Last year, there was a campaign by Crack in the Road. They took that year’s major UK festival lineup posters and removed any all-male bands, leaving just a tiny minority of female-inclusive bands. This year, Emily Eavis stated that there would be a lineup “strong on women” at Glastonbury Festival 2016. If anything shows that the issue of gender bias is getting into the mainstream, it’s this, but what has Glastonbury Festival’s gender bias looked like over the years?
Glastonbury Festival is one of the most diverse festivals in the world, so surely they must represent the forefront of equality in music? I took a look at the gender balance in the artists playing Glastonbury to examine Glastonbury Festival’s gender bias issue.
Glastonbury Festival’s gender bias
I took lineup posters from Glastonbury in five-year intervals from 1995 to 2015 and applied the same criteria Crack in The Road did in their campaign to examine Glastonbury Festival’s gender bias. What’s really interesting is while the number of female-inclusive acts decreased from 2010-2015, the total number of female members of those bands increased. This suggests that the women playing Glastonbury Festival are clustering together more. Maybe this is a backlash against the fact that it is still way more difficult to be successful in the music industry as a woman, especially for women who are instrumentalists rather than vocalists.
Recently, I have noticed a few examples of female artists who are really drawing attention to the issue of gender bias and trying to address it. Savages defy the expectations of what women in music usually look and sound like. They play punk rock, an otherwise male-dominated genre, and look and dress very differently to a lot of women in music. Savages generally wear monochrome clothing, which is somewhat different to the colourful and revealing dress most female pop artists adopt.
BBC show ‘Whatever Happened to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ featured Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth talking about the issue of sexism in music and the assumptions made of all-female bands. She said: “The easy thing people assume of us, because we’re a band of women, is that we’re a feminist band.” Given that all-female bands are still so rare, maybe people assume they must be making a statement about feminism.
Whether or not you like her music, you have to respect Charli XCX, a pop singer/songwriter who is very successful with her own music and writes for other artists. Since playing Glastonbury Festival last year with her all-female band, she has used her success to increase awareness around the issue of gender bias, presenting ‘The F Word and Me’, a documentary about being a woman in music.
Women occupy higher profile slots
Another example is Adele, who has achieved enormous fame, wealth and this year became the first female to be booked to headline Glastonbury Festival this century. So even if the number of women at Glastonbury this year has not significantly increased, they do seem to be occupying higher profile slots. This is a step forward for Glastonbury Festival’s gender bias.
It starts to look like the music industry is such a sexist place that it does not include enough women to make a natural change in its gender equality. However, tables are slowly beginning to turn: there has been a small increase in female artists at Glastonbury in recent years and more people are talking about the issue and beginning to take action on it.
The pace of change could increase due to the efforts of people like Emily Eavis, but it’s hard to imagine it would be that easy, otherwise why has it not happened already? More likely, the change will need support from bigger institutions. If female musicians are being put off music as a career because it is so hard to be a success, then maybe there needs to be more encouragement at an educational level. It’s this kind of grassroots action that could make the real difference to the music industry’s gender balance.
In the near-future, Glastonbury Festival will probably see changes similar to those of the past 6 years, thanks to awareness-raising by a combination of strong female role models (Savages, Charli XCX and Adele), Crack in The Road’s festival posters and media discussion of the issue of gender bias in music. Once there are sufficient numbers of women in music, this change should become self-sustaining because of the perception of better gender equality in music, and the change may even accelerate.
What about Glastonbury Festival 2016?
Since starting this article, the initial lineup poster for Glastonbury 2016 has been released and Crack in The Road have again removed the all-male bands, showing a still considerable minority of female-inclusive acts. There has been a slight increase since last year, but a closer examination shows the bands listed containing more women overall. So there is a bigger increase in female presence at Glastonbury this year than is immediately obvious.
Let’s hope that if we revisit this subject in another 10 years, the gender bias in music will be much less of an issue that it still is today.