Will festivals lineups ever have enough female acts? | Features | MN2S

We take a look at what the music industry is doing to tackle the gender inequality of festival lineups.

Last year, there were several articles published about the lack of female artists in summer festival lineups. The most striking of these was the Huffington Post’s ‘Music Festivals’ Glaring Women Problem’. The piece featured interactive data sets that allowed the reader to guess the percentage of male, female and mixed gender acts that were performing at 10 major music festivals in 2016.

Most people underestimated just how big the disparity was. The data shows that nearly 80% of acts where either male solo artists or groups with all male members. Even for those who expected there to be a bias towards male acts, this was shocking.

The worst part is this: 2016 was not an abnormal year. And it certainly wasn’t the first time a well-researched article about the lack of female musicians in festival lineups went viral. In fact, articles about the subject are published every year around this time, as festival season approaches and the major lineups are announced, looking outrageously male-dominated to the discerning eye. So have things finally got any better in 2017? If they haven’t, will they ever?

What is the state of female acts in 2017 festivals?

We haven’t carried out an in-depth line-up analysis to rival the Huffington Post’s 2016 efforts, but a glance at the headliners for some of this year’s major festivals should give us an indication of whether anything has improved.

Adele’s headlining slot at Glastonbury 2016 was a high point in a season otherwise lacking in female headliners. This year, however, Glasto’s main headliners are all male: Ed Sheeran, Radiohead and Foo Fighters. Katy Perry, arguably a more popular act than two of these three headliners, appears lower down the bill.

Isle of Wight Festival’s headliners are also mostly male, with David Guetta, Run DMC and Rod Stewart topping the bill alongside mixed-gender-but-mostly-male group Arcade Fire. The Reading & Leeds headliner selection is also an all-male affair: Eminem, Muse, Kasabian.

This is just a small glimpse at the headliners of UK festivals this year, but the male-dominated picture painted here doesn’t bode well for women’s representation at UK festivals as a whole.

How is the industry restoring the festival gender balance?

Many in the industry, it appears, are not actively seeking to address this clear problem. If the people running music festivals were half as concerned about gender equality as the people writing about them, the problem would have been solved years ago.

Frankly, it shouldn’t be difficult to address the issue. Contrary to what some festival organisers might say, it would not be difficult to find female artists to fill festival lineups. In fact, many of the most popular musicians in the world are women.

One of the most acclaimed Glastonbury performances in recent memory was Florence and the Machine’s headline show in 2015 — a show that only happened because original headliners Foo Fighters had to pull out. Performances like this don’t have to happen by accident; they can be scheduled, too.

Luckily, there are many in the industry doing all they can to accurately represent the great number of talented female performers in the music industry today.

All female festival lineups may not strike everyone as a permanent solution to this problem, but for now they can certainly do their bit to prove the power and popularity of female performers. In 2016, Ms Jackson and Audrey Joseph organised the first Together Fest — an electronic music festival showcasing the many talented female musicians working in the genre. MN2S artist Little Boots was on the bill, and a vocal supporter of the event. Other all-female music festivals include Berlin’s Heroines of Sound and New York City’s The Other.

With any luck, these festivals will show other festival organisers how important it is to put women on stage. Because it’s not just the gender equality of festival bills that is at stake. Last year, Time Out’s Kate Lloyd discussed the dire treatment of women festival-goers, which tragically often includes cases of sexual assault. Lloyd and many others share the opinion that the lack of female representation in festival lineups is strongly connected to the disrespect and violation many women face when attending festivals, and it is not difficult to see why they come to this conclusion.

Festivals need to treat women better on both sides of the stage. Thankfully, there is some progress being made. The Isle of Wight festival and Bestival both boast special tents to raise awareness of sexual assault and provide a place for victims and survivors to talk to advisors. Organiser Fleur Gardiner said: “Things that you just wouldn’t get away with on the high street or on the beach seem to go unremarked upon” in the festival environment. It’s good to see festivals combatting this.

In terms of lineups though, it may take time. But at least, in these ways, we are moving in the right direction.

Image by Batiste SafontOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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