Feminist Media Reader #19: Misogny in Music, an interview with Hannah from Girls Against

by - Friday, January 08, 2016

Welcome back to the first Feminist Media Reader for 2016! It's been a while since I've had the time to properly dedicate to this feature, but with the new year comes a new resolve, some little tweaks in regular features and a whole lot more motivation. Part of that is wanting to bring a little more feminist power to JLTW, sharing the stories of amazing young women doing great things. And what better way to start than with a cause close to my heart -a group of teens working together to create a safe space for women to enjoy live music. I caught up via email with the lovely Hannah to find out a little more about what Girls Against are doing to crack down on sexual harassment and misogyny.

For those who have never hear of you or your cause, can you give us an overview of who you are and what you do?
Girls Against is a campaign working to raise awareness of, and ultimately end, sexual harassment at gigs and concerts. Girls Against is made up of myself (Hannah), and my friends,Anni, Anna, Ava and Bea. We created the campaign after my experience of sexual harassment at a Peace gig in Glasgow, September 2015. Members of Peace shared the story and begged that fans do not attend their gigs if they will engage in that sort of behaviour. Many others then began to share their experiences, forcing us to acknowledge how widespread the problem is - hence leaving us compelled to do something about it. Hannah found that confiding in a stranger gave her the courage to speak more openly about her experience so we created Girls Against to give other victims a safe space to speak out and aid their recovery. We also want it to be known that we are here for all victims of sexual harassment, regardless of gender. We realise that men can be victims, trans people can be victims, and anyone else of any gender identity/expression.

Is this your first project as social activists or have you always been involved in feminist causes?
It's our first fully formed project however we've all been really vocal about social issues on our personal twitters and things like that. We (or just me really) like to think of ourselves as social activists haha!

Your campaign has been covered everywhere from the BBC to NME and picked up by numerous bands, what’s been the nicest message of support you’ve had so far? Who is on your dream list of supporters?
Oh gosh I'm not sure I'll be able to pin one down because they're all really great but there have been a couple that have sent the group chat crazy. The 1975 was a big deal for us because that's how we all met, Peace as well since they were the first big band to get on board. Kathleen Hanna followed us last night as well which was a huge deal since we all really admire her and she's such an inspiration.

Have you encountered any bands or people who have been critical of your campaign?
There's been no bands that have been critical of us but there have definitely been individuals that have criticised us. A couple of the comments sections on some news articles about us have turned into full on debates. We just shrug off anyone who criticises us generally because at the end of the day we're the teenagers changing the society we live in.

In your experience as music fans, are there particular gigs/types of music that you think have a particular issue with crowd misogyny? Hip-hop often gets a bad reputation for sexism but it appears to be an issue that affects all genres...
Yeah it happens in every genre. Perhaps it just presents itself in different way within each genre? We don't have any evidence on the matter so I can't really make a definitive comment but there's definitely sex issues in every genre of music there's no doubt about it.

How do you think women are represented in music generally? Are there any female artists that you admire particularly for their handling of gender issues?
There's so many strong women in music appearing now. We all really love Nicki Minaj and Ellie Rowsell from Wolf Alice. Not only is she the only girl in the band but she writes empowering lyrics and is fronting a band taking over ann industry and genre that is dominated by men.

I studied Music Journalism at university and did my dissertation about the lack of female writers in the music industry, where I found that most of my interviewees said they felt as if women weren’t encouraged to engage with music at a young enough age the same ways boys are, leading them to feel as if they ‘don’t belong’ in musical environments. Do you agree? What was your experience of music growing up?
Yeah definitely. Girls aren't encouraged to pick up electric guitars and drums at the time when the brain is so impressionable and it's easiest to learn. Also, probably due to the stereotypical gender roles, girls are encouraged into different areas of music. There's a lot more women in pop than there is indie and alternative music - not that there's anything wrong with female pop stars, who doesn't love a bit of pop music?

I know you’re all big Catfish and the Bottlemen fans and I applaud your determination to get them on board with Girls Against, but there’s no getting around the fact that they are a band who have been criticized in the past for misogyny and crudeness towards female fans (asking them to take their tops off, merch lists of sexual favour etc)…what do you make of this as fans?
Yeah their crowds are notorious for sexually harassing people so it was a huge goal of ours. After seeing the comments/ poster they made we're less sure about their support. It has definitely made me lose faith in them a little, particularly after seeing their comments afterwards. However, they are huge within their genre and the industry at the moment so it would be great to have them on board. It also offers them an opportunity to condemn what they've done in the past and of course we have to stop holding the people we admire on pedestals. We're a little conflicted about them now but their still a goal of ours to have the support from them.

You mentioned in an interview with NME that you think that the content of some bands lyrics can feed into the audiences minds and almost advocate misogyny, are there any bands in particular you think aren’t doing enough to limit lad culture?
Yeah definitely, I think the whole industry has to take responsibility. I'm not sure I could say that one band in particular isn't doing enough, partly because I can't actually think of any at the moment. Obviously, there are bands who are doing more than others but everyone needs to take responsibility and realise the position of power that they're in.

Social media seems to have really helped young women gain a voice and speak out about such issues – without it, you guys may not even have met! Do you think the internet has allowed women and gender issues to be taken more seriously?
Absolutely!! I'm the first to step up and say that the internet has made my life so much better. I've made my best best friends through twitter and I genuinely don't know where I'd be without it. Definitely, I think because it's involved people from across the country in a conversation that they wouldn't normally take part in but they have simply because it came up on their timeline. Also people who struggle to speak up in class about this kind of thing can sometimes find it easier to speak about it online.

You’re all doing such amazing things while still getting through school, what are your plans after you leave? Are you interested in careers in the music industry or are you looking to make this campaign your fulltime jobs?
Oh gosh I have no idea. I'll probably be the first to leave and go to university - i've actually just sent my applications off oooh. We're taking each day as it comes and half of us have no idea what we're going to be doing next week let alone in two years time. We're all really into music though so I think we'd all love to be involved in some way. The music industry has shaped us to the people we are today so we're not going to let it go. Whether or not we make the campaign our full time jobs is up in the air. It certainly warrants enough work to become our full time jobs but I think we're too interested in so many other things to make our living out of one campaign. One of us, if not all of us, will remain social activists in the future, however.

Girls Against is all about trying to eradicate sexual assault and unwelcome behaviour at gigs, what would you ultimately like to see happen in order to achieve this? What support or advice would you like to give people who find themselves in this unpleasant situation?

We're in the process of contacting venues to keep the discussion going between us and them. We wan to see learning how to spot and appropriately deal with sexual harassment a mandatory part of security guards' training. Every situation is different and so is every person so it all depends on a lot of variables. However, I would let as many people around me know as possible. Remove yourself from the situation if you don't feel confident to speak to anyone about it and contact us and we can see what we can do. If you feel confident enough however please tell the venue on the night as they may have CCTV so the perpetrator could be punished. At the moment this is the best way to deal with the issue however we are working on improving this.

Thanks Hannah! You can read more about Girls Against on Tumblr here

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