Recently I ran into local musicians Raine Hamilton and Rayannah at Thom Bargen and we discussed all the women releasing albums in May. It seemed like a great idea to get everyone together at Munson Park and talk about music and being women in the scene in Winnipeg. Raine, Ray, Carly Dow, Basic Nature, and I spent an afternoon in the sunlight and had a lovely and productive discussion about music and equality. It all began with one question:
How does it feel being a woman in the current Winnipeg music scene?
Rayannah: I think we’re at a very interesting time for women in Winnipeg’s music scene because I see the discrepancy mostly in our industry, and less on the musician’s side of things, although though there is certainly a discrepancy. But here we are, a bunch of women in one month all releasing music and doing really cool things. The place where I actually see the discrepancy is in the people who hold power in the industry in the province, particularly in organizations. Though that is shifting, not to say that someone who identifies as a man can’t be an ally of course. I feel like there is an education that is just starting to happen now. There were many years where that education wasn’t there. In terms of bookers and venue owners, it’s just so refreshing when I go to other cities where I deal with more women on the road than men. That still isn’t really a possibility here, and that’s where I feel the resistance the most. Not so much with my colleagues and peers doing awesome things, more so with the industry itself.
Carly Dow: I feel like it is really a supportive community here in Winnipeg. It’s so small but it’s thriving, and people are not competitive in a negative way. It’s just a really welcoming community and super supportive. It’s interesting with the discussion of women in music and of women doing specific things. I appreciate the inspiration it can allow for younger folks, or anyone that wants to do something like this. On the other hand, we’re just musicians. We don’t have to talk about being women. We’re really kick ass musicians and we don’t have to be segregated as ‘women musicians.’ I think that is something to keep in mind. I always have a strange feeling about people saying, ‘Oh you’re the solo female songwriter. We’re going to fit you in our slot at the festival because you fit that exact slot.’ And it’s like, ‘how bout you hire me ‘cause you like my music not because there is that one little thing that you need to satisfy in your festival listing.’ It’s an interesting balance of being proud of being a woman and being strong and hoping to inspire other people, but also we’re all just doing what we love.
Lyzie Burt: One thing that I have been feeling for awhile now is that there is the potential that there might be a huge tip of the scale where everything is focused on women, women, women. Which obviously isn’t the best thing because it’s still not equaled coverage. But it might be necessary. It puts that weird feeling inside, where you feel like there is going to be a lot of acknowledgement for your sex, whatever sex you are, if you’re not a man playing music or other things too. There is going to be over acknowledgment for little while until everything sort of equals out.
Claire Bones: I feel that. There have been a lot of articles in the local newspapers and media about female musicians. I’ve been talking to some of my guy friends, and some of them are almost worried about it. I had some of the same ideas (as Lyzie) and some of them were like, ‘This is going to get blown out of proportion – it’s totally insensitive.’ They are concerned that it will become just dominated by females. I don’t think that will happen – we will gain the recognition then it will balance out. Like don’t worry, if that is what you worry about. Jerk. Haha! I kinda want to know what some men feel about it… Just recently I have been getting to know more female musicians for some reason. I don’t know why that is. I don’t think it is because of everyone talking about it, but I have just played with a lot of men.
Selci: There are just so many dudes! When I was growing up in high school I didn’t think I could be in a band for a long time because I was a girl and I didn’t have other girls to play with. Then once I realized I could be in a band, most of my players were dudes. That’s how it goes because there is an unbalanced ratio. I think for a long time a lot of young girls didn’t think they could be in bands, and they weren’t in their high school bands with all the guys. Now we’re like, ‘Okay, yes, we can be in the bands.’ That’s what’s awesome about talking about this stuff ‘cause we can inspire the younger generation. Maybe in the next generation there will be a ton of lady musicians and it will balance out.
LB: With a lot of the talk, it feels like there has been an explosion of female awareness.
CD: Yes, on social media there is a lot of discussion about empowerment and equality.
LZ: I think that it is giving a lot of inspiration. It’s definitely given me a confidence booster – like yes, I am a woman and I’m proud to be a woman, and I’m going to fucking play music ‘because that’s what I like doing. I hope other people feel the same way.
S:I am definitely inspired by the women around me, it helps drive me and I feel supported.
R: I am also prepared to deal with more sexist incidences that take place in my career. Carly, Beth, and I spend a lot of time together, along with some other friends of ours. We have had tons of discussions about things that have happened to us. I have a lot of other really close female friends in the industry, and things are still happening that should not be happening. I think that is why there is so much coverage in the media because a lot of really good stuff is happening but also because bad stuff has to stop happening. It is an environment where we have to make decisions about how to react to these things on the job, no one is going to do it for us. So having the support network to contact each other and ask, ‘Was this unfair? What should I do about this, or should I do something about this?’ I feel a lot stronger having these interactions and conversations and when things do happen I don’t have that sense of doubt in myself. ‘I know I am allowed to be here just like anyone else and I know what I’m doing, so actually you can’t talk to me like that,’ or whatever the situation might be, and that is a big change I think. At lest for me it has been a really big thing to feel that strength.
LB: I’ts nice to be able to talk about that. I think about this stuff and there is all sorts of ways of thinking about it and it’s just nice to talk to other women.
CB: Are there ever instances where you feel that kind of thing is happening and you wonder, is it because I am a woman or does everyone get treated that way? ‘Cause sometimes I wonder, ‘Is this person treating me this way because I am a woman, or is it just how they treat people?’ Mostly when it comes to information about music or technical stuff.
Everyone: It ‘s always the gear!!! [Laughter]
CB: Yes, most often to do with gear. I don’t know how to differentiate sometimes. I guess just go with your gut.
CD: Sometimes people are just dicks, and other times they’re sexist.
S: I guess it can be hard to differentiate. There are sometimes where I just have that feeling in the pit of my stomach. One minute you’re treating me all cute like ‘Let me do this for you,’ then the moment that I say that I can do it myself and then I’ve proven so, they treat me with respect only after I’ve shown them that I know what I am doing. I always find that kind of funny, that you’re not just going to treat me with respect right off the hop, I need to show you that I know how to plug in a cable, or whatever.
C: ‘Cause I don’t want to assume and be like, ‘You’re talking to me this way,’ and they’re like, ‘No no no.’
S: And I am sure if you called someone out for being sexist, most likely they’d be like, ‘No, I believe in equality. Of course I don’t think that.’ But a lot of it is unconscious social conditioning.
LB: Also, what about women who are playing that don’t really know what they are doing? ‘Cause I know I have played shows where I do need some help.
S: That shouldn’t matter either.
CD: It’s the same with men though.
R: Yeah, there are tons of dudes that don’t know what they’re doing. Why is it that they get to not know what they’re doing, but the moment that we don’t know what we’re doing it’s like ‘Oh honey?’ How bout you just show me and then I’ll know.
S: It goes back to the equality thing. I am going to be treated slightly differently than a male that would be in the same position. Eventually, hopefully, you’re just going to treat me the same and there wont be like patronizing comments, like . . .
RH: ‘Oh, you’ve done this before? Shocking!’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been doing this for ten years’ . . . So I have one more thought to add about women in the industry and finding belonging and finding safety for all people. I think that it’s a true statement that the music industry and the world in general is a less safe place for women, female identified, and non-binary people. I just think the community can do a lot to prioritize the safety and well being of people. I am impressed with efforts like The Goodwill’s house rules, and I think those are excellent. I would like to see that be more widely spread. I wonder if there is a way to share that, or to establish that [on an individual basis] as artists.
LB: At some shows there are also people who wear pink bandannas.
R: At Cootie Club*shows.
RH: I’m impressed by initiatives like that. I guess I would like to see acknowledgment of these problems, and steps taken. I wonder what I can do as an artist. Maybe it is possible to do something like make policies for your own shows. If I am doing a show, then there could be a policy, or a code of conduct of what is expected. It would be cool if there was some sort of movement that we could point to as artists and say, ‘This show is a _____ kind of show. This is what happens here.’
S: Maybe there is something we could stamp on an event page?
R: I think something that could make sense is, because the Cootie Club has already put in so much thought and started this kinds of understandings, we could just join up with them? They already have a write up and a mission, so it’s just a matter of making sure that’s accessible and linking to that somehow.
It’s safe to say that we hope to go forward with this initiative. The issue of equality is less about putting a heavy focus on the gender of a musician and more about how people are treated. Initiatives like The Cootie Club can prevent risks and strengthen response to unfavorable situations. We need to be aware that incidents still happen.
I shared with the girls that 3 weeks ago I was roofied at my own show and luckily I had friends around to take care of me. I stress this occurrence and want to share it because it is something that is easily forgotten about. Proper precautions are forgotten because we don’t think it happens at the shows that we go to. But it can. We need to keep sharing our stories to continue to improve the society that we live in.