Women who inspire us: changing the face of the music industry

As part of International Women’s Day (8 March 2020), we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the great women working on the Temple Quarter programme. In a series of blogs, we’ve asked them to write about the women that inspire them to challenge stereotypes and promote equality.

Second in the series is this piece by Jessica Sharratt, Engagement and Enterprise Associate for Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.

Jessica Sharratt making the #EachForEqual sign
Jessica Sharratt making the #EachForEqual sign

Georgia Maq, Sarah Thompson and Kelly-Dawn Helmrich

Outside of work, I am a musician. Playing trombone since I was 8, I’ve been in many different groups – from orchestras and brass bands to ska punk and rock. The under-representation of women in any genre involving an amplifier is well known. In 2015, posters of music festival line-ups edited to remove all-male bands appeared, highlighting how few women were being booked. Despite increasing awareness of the issue, it’s still a problem – of the 92 acts announced so far for Reading and Leeds this year, just 20 are women.

This affects how women in music are treated. Even in my limited experience, I’ve come across the assumption that rock musicians are men more times than I can count. Once, sat with my instrument in a well-known Bristol venue, a very polite member of staff came over to inform me only band members were allowed in before doors opened and that girlfriends would have to wait outside. Another time, laden with equipment, a member of door staff stopped me and my bandmate Tash on our way into a venue. Our male bandmates had all been allowed to walk straight through and we weren’t let in until one of them came back to vouch for us. There are also the times I’ve been patronised or objectified on account of my gender – each incident on its own perhaps insignificant but amounting to something bigger.

Camp cope band members
Camp Cope. Image creator: Gabriela Barbieri, Credit: WXPN

Three women determined to hold the music industry to account are Georgia Maq, Sarah Thompson and Kelly-Dawn Helmrich of Camp Cope – a three-piece alternative rock band from Melbourne. Since forming in 2015 they’ve made their voices heard as artists and as advocates for women and minorities. Georgia Maq sings about her own experience of sexual assault in ‘The Face of God’, and ‘The Opener’ is a furious takedown of sexism in the music industry. In 2016 they led a campaign focused on making festivals safer called ‘It Takes One’, developing new reporting mechanisms that better support victims. Many artists have since been seen wearing T-shirts that read ‘The person wearing this shirt stands against sexual assault and demands a change’ in support. In 2017 they risked their careers publicly criticising the Falls Festival for only booking nine women, including themselves. The festival is not only Australia’s largest touring festival but is owned by Live Nation, the largest promotor in the world. Camp Cope hasn’t shied away from fighting sexism wherever it sees it, even when it poses a risk to their own careers.

Camp Cope’s lyrics often hold a mirror to female experiences that are almost universal, but rarely acknowledged. In ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’ they rail against catcallers and mention carrying ‘keys between your knuckles when you walk alone at night’. Fellow Australian Courtney Barnett also references this in ‘Nameless, Faceless’. Before these two songs, I’d never heard this self-defence tactic discussed – it was just something my Mum told me to do when was about 14 and has made me feel slightly safer many times since. The first time I heard these lyrics I was simultaneously saddened that this is so common and relieved to hear it acknowledged. I’ve had conversations with male friends who said they weren’t aware this was something women did until they heard these songs. We learn more when we hear from people whose experiences are not the same as our own. The focus here is on International Women’s Day, but we would equally benefit from hearing from more musicians who are non-binary, people of colour, LGBTQ+ and working class.

Like all good role models, Camp Cope makes me reconsider my own behaviour. I’ve spent plenty of time swapping war stories with other musicians but can’t claim to have done much to try and change things. This is a band that’s determined to make the music industry safer, diverse and more inclusive. They also write great songs – check them out, and I’ll see you at their next Bristol show!

Read other blogs in this series for International Women’s Day.

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