Summer Music Festivals Are Failing Women

In May, we shared a Pitchfork article that tracked the gender balance of artists at popular summer music festivals. If you’ve attended any of these events, the atrocious representation of women on stage comes as no surprise. Only 3 of the 19 events Pitchfork has been tracking since 2017 reached a 50/50 balance, and just 30% of the total acts included at least one woman or nonbinary person. While this is an improvement, it would be generous to even call the pace of progress slow. Says Pitchfork:

“Female representation has increased from 14 to 19 percent, while the percentage of groups with at least one female or non-binary member, held relatively steady at 11 percent. Of course, that still means that seven out of 10 artists on festival bills are men or all-male bands.”

 Gender Breakdown of Artists Across Festival Lineups charts
 Gender Breakdown of Artists Playing Various 2018 Festivals bar graph

So, if more than 50% of the festival-going audience is women but 70% of the artists on festival bills are men, what gives?

We decided to dig a little deeper to see who runs the show at these events, and Internet sleuthing confirmed our suspicions: of the 18 events we could find information for, only one was booked by a woman, and that festival reached gender parity.

It really does matter who is behind the scenes booking the talent and setting the tone, especially since music festivals are known to have a culture of pervasive harassment. A study conducted by OurMusicMyBody, revealed that a jaw-dropping 92% of women surveyed experienced harassment at a live music event:

“For the 92 percent of females who said they had been harassed in music spaces, the incidents included experiences of spoken harassment, groping, sexual gestures, stalking, being yelled at and being photographed or videoed without permission. Thirty-one percent of male fans experienced both physical and nonphysical harassment, according to the survey, and 60 percent of transgender attendees reported physical homophobic or transphobic violence.”

With complaints of festival circuit bloat, overlapping headliners, and an increasingly unwelcome environment for many fans, it’s high time for a change.

It’s a proven fact that having women in leadership positions improves corporate culture for all employees, so perhaps this logic can be applied to live music events by ensuring that women are present as both producers and performers.

There is little evidence that those currently holding the reins even prioritize diversity, though. When one of the worst offenders, Forecastle, was put on the spot to answer for its lopsided lineup, VP of Booking Bryan Benson responded with some vague excuses:

"We understand the criticisms and certainly appreciate the dialogue… We tried, we really did. We sure wish we had more (female artists), but it just didn't work out the way we necessarily wanted in that regard." We sure do, too.

On the bright side, more artists and industry professionals are raising their voices and taking action. Artist Lily Allen called out the Wireless Festival when she shared this promo lineup image doctored to show only the women artists (3 out of 37 at the time).

 
 

More than 100 music festivals have committed to gender parity in the coming years by joining Keychange, “a pioneering international initiative which empowers women to transform the future of music and encourages festivals to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022”. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, none of worst offenders flagged by Pitchfork have joined the 5 US-based festivals that have signed on so far.

It’s time for the rest of the music business to catch up and leave the bro culture behind by genuinely supporting women artists and professionals.

Emily Haines of the band Metric summed it up nicely (emphasis is ours):

There has been a massive shift in consciousness about the way we perceive women’s value and what we’ll accept as women. I realized, because of the time that we came up, I never saw an option other than putting blinders on and carving out my own reality… [but] it’s a new time for audiences. Music is different. Women are different.