Written by special guest blogger Holli Porreca.
A few weeks ago, an article called “Warped Tour’s Women Problem” kept showing up in my inbox attached to messages from friends asking what I had to say about it. For anyone who missed it, the article addresses the lack of females on the Warped Tour and is very supportive of the Shiragirl Stage, which I have been a part of since 2005, but the article also implies that one our greatest supporters, Kevin Lyman, is a key player in “the problem”, which was very upsetting to the entire Shiragirl camp. Since the article seemed to be related to the announcement of the Shiragirl Stage’s return to the Warped Tour, we felt that we should clarify a few things regarding the Shiragirl Stage, it’s role on the tour, and gender inequality in rock and roll on and off the Warped Tour.
There aren’t enough women playing on the Warped Tour. I haven’t done any headcounts myself but the statistic stated in the article that 53% of the Warped audience is female while only 6% of the people on stage are female sounds accurate. (Did our stage’s line up tilt that scale just a little bit?) That being said, the first thing I thought when I looked at Warped Tour’s line up on their website was “Look at all the girls!!”. When the Shiragirl Stage first crashed the Warped Tour in 2004, there were practically no women on the stages but according to the statistics I read in “Warped Tour’s Women Problem”, 20% of the bands on the tour now have at least one female in the band. I like to think the Shiragirl Stage had something to do with that. Before us, women like Agent M from Tsunami Bomb and Cinder Block from Tilt proved they were tough enough to hang with the boys in their punk rock club and there is a lot to be said for that, but Warped was and still is a boy’s club. A lot of people don’t really understand why the all-female stage needs to be separate from the others when there is female representation on some of the other stages and it is my hope that this article will shed some light on that.
If you ask anyone who attends or works on the Warped Tour if they think that more men deserve to be on stage than women, the response would most likely be “no”. Bands are absolutely chosen for the tour based on their own merits and every band who was selected to play the Warped Tour deserves to be there as much as the next, regardless of gender. People who have taken notice of the lack of women playing on the tour may be quick to blame the people who book the talent, but it’s not that simple. I will cite the dialogue between the author of “Warped Tour’s Women Problem” and Kevin Lyman where he states there are plenty of women on the tour and asks who is missing. There are 100 bands on the Warped Tour and the list of bands who weren’t chosen to play, be they male, female, transgendered, black, Hispanic, handicapped, or elderly could go on forever. But the list of headliners or even strong support acts who sell tickets to the festival is much shorter. The tour has to sell tickets to make enough money to support the up-and-coming bands and it’s not Warped Tour’s fault there are so few female fronted or all-female headliners. So whose fault is it? Let’s talk about that…
I invite you, the reader, to express your opinions as to why there appear to be less females in rock bands, but here are a few things the average music fan may not realize about the workings of the entertainment industry:
Talent alone does not correlate to fame, ticket sales or financial success. It is a combination of a good product (talent) and a good promotional team. I can’t tell you how many of female artists I have worked with who have had their albums overlooked because Avril Lavigne or Paramore or No Doubt just came out with a new record the promotional team did not feel that pushing 2 female-fronted rock bands at the same time would be successful. If you turn on your local rock radio station, the odds of hearing 2 female-fronted bands back to back are almost non-existent. A few years ago the statistic was that a female-fronted rock band was played on rock radio about once an hour and I have not seen any updated statistic since. At the end of the day, managers and record labels invest in artists they think you like, radio stations play what they think you want to hear, media outlets plug who they think you want to read about and festivals book acts they think you want to see. The question is why do they think you, the audience, is significantly more interested in male artists than females? Do you only want to hear women on the radio about once an hour? Do you only want to see a few women on stage? And if so, why?
There is a really great documentary available on Netflix right now called “Miss Representation” that discusses female representation in the media and the effect is has on our culture. In the film actress and feminist Gina Davis talks about a meeting she sat in on where TV executives were pitched a second station for women in addition to Lifetime. The executives said this station would not be viable because women can be interested in television that is targeted toward men but men would not be interested in women’s television. Gina Davis remarks “this is a very dangerous assumption that half of the population is not concerned with the other half.” And this is a socially acceptable assumption in the year 2014!
This isn’t the 1950s anymore when it was socially acceptable for husbands to spank their wives when they spend too much of their allowance, but sexism absolutely still exists today. It’s just less obvious. Most people don’t consciously believe that men are genetically predisposed to being better at playing drums or guitar. All they know is that they see fewer women doing it. The general audience may or may not believe that they want to see less women on stage, but we are culturally sublimated as Americans to be more judgmental and less supportive and accepting toward women in positions of authority- CEOs, President of the USA, super heroes in films, main characters of television programs, and rock stars. Consciously, most people know that women are fully capable of assuming all of the same roles as their male counterparts, but subconsciously we are still a novelty.
It is not sexist to observe or even state that women are different than men and some observations are safer than others to make. It is when assumptions and sublimations are stated as truth and these statements imply things like worth and legitimacy that these “observations” are derogatory and sexist.
In conclusion, why do we at the Shiragirl Stage think that women should have their own stage on Warped Tour? We don’t. We think women should be better represented on the tour and in the music industry alone, but since they aren’t, we are doing what we can on the Warped Tour. And whose “fault” is it that the number of women on the stages at Warped Tour is not reflective of the number of women in the audience? It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s everyone’s problem and it will get better when we all start taking responsibility for it. And, finally, what’s the solution? Simply by being parked in the venue or being shared on someone’s Facebook wall, the Shiragirl Stage generates countless dialogues about gender issues. Sometimes just saying something out loud that you always sort of thought but never intellectualized and only to realize “That actually sounds kind of stupid now that I think about it” can be a meaningful learning experience. Dialogue is the first step to solving any social issue.
Whether the Warped Tour audience believes that women should have our own stage or not, the Shiragirl Stage’s presence alone on the Warped Tour sublimates its own message that women belong here, that we deserve a place there and that the Warped Tour community as a whole supports female artists. I love my stage, the work we do and all the bands who play on it every day, but I hope that in time that we won’t need an all-female stage.