Eilidh McMillan: Being a Woman in the Music Industry


[Eilidh McMillan, photo by Andy Catlin from this excellent set – thanks Andy!]

I have avoided writing about International Women’s Day, partly because I write enough ill-informed socio-political pish as it is, but mostly because yet another middle-class, middle-aged white male weighing in on the subject seemed to be very much not the point, so I kept quiet.

It’s a fact I readily acknowledge and am genuinely trying to address that our label doesn’t represent women anything like enough. Just one statistic would be that the ratio of bands without to those with a significant female presence on the Toad Sessions is something like 26:8 in favour of men. And that’s before you look at the bands we actually release, where I think it might be even worse. I can’t sign new people at the moment, but I can put on gigs and record sessions and so the best place to address our gender imbalance is there. 

Eilidh McMillan is someone who I’ve worked with a lot over the last year or so, sometimes by writing about stuff like Jealous Girlfriend, but mostly by putting her various bands on at gigs in Edinburgh, be it the now-defunct Froth, or the awesome Breakfast Muff.

She’s someone I really like, and have a great deal of professional respect for, and today Eilidh wrote this on Facebook about being a woman in the music industry. It’s off-the-cuff and not supposed to be academic or exhaustive, but I really liked it, and so with her permission I am reproducing it here, so people know.

As it’s International Women’s Day I would like to share some thoughts on being a woman in the music industry and what I have learned over the past couple of years. (Just to say before I start have mostly had a wonderful time and met the most wonderful people.)

1. Probably the most pressing issue is harassment, sexual assault and abuse that I have heard of happening to friends as well as anecdotally or online. The reason that women often do not speak out about it is because they fear of their storied not being taken seriously and being pushed out or alienated from their “scene” or group of friends, or because it will stunt their ability to progress as a musician. This is a problem that pervades at the very top of the industry, DIY scenes and everything inbetween. This is also a problem for female fans who face sexual harassment and assault at gigs.

Touring DIY means relying on the kindness of others letting you sleep at their house, which is great because it allows people to tour without losing much money, but also creates a potentially dangerous situation putting trust in people you don’t know.

2. Women playing music is often treated as a genre in itself. This means often female musicians are only put on line-ups supporting other female musicians and left out of bills supporting touring male musicians. This is not to say that I don’t want to support other women musicians, we have supported loads of awesome girls and I hope to keep doing so! Another issue associated with this is reviewers (as well as the public and other musicians) mostly compare the work of women musicians to other music made by women. This is totally lazy and can also feel pretty demoralising (and if i hear someone say “that’s so riot grrl” one more time…).

3. Women in music not being taken seriously or being seen as a “novelty”. This can take the form of patronising sound engineers and promoters at best, and at worst being completely ignored because people presume you are not performing or because a dude in your band must be the only one who knows what’s happening. I have also heard stories from women running labels who feel the need to “act like a guy” to survive and get taken seriously. Also women who like to dress “feminine” who worry that because they are not wearing a cool band t-shirt and jeans they will be looked down on.

4. Women are often judged more harshly and also pitted against eachother. I’ve had people say things like “Ooh X band got picked to play that gig instead of you, are you pissed off?”. Why would I be? My band and other bands with women in are not in direct competition with each other, you would never hear someone say that about all guy bands. If anything, other women playing high profile gigs is awesome and is good for all female musicians and diversity in the scene in general. This also relates to reviewers talking about women’s appearance, or in interviews asking questions they would never ask guys.

5. Women are generally very unrepresented on bills, most recently someone brought up that on the T in the Park line up this year so far there are something like 4 women performing. Aside from being completely unrepresentative and insane this creates a Catch 22 of women not seeing themselves represented, which makes them less likely to start playing music. A lot of people say when I bring this up “but there are just way less female musicians”, and although there maybe is a gap in numbers, women are still chronically unrepresented.

Okay, i think that’s it for now, sorry it’s so long but as I was writing I kept thinking of more and more things. I also know it’s not amazingly written but whatever, I’m not an academic writer (also I wrote this on my phone).  I would also like to mention that I know that people who are LGBTQA+, not white or differently abled, means being treated differently in music and probably worse than what I’ve mentioned here and even more underrepresented. This status was just written from my perspective. I would like to hear other folks stories and opinons, not necessarily right now but when I see yall out and about, I wanna start talking about this stuff!

Also it’s International Women’s day! Have solidarity for women all over the world who face subjugation, abuse and discrimination every day because of their gender.

Eilidh out

More: , , , ,