Bernstein ’13, a senior and former member of Spring Fling Committee, reflects on male domination in the Wesleyan music scene—and how it can be changed.
Ally Bernstein ’13 offers a critical view on the 2013 Spring Fling lineup, weighing in on an argument that appeared in the comments section of Thursday night’s announcement post:
As I struggle to match words to my experience, I recall the last time someone wrote an article critical of the gender imbalance in the Wesleyan music scene. Avery Trufelman ’13 wrote a Wespeak in 2010 in response to our general feelings of malaise as well as an upsetting incident of sexual assault at a Titus Andronicus concert. And while she wrote it during the beginning of our sophomore year, as a senior, I wonder how much has changed. At the recent, excellent Potty Mouth concert in the WestCo Café, an overwhelmingly male audience turned out to watch four punk ladies from Northampton churn out sweetly melodic lo-fi tunes. Spring Fling Committee is 72% male. The Spring Fling lineup is 100% male. The majority of campus bands are still male.
Since the Potty Mouth show, I’ve tried to figure out why. Why don’t more female Wesleyan students attend shows, and why don’t more female Wesleyan students play shows? Why are women not engaged by what Wesleyan has to offer? In 2012 I visited a friend living in Olympia, Washington, birthplace of riot grrrl and home base of Kathleen Hanna, who spoke at Wesleyan in 2010. I attended a show at my friend’s house, and every single band out of the four that played had at least one non-male member. Many had more. Not only did these ladies kill it, but the atmosphere in the crowded living room was electric. Men and women and non-binary folks were all feeding off the positive energy of dedicated people making good music. During that trip, I sat in on some band practices where people of all genders were collaborating and sharing and just figuring things out. The attitude was infectious.
I think back to those band practices and shows as a model for my own musical aspirations, and it’s an attitude that I wish I could’ve bottled up and brought back to Wesleyan. Sometimes I worry that the musicians here are too talented, and that everyone feels added pressure because of the success of our alumni. In some ways, I worry that we’ve eliminated room to experiment, the place where you can be slightly less precious about your music and still find it worthwhile.
I see this as a problem because it makes it more difficult for a woman who is shy about playing guitar to feel comfortable performing. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. I’d like to make a suggestion: There aren’t enough female acts being brought to Wesleyan. I’m going through old concert previews and trying to count and it’s frustrating me, so I’m not going to do that, and we’ve certainly had a few. But I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t believe that it’s fair to say, “Well, you’re a woman, play music if you want more women to play music,” or argue that there just aren’t a lot of girls who play instruments. When I see people having fun performing, I want to do it, too. But when they’re all men, or mostly men, it reinforces the idea that men are better at music, that I’m not good enough, and that I will face ridicule if I even try. Potty Mouth made me want to play music. If there were concerts like that every weekend, I think that the nature of our scene could be transformed into something inclusive, supportive, and empowering. But as it stands, there aren’t, and most of the money for bigger shows is dedicated to male acts.
I’d like to take a minute to point out that I am complicit in this problem, as I was part of the committee that created an all-male Spring Fling lineup in 2011. I wish I had done things differently, and the people who do contribute to the diversity of the Wesleyan music scene constantly amaze me. It feels shitty that I can only reflect on this as a graduating senior. I think of the people who have graduated and their musical projects (Dead Language, the Creeps, Kentucky Fried Doom, Scroats, Cous Cous, Metacomet [just released a tape!], Red Sweatpants Blue Sweatpants, the High Lonesome, Sylvia Ryerson, countless others*) and I feel frustrated that I was in a place to continue this tradition and did not take action.
A friend who was accepted into the class of 2017 asked me about making music as a woman at Wesleyan, and it pained me to answer honestly. But I hope that she chooses to attend despite the paucity of female musical presence, because I think that there’s potential. I recognize that soon this will not be my battle to fight, but I’d like to ask a favor. Strive to expose yourself to artists that aren’t white and that aren’t male. And strive to share your discoveries. And next year, please bring at least one woman to play at Spring Fling. It’s not like there isn’t anyone to choose from.
Recommended reading: “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” By Linda Nochlin
*Thanks to Ben Seretan ’10 for helping me compile this partial list.