CW: Sexual Violence, Misogyny
It’s no secret that since its inception the entertainment industry has not been kind to women. Everyone knows the caricature of the 1950s era executive who, cigar in mouth, asks a nervous young woman if she wants to be a star. As much as we’d like to think that this was a symptom of the times and not of a toxic and heavily patriarchal industry, anecdotes and statements from musicians and women who work in entertainment tell us that these abuses of powers are still far too common. The Kesha v. Dr. Luke lawsuit is just one of many examples showing that sexism is not just alive and well but thriving in today’s mainstream music industry. As if it weren’t bad enough that these abuses happen behind the scenes, there’s also plenty of footage of female performers being groped if they wander too close to their so-called fans.
It’s easy to just explain this away as a symptom of popular culture. But there is still an insidious sexism lurking in the indie scene, which brings us to Alvvays’s recent performance in Belgium where, towards the end of “Party Police,” a young man runs onstage and tries to kiss lead singer Molly Rankin on the cheek.
It’s moments like these where everyone needs to step back and ask how a man arrived at the conclusion that his actions would be acceptable. It would be trivial to write this off as a character flaw, and say this guy did a bad thing because he’s a bad guy. You know the mantra: other people aren’t bad, so this won’t happen again. However, it only takes a cursory glance over the comments sections on Facebook, Reddit and YouTube posts about female musicians to understand that this is a problem that has lurked in the indie community for years and is far larger than this one event.
“Marry Me, Molly,” cries the indie boy from behind his keyboard, adding his voice to a cacophony of identical comments that litter the bottom section of Alvvays’s music videos. This push to conform to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque muse archetype fosters a harmful relationship between male fans and female musicians. These comments are mentally justified as a show of admiration for the artist. In reality, it only serves to reduce a human being, an artist, to a fantasy for her male listener. Simultaneously, it can foster a sense of guilt in the artist, a favorite tactic employed by the nice guy. It’s harmful behavior and should not be ignored, especially by a scene that prides itself on its “woke”-ness.
While there is a similar language thrown around about male musicians, it simply does not dominate every facet of the discussion about these male artists in the same way it does for women. Beyond that, because there exists an imbalance of power in society’s idea of a relationship between a man and a woman, there isn’t that same sense of reduction of the artist when the language is applied to a male. We should be aware enough of our words to avoid perpetuating these dynamics through our favorite musicians.
This guilt-inducing view of musicians is not unique to Alvvays; nearly all female musicians are confronted with this manipulative, gaslight-esque “I love you” treatment. As I stood in the crowd of a Julien Baker concert, a man shouted “I love you Julien!” to a smattering of applause. Julien responded quickly; “No you don’t, but maybe I’d like you if I met you.”
Written by Walker Spence