As I was watching Reading Festival on TV on Friday and Saturday night, I noticed something a little odd. The only women on my television were the ones in their bras sitting on people’s shoulders in the crowd, and the BBC3 presenter Jen Long. To my bemused eyes, it looked suspiciously like there wasn’t a single woman playing on the main stage. At all.
I couldn’t believe that would be true, so I conducted a geeky experiment. I looked at the top 5 acts that played the main stage on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and counted how many men and how many women were in those bands. Guess what the results were?
Out of those 15 acts, we had:
57 men. 1 woman.
I just... I have no words. Now I know pretty much zero about the music ‘the kids’ are listening to these days, but I’m vaguely aware of bands like Haim and to be fair, they were playing on another stage at the festival, as was Kate Nash, Deap Vally, Azealia Banks and, erm, someone called Lucy Rose? (At this point I was just desperately scanning the line-up on the Reading website for any female names.)
Here, I will show you my workings:
Friday Green Day: 3 men System of a Down: 4 men Deftones: 5 men Frank Turner: 5 men Bring Me The Horizon: 5 men
Saturday Eminem: 1 man Chase and Status: 2-4 men Foals: 5 men White Lies: 3 men Twin Atlantic: 4 men
Sunday Biffy Clyro: 3 men Nine Inch Nails: 1 plus randoms (approx 4) Fall Out Boy: 4 men The Lumineers: 4 men, 1 woman Editors: 5 men
What the hell is going on? If you can only muster up ONE WOMAN in ONE BAND who’s apparently worthy of appearing on the main stage, there is something seriously wrong with the state of music in general, or the Reading Festival organisers’ attitudes towards women in music.
Now I know I tend to view the musical landscape of my youth through seriously rose-tinted spectacles, but still, I have this feeling that back in the 90s women were a little more of a familiar sight up on the main stage, y’know, playing instruments and singing and things.
We had bands like Hole, Elastica and Kenickie which were dominated by women, solo artists like PJ Harvey, female-fronted bands like Skunk Anansie, No Doubt, Garbage, the Cranberries and the Cardigans and women playing in bands like Pulp and the Dandy Warhols. And that’s just off the top of my head – there must have been many, many more (including the whole of Riot Grrrl, obvs).
In fact, I don't even need to rely on my age-addled memory - the line-up from all the Reading Festivals, (including my first, when I was 17), is right here. Things weren't quite as female-friendly as I'd remembered but we did have Garbage headlining the main stage on the Sunday in 1998 and the Cardigans, Catatonia, Kenickie, Elastica, PJ Harvey and Beth Orton right up there at the top of the bill over the years between 1997 and 2002.
Now if you’re a young girl who’s into music, where can you see someone like yourself up on stage as a HEADLINER to inspire you? Again I cite Kate Nash as a seriously impressive figure, with her all-girl band and outspoken attitude about the sexism which is clearly as bad as ever in the music industry, but she can’t change things all by herself.
I wish that event organisers would make a bit more of an effort to increase the diversity of their line-ups. There need to be more female music journalists, producers and other behind-the-scenes types in the industry to tackle this issue from all sides. And girls and women who love music need to demand more from the labels, organisers and music publications and websites.
There’s more on the way women are snubbed at major music festivals here. This is why Lilith Fair was set up – is it time to revive the all-women festival? Perhaps.
I asked Georgina Langford, Assistant Editor at District MTV and someone who knows a LOT more about the state of music today if I was going mad. She said:
"No I completely agree, it is bloody weird. I think that's why it's always such a memorable occasion when a band like Paramore get a near-top billing slot (a few years back) because it's so unusual. Any big female performers always play the NME or Festival Republic stage, the main stage is a lad-fest. Just look at Beyonce at Glastonbury as an example of what a massive kerfuffle a female festival headliner causes. And how successfully that turned out."
"It's as though festival bookers are scared that a female headliner won't draw the crowds. That needs to change. Over at Flow Festival in Helsinki a few weeks ago, two of the biggest crowds I saw were for Bat For Lashes and Grimes' sets. Grimes was headlining the whole event and she drew a massive crowd. It seems the Finnish have the right idea."
So for the time being, you will find me forlornly listening to Joan Jett and the Runaways and longing for a more progressive age than the one we’re in, where it feels like the only way a woman can get on stage is if she’s one of the “bad bitches” invited by A$AP Rocky (whoever he may be) to grind behind him.