Photo by Angel Ceballos
Why isn't Vice's review of Grass Widow’s new record by Thomas Morton funny? If you didn’t see it:
I'm a great procrastinator. I've doddled around for a month carrying a noncommittal mental list of topics I could write about for Impose, and dodged pen, paper, and word processor for weeks, self-consciously avoiding a confrontation with my rusty writing skills. This stopped about a week ago after reading this review. I was angry, a little worried, and surprised at the small amount of backlash created by sentiments that I found sort of shocking.
I know that humor was the goal. The sobering effect of the article for me was that it shows how this weird body-focused perception of women's work is still common enough that many people don't realize Morton's comments are not just mildly irritating in an ironic humorous way. I can only give the benefit of a doubt to the author and editor of the review. I suppose that they are ignorantly oblivious to the fact that women don't need another article highlighting their "breasts and asses" as the best thing they've got going on, and that many women already spend a great deal of energy fending off the perception that their work is not up to the standards or equal in depth to that of men. It's not a joke. It's a sucker punch. It's worse than being invisible.
This all seems so obvious to me now, but articulating what's wrong about the review still feels a little like trying to describe something seen from the corner of your eye--illusive, annoying, and only possible if one relies on their gut instinct. I wonder if feminism has always felt this way? However many waves we are in now, it feels vague to me. What got me writing was the need to figure out my feelings about this article and to be able to explain my frustrations. Ultimately, my findings were that the unequal treatment of women is not a vague topic at all. It's just taken for granted in the wake of a whole lot of progress that I feel extremely grateful for.
I've heard before, and was reminded when debating with a musician friend of mine, that some worry that highlighting the inequity between male and female musicians only makes the situation worse. They feel that it is an antiquated problem and that to defend against it implies weakness and draws attention to differences (i.e. banishes one to the hellish Isle of Lilith Fair).
I agree that it is annoying to talk about "being a woman in music", and I'd rather not field that topic either. Especially in the context of an interview about my own music, because I don't want it to qualify or become a descriptor for my band. We need to be aware, though, that although things are better than they were in the past and there are more successful female musicians, doesn't mean that women playing music today are always valued for the same qualities as men or even treated with the same respect. In other words, let's say women have gained their "room of one's own". There is still a plaque on the door that says, "Ass and Titties Within!"
Sexism in the music business isn't something that has been crippling to me as a musician, but I DO notice it. It doesn't happen all the time, but I experience it in little things often enough: sound men condescending me, trying to adjust the settings on my amp without permission, messing with my pedal setup, and talking exclusively to my male bandmate; having my band constantly paired with and put on ill-fitting all "female-fronted" bills; or carrying equipment into a club and being stopped and asked by the door person if I'm on the list.
I'm not going to cry or quit, or even whine about my experiences. I only bring them up because these are things I've seen first hand that are evidence of an attitude about women in the field. It's an assumption of incompetence and lack of knowledge.
Jennifer's band, Deep Time, releases a new self-titled record on Hardly Art on July 10th, which they will then support with a massive US tour. Video for the single "Clouds" (by Hannah Lew of Grass Widow) and dates below.