Una Mullally: Cruel summer ahead with no female festival headliners
Too few women playing Ireland’s big music festivals – and too many excuses
Bananarama will be performing at Beatyard. Otherwise it’s an all-male line-up of festival headliners at Forbidden Fruit, Longitude, Body & Soul, Sea Sessions, Indiependence and Castlepalooza. Clearly there is something wrong. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Last week, a mild storm reflecting a major issue broke out online. The electronic music festival Higher Vision was called out for its lack of female acts. “Five stages and you have to look pretty hard/far down to see a woman on the Higher Vision bill,” music writer Niall “Nialler9” Byrne tweeted about the Louth festival. “It’s about encouragement and openness, not quotas. Any time this is brought up the men give excuses rather than seek to understand.”
Byrne’s points generated a conversation, which predictably revolved around a level of defensiveness that many men seem to automatically greet any attempt to highlight the invisibility of women in public arenas.
While the lack of women playing Higher Vision on St Patrick’s Day (which by all accounts was great) was stark, it’s certainly not unique. It’s not just about women on a line-up either; even where female artists feature on a line-up, they are rarely at the top of it.
Male-led actWeekndMumfordSleafordTom OdellDuke
While Beatyard’s headliners are male – Mark Ronson and Air – that festival seems to have a broader proportion of female representation, with acts such as Bananarama and Candi Staton playing just under the headliners. Electric Picnic’s line-up is announced this week.
Most of the arguments that attempt to shut down people when they just want to talk about why women are excluded can be found in a useful mocked-up bingo card called Female Conference Speaker Bingo, which can be applied to all aspects of female invisibility in public realms: “There aren’t enough qualified female speakers”; “We need big-name speakers, and few of those are women”; “You can’t kick out a male speaker just to fit a woman in there”; “Women never volunteer to present”; “The organisers just wanted to get the best speakers they could find”; and so on.
Those making these repetitive arguments and excuses often don’t realise that women have heard them so many times before, to the point that they are memes. They are also “tail end” arguments, rather than “source” arguments, in that they ignore the context within which the exclusion of women occurs. The marginalisation of women in arts programming is not a unique blip that happens in a vacuum – it is part of a much broader suite of exclusion, where men are first, more plentiful and more visible across most public arenas.
The impact of Waking The Feminists on the theatre world in Ireland showed that the arts world is uncomfortable with being exposed as the opposite to the egalitarian and progressive space it likes to claim. The worlds of arts programming and music festivals exist in the same broader context where women are consistently excluded from positions of power, from the biggest prizes, from the most high-profile slots.
Music festival bookers will say that there is no intention to exclude women, that there aren’t enough female acts, that gender doesn’t enter the decision-making process, that the onus is on women to put themselves forward. These are excuses, and none of them matter when the result is the same as an approach designed to exclude women would be. Whether the bias is unconscious or to the fore, when the result is the same, the problem is emerging from a similar source. Stop defending it and start listening.
If people are so sure of their “right on” credentials, then why not act to change something for the better, rather than maintain the conservative status quo?