Glastonbury Gets to Grips With Gender

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Glastonbury has been a pioneering force in the world of music festivals since it first blessed our ears in 1970. But can it go one step further and lead the way in balancing the gender split of music line-ups across the globe? Neive McCarthy thinks that it can’t afford not to.

January inevitably means an influx of festival lineups dominating social media and often causing a stir, be it because they’re relentlessly safe or simply because they’re ignoring some incredible artists on the basis of their gender. Last year, a number of festivals came under fire for having shockingly few female acts on their bill, a revelation which was intensified by the circulation of edited posters which removed all male artists from their lineups. The result was jarring to say the least – Wireless festival had just three female acts across the entire weekend. Festivals of all different genres and sizes all had the same thing in common: they were (and likely still will be this year) unabashedly dominated by men.

However, in 2018, 45 UK festivals pledged to achieve a 50/50 gender balance by 2022, with the prestigious Glastonbury aiming to do this from 2019 onwards. Although narrowing the ratio of female to male artists should be happening regardless, this pledge is crucial in potentially changing the future of festivals for the better. Gender is a major issue in the music industry, not just among the artists themselves but also those behind the artists; men dominate recording studios just as much as they dominate record label boardrooms.

Image via Hello Magazine

This lack of balance is perhaps more notable at music festivals because they are so widely promoted in the public eye. Glastonbury Festival is one of the biggest events on the music calendar – everyone from your grandad to your teenage sister knows of it – and thus its influence is dramatically wide-spread. By using its status to combat and eradicate the gender imbalance of the music industry, Glastonbury can begin to pave the way for a multitude of festivals to adopt this approach and provide equal gender opportunities to artists.

In 2017, Glastonbury’s ‘The Park’ already had a 50/50 gender split, but organiser Emily Eavis has stressed how this trend needs to be carried on throughout the festival, particularly on The Pyramid stage – the festival’s iconic main stage. To have an equal representation of women on such a renowned platform is exactly the kind of progression needed, and with Janelle Monae and Kylie Minogue already having been announced, things are looking hopeful. Eavis has insisted that every decision has been made with addressing the issue of gender imbalance in mind and we can only hope that this translates into a line up that, at its core, is representative of all manner of talented artists, regardless of their gender.

By using its status to combat and eradicate the gender imbalance of the music industry, Glastonbury can begin to pave the way for a multitude of festivals to adopt this approach and provide equal gender opportunities to artists.

Of course, there are still people who are fervently against the need to find this balance as they fail to see the poisonous levels of misogyny which underline the entirety of the music industry. Cries of how “it’s the most popular acts on the line up” and “there’s just no good female acts” haunt this particular fight for equality. It is so much more complicated than this, and so much more than a popularity contest. Fundamentally, women do not have the opportunities within the music industry to gain popularity in the same way that men do. It is immensely easier for men to be recognised and supported for their talent and thus become well-known enough to make it onto these line ups.

Nevertheless, even the women who do manage to transcend these barriers and achieve success often go ignored in favour of another male band. To suggest that there are “no good female acts” is ludicrous, and reeks of sexism. Refusing to expand your horizons to the abundance of innovative, exciting female artists who are lurking amongst the hundreds of male artists only causes yourself to lose out – these artists are impressive and just as deserving of a place on festival line-ups. To ignore them is intensely regressive.

It’s difficult to comprehend how some music fans can belittle the talent of female artists when you look at the last year in music. Jorja Smith had one of the most well-received albums of the year; Dua Lipa received award after award for her debut album; Ariana Grande was the name on everybody’s lips with the release of Sweetener and, shortly after, ‘thank u, next’. Across several genres, there are some phenomenal artists going unappreciated and it is criminal – women have shown time and time again that they deserve to be on these festival stages as much as men and they undoubtedly should be getting their well-earned recognition. It’s time the lineups started to reflect this.

Neive McCarthy

Header image via Glastonbury Festival