TGTF Guide to SXSW 2016: Feminism at this year’s festival’s forefront

By on Friday, 4th March 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo: Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, courtesy of PAHF

Sexism in music is hardly a new phenomenon. Female musicians have literally been fighting it for centuries, going back to the dawn of Western music. In those early times, female performers were often banned from churches or any public musical productions. Women who did perform were unfairly objectified or viewed as sexually promiscuous and morally depraved. By force of centuries-old habit, those attitudes have prevailed into modern times, manifesting themselves in more subtle but equally pervasive ways.

With the outbreak of controversy surrounding #Gamergate, sexism and misogyny in the online gaming community came to the forefront of our awareness in 2015. Along with it came renewed and often heated discussion of sexism and misogyny in the music industry. Artists like Bjork, Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis and CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry have jumped into the fray, along with major music publications both in North America and the UK, universally sounding off against the marginalisation of women in music.

Jessica Hopper

Jessica Hopper, courtesy of Featherproof Books

Despite the cancellation of two previously scheduled Interactive Conference sessions addressing misogyny and harassment, the organizers at SXSW have responded resoundingly to the ongoing debate in their Music Festival and Conference programming. Former SXSW showcasing artist Dupuis will appear this year as a panelist on the Wednesday 16th March Conference track Representations of Women in Music Media, which will attempt to analyze present and future portrayals of women in music. And on Thursday 17th March, one of 2016’s most highly anticipated panels will feature an interview with former Pitchfork editor and music critic Jessica Hopper.  Last year, Hopper published her second book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, then burst the sexism conversation wide open on Twitter with a call for stories of marginalisation within music and music journalism.

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo, courtesy of her Facebook

Recognising that marginalisation in the music industry isn’t limited to sex or gender, Feeling Ourselves? – Black Girl Power in Music (Wednesday 16th March) promises to address issues of both racism and sexism in music. In the same vein, another noteworthy panel choice on Friday the 18th of March is an open interview with world music artist and human rights advocate Angelique Kidjo. Hosted by NPR correspondent and music critic Ann Powers, the discussion will no doubt touch on issues related to feminism, racism, and intersectionality in music. More information on Powers’ scheduled interview with Kidjo can be found here.

Women in the music business are encouraged to pave their own paths in a Thursday 17th March panel titled She Who Goes First Sets the Rules – Women Innovators. By contrast, Business Rules for Women: Entertainment & Media on Friday 18th March seems on first glance to take a slight step backwards, as it implies a separate code of ethics and conduct for those of the feminine persuasion. Nevertheless, both panel discussions make a concerted effort to shift the traditionally male-dominant perspective and invite female participation on the commercial side of the music industry.

Loretta Lynn internal

Loretta Lynn, photo by David McClister

In terms of showcasing artists, the Music Festival has the potential to propel the feminist dialogue even further forward. Legendary country artist Loretta Lynn has been announced as a showcasing performer, which might not seem immediately relevant until you consider that Lynn has been an outspoken feminist in her music dating back to the 1960s. Songs like ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’ and ‘The Pill’, not to mention ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, placed Lynn squarely in the center of the feminist conversation, whether she initially intended it or not, and the subject matter of those songs is no less germane in 2016. Lynn’s upcoming new album ‘Full Circle’ will contain both revised versions of past hits and a few newly composed songs, including ‘Everything It Takes’, recorded as a duet with Elvis Costello. The new single continues Lynn’s established predilection for writing songs with empowered female characters, and Lynn herself described the new single in a recent interview with Rolling Stone as a “woman song—something more for a woman.”

Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep, courtesy of their Facebook

We here at TGTF already have our eyes and ears on a host of outstanding female artists from the UK who will be heading to SXSW this year. Among them, Liverpool dream pop trio Stealing Sheep, will make their first appearance in Austin with funding from the PRs for Music Foundation on the strength of their album ‘Not Real’ (reviewed here last spring). New TGTF writer Rebecca has already penned a Bands to Watch feature on up-and-coming female acts Abjects and The Big Moon (the latter of whom have unfortunately cancelled their SXSW appearance since publication).  Additionally, our continuing preview coverage of SXSW 2016 showcasing artists will soon feature singer/songwriters Jane Weaver and Holly Macve. Having touched on the issue of feminism several times last year in my own reviews of music by Esmé Patterson, Warpaint’s Jenny Lee Lindberg and the aforementioned CHVRCHES, I am particularly keen to observe and contribute to the discourse at this year’s SXSW.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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