Canadian musician Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, recently published an open letter taking on issues of sexism, objectification and other forms of behaviour the young artist frequently encounters that she rightfully considers disrespectful.
In the post she states, “I don’t want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction… I’m sad that my desire to be treated as an equal and as a human being is interpreted as hatred of men, rather than a request to be included and respected.”
“I’m tired of being referred to as ‘cute,’ as a ‘waif’ etc, even when the author, fan, friend, family member etc is being positive.”
Grimes may be right in standing up to those who have X’d a fine L by defining her own boundaries and fighting for the respect she deserves in a male-centric, band-dominated industry but sadly, her statement and experiences are not the first, nor will they likely be the last, of their kind.
Other musicians have previously spoken out in a similar fashion yet often remain largely ignored, and while setting your own standards of acceptable conduct may be personally empowering, it can sometimes leave you struggling against the tide. Let’s just check in and remind ourselves that, while there are plenty of people saying many great things, not a whole lot is going to change unless these words are taken to heart.
Tegan & Sara – A Call For Change (2011)
Among their fans, Canadian indie twin duo Tegan and Sara are as well known for their activism as they are their music. When in 2011 controversial rapper Tyler, The Creator release his album, Goblin, Sara took it upon herself to speak out against the album’s often inflammatory material.
Although critical acclaim quickly overshadowed the record’s potentially offensive nature, Sara willingly and publicly questioned what she felt was misogynistic content being given a free pass by the media, the public and her peers:
“As journalists and colleagues defend, excuse and congratulate ‘Tyler, the Creator,’ I find it impossible not to comment. In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook and find deeper meaning in this kid’s sickening rhetoric? Why should I care about this music or its “brilliance” when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible?
“I’ve asked myself a thousand times why this is pushing me over the edge … Maybe it’s because my mom has spent her whole adult life working with teenage girls who were victims of sexual assault.
“Maybe it’s because in this case I don’t think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message but has EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message.”
Lauryn Hill – Ms. Lauryn Hill (2012)
Much has been made of Lauryn Hill since the adored artist seemingly turned her back on fame and fortunate following dizzying success of her 1998 solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But even in her absence from the charts Hill’s independent spirt has shone through.
In the wake of being charged with 3 counts of failure to file taxes from 2005 to 2007, Ms Hill published an official statement explaining her position. In the statement Hill revealed the life she left behind was not one glamour but rather a stifling industry that looked to control and objectify Hill for its own gain:
“I’ve seen people promote addiction, use sabotage, black listing, media bullying and any other coercion technique they could, to prevent artists from knowing their true value, or exercising their full power.
“I kept my life relatively simple, even after huge successes, but it became increasingly obvious that certain indulgences and privileges were expected to come at the expense of my free soul, free mind, and therefore my health and integrity.
“During this period of crisis, much was said about me, both slanted and inaccurate, by those who had become dependent on my creative force, yet unwilling to fully acknowledge the importance of my contribution, nor compensate me equitably for it.
“There were no exotic trips, no fleet of cars, just an all out war for safety, integrity, wholeness and health, without mistreatment denial, and/or exploitation.”
Deap Vally – Let’s Get Ready To Rumble (2013)
Deap Vally may be relatively new to the scene but that doesn’t mean the duo of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards are going to be told how to behave by a condescending music industry trying to prop up inequality.
In a short amount of time Deap Vally have become known for their wild energy, rocking tunes and embracing their sexuality but as the pair recently explained to NME, they have battled to define their own behaviour and standards at every turn, a struggle reflected in Deap Vally’s music:
“I think the majority of the songs are about female empowerment. A ‘fuck you’ to people who keep trying to put us in these boxes as people, as women, as musicians. A lot of the songs we’ve been writing are about people trying to tame us. They don’t want our music to be as heavy as it is, and there’s a lot of internal pressure from within the machine to change our music.”
“I didn’t even know how important it was until we entered this man’s world of men who are such smart geniuses, and we’re just weird native savage creatures that need to have things explained. I feel we’re patronised all the time.”
La Roux’s – On Joni Mitchell, Misogyny And Being ‘Bulletproof’ (2009)
In 2009 La Roux burst onto the scene behind their self-titled debut and wasted no time in shining a light on the negative gender stereotypes perpetuated by the music industry.
Singer Elly Jackson expressed her concern that an overly sexualised industry objectified women within music and pressured would-be female artists to fit a certain physical mould:
“The industry still retains a misogynist outlook and this means that young girls hoping to be singers or dancers know that they are only in with a chance if they look a certain way.
“At a certain point the decision to wear very little and get your boobs done becomes perceived as normal and the people doing it are people that kids look up to. It’s dangerous and the music industry has a lot to answer for.”