, to enjoying music with people, to forging a career in this industry of ours.
And yet, there is merchandise like this on sale, by the (deathcore) bands Attila and I Declare War, which rather suggests: women, you’re not welcome (via Sexism And The Second City).
Those shirts mightn’t be fresh to each act’s store, and perhaps they regret them. (That doesn’t exonerate them from being beyond heinous, mind.) But the advert below from sE Electronics, as seen in Sound On Sound magazine earlier this month (July 2014), stirred Hookworms (whose MJ put the image on their Facebook page) into posting a passionate message:
“This is really important – companies need to be challenged on their sexism. The image in this advert of a woman without a head propagates the position of the female as an object in a man’s world to be written on and used to sell a product (a microphone?!).
“I (MJ) am lucky enough to make my living from recording and I want women and girls to also feel comfortable in what is currently a highly male-dominated industry. Images like this advert show we still have a long way to go.”
“A long way to go.” How very depressing. sE countered the various messages of displeasure they inevitably received with a little background on the offending advert for their Magneto microphone, as well as something a bit like an apology, sort of just another advert, but more further fuel for the fire. James Young, MD of sE, wrote: “We believed that by creating a piece of art, we were doing something different, something beautiful, that empowered woman and celebrated the beauty of the female form.”
The “art” that Young refers to, presumably, is the CGI that the image is made of. That’s not a real woman, see. If it was, just imagine! How very sexist that would be. It’s a 3D model – not a de-robed lady with Photoshop tats. Which, obviously, makes it okay. Hmm.
Most people did not agree.And some wrote even more words on the topic, like here and here. I popped the ad onto my Facebook wall to see if any of my friends agreed that it was, indeed, an “empowering” image. Said one comment, from someone born without a penis:
“It’s just exploiting the female form and ideals of feminine beauty to sell a microphone. They think they are being clever by trying to appeal to the alternative subculture by having the woman tattooed… but actually it’s blatant exploitation. This kind of stuff just pisses me off.”
Of course, it’s one thing to be a brand selling microphones for the professional musician community, quite another for a musician themselves to promote the idea that women should be perceived as inferior, secondary, as nothing more than window dressing for the product that is their uniquely crafted brand of contemporary pop music.
Then again, there was this.
In the March issue of Hunger, Jake Bugg (the happy-go-lucky, chipper chap that he so effortlessly implies he is in every photo shoot he’s a part of) participated in a session with renowned snapper Rankin. The concept? Well, you can see for yourself. This shit is so next-level I can’t even begin to process it, it’s that far beyond me. I mean, on the surface, it looks like the team’s just gone, “Boob, yep, boobs… boobs,” and maybe mumbled something about Robert Palmer. But, surely, there is a greater meaning to it. Surely?
In the Hunger interview, beside the typos, Bugg is asked if the shoot was his idea. “Yeah, I’ve been listening to a bit of (Jimi) Hendrix, and it’s a reference to the ‘Electric Ladyland’ cover.” Now, I’m very aware that Bugg’s music is archaic in the extreme, and that in the 1960s, when ‘Electric Ladyland’ was released (in 1968), some guys had problems with women enjoying every right that they did themselves. The Women’s Liberation Movement had taken tremendous strides towards equality – feminism was taking root, and today it’s rightly embedded in a great many individual ideologies. But just because his music’s old, his snickering sexism could do with a boot into the present day.
And besides, Hendrix didn’t even like the ‘Electric Ladyland’ cover. He expressed great embarrassment about it. He found it disrespectful. Guess Bugg missed that part of the album’s story. And even if he didn’t have creative control on the Hunger shoot, which I have been told by other press types, surely he could have said something? Is he that much of a braindead puppet for people who we don’t see fronting these godawful songs? Almost makes you feel sorry for him. Nah.
What was amazing, to me, was that the Hunger shoot passed me (and others) by entirely at the time. It was not until just a few weeks ago that it appeared on my radar, shared by peers on social media. I tweeted about it, that was picked up byDorian Lynskey and soon enough many more journalists were expressing no little justified outrage about the whole thing.
Why bring this up now, at all, though, given the internet moves so fast that even images shared and collectively abhorred just a few weeks ago feel terrifically old? Mainly because I read this over the weekend just gone, and it turned my stomach. Writing for The Daily Dot, Samantha Allen mentioned the recent VidCon event, held for those who create YouTube content, both for a living and just for fun. She says that many female creators post one video and then never return as they are appalled, and understandably turned off, by the comments they see under their work.
This is nothing new. Look at this two-year-old post by Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian revealing the awful harassment she endured for daring to be a girl who had an opinion on videogames. “She needs a good dicking.” “LESBIANS: THE GAME is all this bitch wants.” “Back to the kitchen, c*nt.” Can you begin to imagine being called a c*nt for doing your work? And as Allen illustrates, this kind of cancerous hate persists into the present – it is no easier for women now. And this isn’t “just the internet”, is it? “Just the internet” implies that what you’re looking at right now is some sort of niche attraction in everyone’s everyday lives.
This internet being what 36 million Brits alone access every single day. That figure representing over half of the UK’s total population. Small, this internet. Tiny. Never going to take off.
I actually thought that the music industry was a better place for women than the games industry, or that which has established itself around free-publishing platforms like YouTube. I thought its longer history, its right now richer culture in the perceptions of a mainstream that sees games as the preserve of the geek, would separate it from newer forms of expression. Totally wrong, of course, as sE and Jake Bugg make wholly evident. And when Mayberry is reading comments about herself like, “I have your address and I will come round to your house and give u anal and you will love it you tw*t lol”, what kind of levelheaded, professional response can anyone have?
You are an artist and you make music and some people love it and others don’t (apply to other media as it fits): that’s the system as it’s pretty much always been. Any musician is okay with reading that someone on the internet isn’t enamored with their latest single. But to read that someone will come to your house to rape you?
sE Electronics have called their advert art. All it does, though, just like Bugg’s ill-advised Hunger shoot, is tell the prick minority out there that it’s just fine to treat women – and I don’t care if they’re flesh and bone or dreamed up in a computer, the effect is the same – like hunks of meat to slaver and drool over. Some weirdoes might even want to stick their dicks in meat. I doubt they’d put that on the internet, though. (Please, please, do not link me to anything that says I’m wrong about that.)
Sexism in the music industry goes deeper than a printed page and a few breasts in a shoot. It’s just that the further into the minefield you go, so the less visible these factors are to the public. I could write here about the males at the top of radio stations worldwide, or how so few music magazines and websites have female editors. But we would be here all day. Lily Allen talks a lot of shit, usually solely to get a reaction, but when she bemoans the shortage of female executives at record labels, she makes a pertinent point: a lot of the attitude expressed by those working at the bottom of the pyramid could be affected by different decisions taken at the top.
I’m sure there will be a more even spread of top-level music industry players in the near future, between male and female executives and the like. There has to be, or we’re failing to progress an industry based on evolution, on the thrill to be found in the new. In the meantime, we can all benefit – artists and promoters, journalists and managers, fans and funders – from highlighting the completely needless sexist shitwhen we see it. Follow Hookworms’ example here with sE – let’s not ever confuse art with exploitation, creativity with misogyny. Call that shit out. I’ve spent the last decade and more seeing great female professionals in the music industry, people in PR and this side of the press, artist management and radio, rise up the ranks – not to the very top, yet, but knocking on the door. And should anyone, decaying old dinosaurs and barely-shaving commenters alike, stand in the way of the brightest and best, because of gender?
Well, perhaps I’ll show up at their house. With a copy of The Bell Jar and some canned ham, just in case.
"In the universal rape fantasy she paints her nails red white and blue And says oh, honey, once is never Then her head sprouts 100 new heads Or was it just a dream They attach electrodes and with terrible intimacy Extract from you a legally meaningless shock confession That what happens once can be repeated The work of love in the age of its technological reproduction”
From the show Intensive Care at Legion TV Sept-Oct 2013 legion-tv.com
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” features a 75’ long x 35’ wide mammy sphinx that is coated with bleached sugar. The sphinx is part of an exhibit at the old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo: citylab.com
“You are recreating the very racism this art is supposed to critique,” I yelled. The visitors lowered their cameras. Just seconds ago, they had been aiming their lenses at the sculpture of a 40-foot tall, nude black female sphinx. Many posed under its ass; some laughed and pointed at its vulva. As I watched their joking, my thoughts spun and I walked into the crowd, turned to face them and began yelling.
It wasn’t my rage, it was our rage. Since May, gentrified Brooklyn buzzed with talk of the newKara Walker exhibit, a giant sculpture of a Mammy sphinx at the derelict Domino Sugar Factory. On the Internet, one could see it was the size of a house, with full African lips and a flat nose, a doo-rag knotted on its forehead. Officially titled “a Subtlety,” it received glowing reviews on NPR’s All Things Considered and the New York Times. I was curious but also felt a low alarm going off in the back of my head. In early June, I went to the exhibit. The anxiety increased when I saw the factory — in line, nearly everyone was white. The alarm rang louder.
'Through the Eyes of Others'
The “alarm” is a reflex most minorities have, it’s a rising anxiety that signals you are surrounded by people too privileged to know they’re hurting you. Or who would not care if they did. It can beep quietly. Or blare like a foghorn. The alarm is part of the psychological package that W.E.B. Du Bois described in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk as, “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”
As the long line moved under the bright sun, I feared the mostly white visitors would not see me or the violent history the art reflected. Staffers ofCreative Time, the non-profit that commissioned the exhibit, were giving visitors release forms. We signed and walked through the gate. On the side of the building was the work’s full title, “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.” Okay, I thought, at least a sign is up. And with the news videos, the reviews and the Creative Time webpage maybe visitors won’t be carried away by a naked black female sculpture and actually see the painful history it represented.
Inside the factory, cool, sweet air filled my nose. It was a rusted cathedral of industry, held up by blistered girders. Across the warehouse I saw the white Mammy sphinx. Visitors bunched around caramel-like statues of children holding baskets. They were antebellum figurines of slave boys, made of resin coated in molasses. The irony of them molded into sugar was of course symbolic of the money and power distilled from their bodies. Viewers seemed to get it. Maybe, I thought, it was safe to turn off the alarm? And then I saw a balding white father, posing with his son next to one of the boy statues, his arms folded across his chest “gangsta” style as the mother took a photo.
Black Pain, White Laughter
Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them. A few weeks ago, I had gone to the 9/11 museum and no one, absolutely no one, posed for smiling pictures in front of the wreckage.
I caught the eye of the few people of color, we talked and shook our heads at the jokey antics of white visitors. We felt invisible, and our history was too. It stung us and we wanted to leave. I forced myself to go the backside of the statue and saw there what I expected to see, white visitors making obscene poses in front of the ass and vulva of the “Subtlety.” A heavy sigh fell out me. “Don’t they see that this is about rape?” I muttered as another visitor stuck out his tongue.
What is the responsibility of the artist? Is it different for a Black artist who creates in the midst of political struggle? I first saw Walker’s work more than a decade ago in Boston and remembered studying her panorama of black silhouettes. Violent sex, violent lashings, prancing slave owners and mutilated black bodies wrapped the room. The spark of her art came from taking the form of 19th century visual vocabulary, quaint history book illustration, and using it to represent the actual brutality occurring at the time. Standing there, I admired her technical ability and also, her vision, to force us to read the suppression of real violence under an epoch’s ideology. And yet, I wondered even then, if exposing the details of Black victimization was truly freeing if it simply triggered the pain of people of color, and in the precarious atmosphere of the nearly all-white art world at that.
Now, more than a decade later, I was going for a second visit to see “A Subtlety.” I brought my friend Nia. “Brace yourself,” I told her. Sure enough, she saw what I had seen. Of course we both marveled at the immensity of the Mammy sphinx. Just the sheer size of it pushed us back on our heels. The physical weight of all that sugar, a symbol of the pain and profit wrung from our ancestors, our black bodies, fell on us hard. All those lives destroyed, I thought, all that death. And then a white couple goofily posed in front of the Mammy sphinx’s breasts. Nia and I left.
We Are Here
On my last trip there I was with a group of friends. Again we stood under a bright sun in a long line. Again Creative Time staff handed out release forms. But now a new team was there, people of color, working with the We Are Here project. They gave us stickers reading “We Are Here,” to remind white visitors that the descendants of slaves were in the room, present and watching the whites pose in front of their history like tourists.
I wasn’t a part of the group officially, but I was part of the collective mind. Again we entered the factory, again the sickly sweet cool air swept over us. My friend, a dancer, looked at the molasses-covered slave boys holding their heavy baskets and remarked on how it injured their backs to carry that kind of weight. Again, we were seeing the sculptures from an historical vision, one that our lives are rooted in. She pointed to an older white woman photographing her daughter smiling next to a slave boy. We were both getting angry. Others in the group were too.
A few of us went to the backside of the Mammy sphinx. A crowd milled around and lights flashed from their cameras. I was late for a meeting and going to leave when a white man kneeled and aimed his camera at his Asian-American friend, who made a goofy face under the giant buttocks. Something snapped. I strode to the front, turned around and yelled at the crowd that when they objectify the sculpture’s sexual parts and pose in front of it like tourists they are recreating the very racism the art was supposed to critique. I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes.
A Stunned Silence
A stunned silence paralyzed the crowd until I walked back, and then loud talk rose like a tornado. One of the Creative Time curators came up to me and said if I was going to make statements to let people know I wasn’t part of their organization. A friend cut in, saying loudly that I didn’t have to say shit. They got into a debate that heated up into a verbal fight. Visitors came up to me, some saying I was wrong; others saying I was right.
It was like a sleeping beehive had been kicked over. Security was called and it got tense. I missed most of what happened because people were in my face. By the time I left, one friend was in tears and the curator was very nearly there too, clutching her writing pad like a shield. Rage sizzled the air.
It felt great to confront the “white gaze,” the entitled buffoonery of the visitors. But why did we have to? Why did the organizers of We Are Here even have to do that work? Wasn’t the job of Walker or at least of Creative Time’s staff to curate a racially charged artwork? Yes, Walker has the freedom to express herself. Yes, Creative Time has the freedom to organize it. But what do you expect will happen if you put a giant sculpture of a nude black woman, as a Mammy no less, in a public space?
People are going to bring prejudices and racial entitlement into the space. Duh. Instead of challenging the racial power dynamics of white supremacy, Walker and Creative Time, in their naivety or arrogance, I don’t know which, simply made the Domino Sugar Factory a safe place for it. Thanks for nothing, Ms. Walker!
Days later, the We Are Here protest and my angry talk-back made a few articles, but the sad thing is that thousands of visitors are still seeing a sculpture that symbolizes the history of racial violence with no guidelines on how to interpret it. Among them are visitors of color, wanting to see this exhibit, who will face visitors mocking their history. Just the other day, a friend of mine saw it and texted me, “When I went, 2 white men stood arm and arm smiling for a “fb pic” with her backside in the background. I wanted to cry, scream and break their faces. It made me so sick.”
If visitors have the freedom to express their contempt for our history, we have the freedom to protest them. When we do, we let everyone know that unlike the mute Mammy sphinx, we can speak for ourselves.
Abortion clinic ‘buffer zones’ violate first amendment – supreme court
Justices side with seven Massachusetts anti-abortion protesters who said 35-foot buffer zone infringed on free speech.
Anti-abortion protestors celebrate the supreme court’s ruling striking down a Massachusetts law that mandated a protective buffer zone around abortion clinics. Photograph: Jim Bourg/Reuters
The US supreme court struck down a Massachusetts law ensuring a 35-foot protective “buffer zone” outside abortion clinics, ruling that it violated the first amendment by preventing the free speech of anti-abortion protesters.
In a unanimous decision, the court said the zone was too sweeping, intruding onto public sidewalks where free debate and leafletting traditionally take place.
The decision, which was relatively narrow, allows the state an opportunity to enact a new, less restrictive law. It did not overturn a previous supreme court decision in 2000, which upheld a buffer zone in Colorado.
The 2007 law was aimed at keeping protesters at least 35 feet from the entrance to prevent clashes between opponents and advocates of abortion rights that were occurring outside healthcare clinics.
“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” the court said.
The case was brought by seven Massachusetts petitioners, including Eleanor McCullen, 77, who have demonstrated for years outside the state’s three abortion facilities in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.
They argued they are not anti-abortion protesters but peaceful “sidewalk counsellors” who want the freedom to talk to women entering the clinic. The buffer zone violates their right to free speech, they said, and the supreme court agreed.
“It is no accident that public streets and sidewalks have developed as venues for the exchange of ideas,” the supreme court wrote in its opinion. “Even today, they remain one of the few places where a speaker can be confident that he is not simply preaching to the choir … In light of the First Amendment’s purpose ‘to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail …,’ this aspect of traditional public fora is a virtue, not a vice.”
The majority opinion notes that the law is exceptional – no other states have a law that creates fixed buffer zones around clinics.
“It does, however, raise concern that the Commonwealth has too readily forgone options that could serve its interests just as well, without substantially burdening the kind of speech in which petitioners wish to engage.”
The justices said that the state had failed to show that it had seriously undertaken less intrusive methods to deal with public safety concerns outside clinic, including injunctions against individuals causing problems.
Welcoming the ruling, Mark Rienzi, lead counsel in the case said: “Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks. That includes peaceful pro-lifers like Eleanor McCullen, who just wants to offer information and help to women who would like it. The supreme court has affirmed a critical freedom that has been an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding.”
In a statement, state attorney general Martha Coakley expressed disappointment.