Shifting the Gaze: Why talking about women in music is as important as ever

WXPN's The Key
February 2, 2016

“The days of going to shows that feature no women and no trans artists, that feature all male lineups, is over,” says Camae Ayewa. The experimental Philly musician at the head of Moor Mother Goddess has seen the scene evolve since she co-founded the all-inclusive ROCKERS! concert series in 2005. But, she says, “We have a long way to go.”

Tomorrow night, Ayewa is one of the panelists at UPenn’s Kelly Writers House for Shifting the Gaze: Women in Music, a roundtable examination of an industry that has historically been an exclusionary boys’ club. In a sense, women are more prominent in the music sphere than ever before, from top bill artists St. Vincent and Grimes to a plethora of emerging acts like All Dogs and Cayetana. Last year, Portland power trio Sleater-Kinney went on a reunion tour and released the album No Cities to Love - both were rallied around at a near-universal degree.

So, why do we still need to talk about women in music in 2016? As if on cue, a high-power music industry publicist stepped down from his post last week after a series of women, beginning with Amber Coffman of Dirty Projecters, shared their stories of his alleged sexual misconduct towards them. The playing field evidently isn’t so equal after all.

“I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to women being able to speak out about this kind of stuff,” says Cynthia Schemmer. “But then, no we haven’t.”

Schemmer is a journalist who reports on music for Impose (among other media outlets) and edits the guitar magazine She Shreds. She’ll moderate the Shifting the Gaze panel tomorrow night, and explains that there are still obstacles women face, particularly in music.

“For a long time, we worked for visibility,” Schemmer says. “And now we’re there. We have the visibility, we’re out there. Nobody can say women don’t play music. Now it’s stuff like this – women are still being assaulted by [men in the industry]. And they’re scared to speak up, it’s basically their career on the line. How can we change this?”

UPenn sophomore Amanda Silberling organized Shifting the Gaze in part to address questions like this – she’s a self-described music nerd, a passionate fan and contributing writer for local site Rock On Philly – but she also looks to bring a variety of perspectives to the table. Dialogue about women in music often focuses around indie rock and punk, which is only part of the story.

Read the full article here.