Tag Archives: Sexism

Prog goes Nigel Tufnel

Prog Magazine has attempted to compile a list of The 10 Sexiest Prog Songs. You can argue whether or not the songs chosen fit the theme or no, but this throwaway line did rather stick in the throat.

These days, of course, prog has got well sexed up with the proliferation of scantily clad females fronting acts such as Touchstone, Mostly Autumn, The Reasoning, Panic Room and beyond.

It’s hard to read that line without it coming over as gross, sexist and a little bit creepy. The implication is to reduce talented musicians and songwriters to eye-candy for male audiences. The frontwomen of the bands mentioned above deserve better.

It does make you wonder if the author of that article has ever seen the likes of Touchstone or Panic Room live. Checking the byline, it’s by someone who’s definitely been seen at their gigs, and really ought to know better.

As one regular commenter to this blog said on another forum:

If he thinks those people are scantily clad, he clearly doesn’t get out enough. He should come and walk round Newcastle on a Friday night.

Quite.

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Radio Men and Motors

XFM, which always was Radio NME, has decided to dumb itself down, rebranding itself as “Radio X” recruiting former Radio One DJ Chris Moyles to become a “male-focussed entertainment brand“.

Alexis Petridis’ one-star review of also-rans The Pigeon Detectives famously described them as “Not so much ITV indie and Granada Men & Motors indie. With the talk of “New car smell” and “Great Britain needs great banter”, this is Men & Motors radio.

As for “fresh music”, with a playlist including Kasabian and Noel sodding Gallagher, who do you think are you kidding? This is the musical equivalent of stale socks, lowest common denominator landfill music for people who think Later With Jools Holland is far too edgy and alternative.

I know it’s unsporting to wish failure on any business endeavour, but this one needs to crash and burn for the sake of our nations’ culture. As my good friend HippyDave said on Twitter, Kill it! Kill it with fire!

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The case against Tim Hunt unravels.

Along with an awful lot of other people, I owe Sir Tim Hunt an apology. I’d previously said he was guilty of misjudged tone-deaf comments that, while not a sacking offense, were deserving of ridicule. Now it’s looking as though the accusations against him were false. He’s been completely exonerated by Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society. As reported in The Times.

Connie St Louis, the journalist who gave her version of Sir Tim’s toast, to a lunch for women in science last month, described the horror with which his demeaning of women in science was received. “There was a deathly silence,” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . these guys are incredibly upset. And so after he’d finished, there was just this deathly, deathly silence.”

That did sound bad. And Ms St Louis drove home her point on BBC television. “It was a room of about a hundred people.” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . everybody was stony-faced.”

That would rightly cause a storm if any of it were true. Except it wasn’t. As more evidence has come to light it’s become clear that no only were Sir Tim Hunt’s comments taken so out of context that their meaning was completely reversed, but the “deathly, deathly silence” was completely false.

While we’re seeing a lot of justified criticism of Twitter mobs made up of people who didn’t bother to check facts before piling in on an issue that fits their chosen narrative, I think a lot of Tim Hunt’s early accusers deserve some slack. The initial accusation came from someone holding the post of Professor of Science Journalism at City University in London, who ought to have been a reputable source. The fact that this person behaved in the manner that resembles the amoral hacks from celebrity gossip scandal sheets does leave City University with serious questions to answer.

These sorts of public witch-hunts achieve nothing when it comes to reducing the amount of sexism and racism in the world. If anything they have the opposite effect, by empowering the worst bigots on the opposing side. Look how Requires Hate has boosted the standing of Vox Day. I do sometimes hear the argument that it’s necessary to destroy the careers and reputations of innocent people “‘pour encourager les autres”, but I for one utterly reject that as totalitarian garbage.

It’s not about justice, it’s about power.

Posted in Religion and Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Tim Hunt Affair

Tim Hunt (Wikimedia Commons)I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to react when you’re retweeted by Louise Mensch.

The context was a conversation about the ongoing Tim Hunt affair. For anyone who’s not been following the story he’s the Nobel-winning scientist and honorary professor at UCL who’s been forced to resign his honorary professorship because of allegedly sexist remarks made at a conference in South Korea.

It’s an ongoing controversy because there are still conflicting reports of his actual words, their precise context, and the reaction of his audience, since there’s no recording or transcript of his improvised off-the cuff speech. There is also concern over his and his wife’s claims that he was forced to resign without being given the chance to present his side of the story.

From what’s been reported it’s sounding like at worst a tone-deaf attempt at humour than didn’t work, deserving of reprimand and perhaps a certain amount of ridicule, but hardly a firing offence. Many of his supporters are now claiming he’s been deliberately misrepresented and quoted out of context by people with political or personal agendas.

It’s naturally being framed as part of the ongoing sexism-in-science culture wars, and it’s attracted the attention of many of the usual suspects from both sides of the ugly turf war between geek feminism and techno-libertarianism. If, as has been suggested, Tim Hunt has been badly misquoted, the science press isn’t covering itself with glory either; rather than reporting the science they’ve emulating the muck-raking gossip-driven tabloids, treating scientists who often lack media training like the tabloids treat celebrities.

But I’m getting a growing impression that his abrupt dismissal isn’t primarily about sexism at all; it’s really rooted in the ugly backstabbing nature of academic politics, which has a reputation for being notoriously vicious precisely because the actual stakes are so small. The behaviour of one of Tim Hunt’s most vocal accusers, another UCL professor and Royal Society Fellow who is as old, white and male as Tim Hunt himself reinforces this impression. I won’t name this person because he gives me the impression he ego-surfs, but he’s been described on Twitter as “Gallowayesque”, and that sounds like a very good description. He certainly comes over as a thoroughly nasty piece of work on social media, going full ad-hominem on anyone who dares to disagree with him. The sight of a man in a powerful position trashing a woman using very ugly slurs in the name of feminism isn’t a pretty one.

So, is the Tim Hunt affair more about bitter academic rivalry than about sexism?

Posted in Religion and Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Gatekeepers

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock FestivalChantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival, which prominently features female artists

The Guardian have run their fourth piece in as many weeks bemoaning the fact that the lineups of major festivals are too male-dominated.

Unfortunately while it does raise some valid points it ends with this awful paragraph that seems deliberately calculated to provoke a defensive reaction from male rock fans, especially when the proposed “solution” had been to add commercial pop acts like Taylor Swift or Katy Perry to the bill.

In a world where women are deconstructing pop music, club culture is booming with some of the most innovative sounds in years, and a new generation of hip-hop and rap stars are heralding a socio-political cultural revolution in America, the white, male rockist notion of what a music festival headliner should be begins to feel hopelessly archaic.

The use of the dated 1980s term “rockist” does rather imply the author didn’t actually like rock at all, and the whole thing smacked of Social Justice Warrior-style invasion of other people’s spaces. One of the authors did later clarify that that wasn’t what she meant and she did love rock after all, but by then the comments were swarmed with bellicose sexists. I even had to ask the moderators to remove one of my own comments that recommended and namechecked a female artist because I didn’t want her to become the subject of online harassment.

While there is undoubtably sexism across all levels in the music business, I still think one big problem is the way a very small number of gatekeepers get to filter all the music mainstream audiences get to hear. The problem is not just that those gatekeepers are disproportionately white and male but that so few people have a disproportionate amount of power.

Previous articles have spoken of “elite tastemakers” numbering as few as fifteen record label executives, radio programmers and magazine editors who get to decide almost everything Joe and Johanna public get to hear.

Commenter “Cathartic” writes of the influence of gatekeepers in metal, using the Download festival referenced in the piece as an example.

There are numerous metal bands with females in that are less commercially successful, which disproves the idea that women just like to watch, but its almost certain that if festivals gave newer acts (both male and female) more of a chance many would develop the fanbase needed to justify headline slots.

Its a Chicken/Egg situation largely. Download is extremely conservative about its line ups, most of the headliners and main stage acts are basically older American and British bands that have been around for decades, and they are not known for given the European bands a slot. The latest roadrunner signing will take preference over an established European band regardless of commercial appeal. 10 years later that band will have enough mid-afternoon slots that they would have to be really bad not to have turned that exposure into sales.

However elsewhere in Europe, Nightwish and Within Temptation are two examples of female fronted bands that will land headline slots in hard rock/metal festivals. Both would pull off a senior slot at download as well these days. Both those bands can pull off UK arena tours now, but it was Bloodstock that has pioneered these types of bands in the UK first. There is the audience out there.

There are plenty of female musicians – ratio is irrelevant – playing in smaller bands in genres which download claims to cater for. The question is why so few have been able to make the leap from small touring for petrol money to headliners. The reasons may be complex, but the reality is his festival (and other music industry big wigs) have acted as gatekeepers in the genre and adopted an extremely conservative booking policy that has meant download have never taken risks on helping the smaller bands reach a larger audience. His comments just portrayed an under ignorance of the genre he caters for. Reality is headliners may be the ones that sell tickets (and Nightwish and Within Temptation certainly could add ticket sales for download), but the mid-afternoon slots are far less risky to try something new and there are a whole host of bands with female musicians that get ignored. Many people at festivals find discovering new bands part of the reason for going to a festival anyway.

That hits the nail right on the head.

I do suspecr that one reason the grassroots progressive rock scene is more friendly towards female-led bands than the corporate indie-rock festival circuit is previsely because it isn’t so controlled by bean-counting gatekeepers.

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Where are the women of rock?

Cloud Atlas album launch at Tokyos in YorkHaidi Widdop and Martin Ledger of Cloud Atlas

Regular readers of this blog ought to know the answer, but that is still the question John Harris asks in The Guardian, in a piece on the male-dominated nature of mainstream rock, which turns into a paeon of praise for Fleetwood Mac as the only band headlining a major festival this year that isn’t all-male.

After 17 years as an on-off quartet, Fleetwood Mac have assembled all five members of their most successful line-up and come back to remind us that they are by far the most successful mixed-gender rock band in history, though surprisingly few people have ever thought to follow their example.

The fact that their internal romantic entanglements made their most successful period such an emotional hell might serve as a cautionary tale. Then again, the incredible, fantastically honest music that came out of it all speaks for itself. Rock and pop tend to scrape perfection when they deal with love and relationships; in Fleetwood Mac’s greatest work, you hear those subjects explored with such power precisely because both male and female views are on show.

Which is just as true for some of the best work of bands like Mostly Autumn and Karnataka in their various incarnations. Albums such as “Delicate Flame of Desire” and “The Last Bright Light” are not filled with songs about Hobbits.

Harris’ comments about the male-dominated mainstream festival scene makes a stark contast to the grassroots progressive rock scene that this blog gives extensive coverage to. Looking at the bill of this March’s HRH Prog, which featured Knifeworld, The Skys, Touchstone, Anne Phoebe, Mostly Autumn, Collibus, Jump, Magenta and Steeleye Span, half the bands contained at least one female member. Not only that , they were overwhelmingly the better half of the bill too.

What’s notable about the way progressive rock has become more female-friendly in recent years is that it’s all happened organically. Bands have formed with women in them, and they’ve built up audiences. They’ve become such an accepted part of the scene that anything that looks overwhelmingly male is regarded with suspicion.

We have seen no aggressive campaigns to stop people listening to all-male bands as if it’s all a zero-sum game. Likewise there have been no Gamergate-style backlash complaining that wimmin are ruining prog. You might get the occasional grumpy old git moaning about too many female-fronted bands on a given festival bill, but nobody pays such misanthropes much attention.

Perhaps this is what happens when you have a scene driven by shared love of music rather than by corporate bean-counters and demographics-driven focus groups.

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Progzilla and their Problematic List

Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn at The Met Theatre in Bury, June 2007

Progzilla Radio have done a countdown of the Top 100 Modern Prog Classics.

Unfortunately, the list is, as the saying goes “problematic”.

While all lists of this nature are subjective and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, this one is especially bad. The way the same half-dozen bands appear multiple times suggests that the voters’ listening isn’t terribly broad; have Transatlantic really done that many classic songs?

Far worse is the near absence of women on this list. The sole song with a female songwriter and lead singer is Mostly Autumn’s “Shrinking Violet”. There is no mention of Magenta. Or Panic Room. Or any incarnation of Karnataka. There isn’t even room for anything from Kate Bush’ magnificent “Aerial”. And don’t say “Kate Bush isn’t proper prog” when the list has Radiohead on it.

When the competent but unremarkable Lifesigns, who have just one album to their name, can manage no fewer than three songs in a list that has no room for Magenta, Karnataka, Panic Room or Kate Bush, it’s hard not to conclude the list has very a bad case of sexism.

It’s true that progressive rock is still predominately male. But it’s not exclusively a boy’s club, especially in recent years. Look at the pages of Prog magazine, or the festival bills of events like HRH Prog or the Cambridge Rock Festival and you’ll see a significant proportion of bands with at least one woman in the band.

Therefore I have to conclude that a list of “greatest modern progressive songs” that’s 98% all-male bands is in fact a load of sexist bollocks.

(edit – Changed “compilers” to “voters” to make it clear it’s a listener’s list)

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Rotten Boroughs

The Government report into what’s been going on at Rotherham is damning stuff.

Casey, the government’s lead official on troubled families, said the council lacked “the necessary skills, abilities, experience and tenacity within either the member or senior officer leadership teams”.

Concluding that the council needs a fresh start, Casey’s 154-page report said: “The council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures.

“The council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses without a sustained intervention.”

She also criticised the council’s deep-rooted culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring hard issues, writing: “RMBC goes to some length to cover up information and to silence whistleblowers.”

There’s a lot of blame to go round, but one root cause of these rotten boroughs is an electoral system that results in single party fiefdoms in any party’s heartlands, especially those of Labour. Don’t be distracted by the fact there are currently ten UKIP councillors in Roherham; they were only elected in 2013 after the scandal broke. Before that it was a monolithic one-party state run by the Labour Party.

You might assign some of the blame to an electorate who vote in local elections on national issues along tribal lines, without paying enough attention to what the people they elect get up to in office. But the bigger villain is the first-past-the-post electoral system, deeply flawed and anti-democratic at national level, and utterly unfit for purpose at local level. Even if Rotherham had remained firmly in Labour control, it’s difficult to believe the presence of a viable opposition group on the council would not have bought these terrible problems to light earlier.

The 2015 general election is likely to produce a second successive hung Parliament, in which the distribution of seats will bear little resemblance to the distribution of votes. Electoral reform for parliamentary elections is likely to be high on the political agenda. Does Rotherham make the case for parallel reform of local government even more important?

Electoral reform is sometimes dismissed as a pastime for political anoraks. But Rotherham demonstates why it does actually matter.

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The Culture Wars need to end in a truce

Despite the increasingly heated rhetoric, the culture wars across gaming and SF&F can only end with some sort of truce. A world where one “side” gains total victory over the other and all the things and people they don’t like are disappeared will not result in a healthy creative environment for anyone.

The music world has long since split into multiple overlapping tribes that, however grudgingly, allow each other to exist and don’t intrude in each others’ spaces. 30 years on, the only people who still care about the Punk Wars resemble those Japanese soldiers in the 1970s emerging from the jungle not realising the war was over and the world had moved on. The worlds of games and science fiction media needs to do the same.

This isn’t to say the doxxing, death threats, sexist harassment or abusive stalking we’ve been seeing is in any way acceptable. That needs to be called out, regardless of who is doing or encouraging it.

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Listening to “Lovehunter” and “Ready an’ Willing”, I’d forgotten just how crass some 80s Whitesnake lyrics were. Probably the only thing that saved Whitesnake from Robin Thicke-style student disco bans was that the worst stuff was never put out as singles.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments