Kentucky-born artist The Black Madonna this month joined Romanian Andreea Magdalina, founder of all-female network shesaidso.so for GROOVE. The message is as simple as taking women seriously – and what can be done to change things when it doesn’t happen. It’s worth sharing that conversation – and please, listen to its entirety – for a couple of reasons.
First, I think we’re obligated to keep sharing this conversation and ones like it so long as it keeps prompting negative and defensive reactions, primarily from men. (Comment threads on social media are not at the moment the most flattering representation of human civilization, but there they are.)
It’s obviously touching a nerve – and the fact that it does so, frankly, points to just how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are. “Hey, there’s absolutely nothing sexist or misogynistic going on” is something said by non-sexist people sort of, um, never. Humans are naturally defensive, I think, meaning defensiveness is not itself an indication of guilt – but an inability to listen to female artists when they’re talking about their own experiences is more than that. It demonstrates something is wrong. And artists like The Black Madonna are arguing for this not just with evidence of sexism, but – this is really, really important – with evidence of great female-identified artists who deserve as much exposure and credit as possible because they’re amazing. That’s the message.
Second, if you actually listen carefully and reflectively to the content, there are some lessons to everyone – men involved in music very much included. I think this says something about being human in making music, not just about a particular political issue.
Marea starts the conversation by talking about role models, in an intensely human story.
That alone is reason enough to understand the importance of championing great artists in music who have been marginalized in the past. And I think the issue of “role model” can be reduced or misunderstood. If you really listen to her talk about her experience, this isn’t just “I saw a girl like me onstage.” She speaks specifically to a profound emotional connection with them as musicians and as people.
I think that ought to speak to everyone. This is what it’s about – and these are people who are so great at what they do, they become role models for everybody. Apart from having been personally inspired by The Black Madonna’s sets, I can speak to Honey Dijon, too (whom she talks about in this interview). Honey is the kind of person who can heal a dance floor; you can actually see people relate to one another differently. When we deny these kind of artists access to the club, everyone loses.
And they were – and are – routinely denied. Audiences don’t get to judge whether they’re good or not because too often they don’t get to hear them at all.
It’s not enough to identify a problem, though – and much of this conversation thankfully is about solutions.
From that point, the two talk about the practical matters of how to change a culture, and how to make sure people gain access who didn’t have it before.
The issue here is women, but I think it extends to any group that find they don’t fit in with the cool club – the people who look different, who come from different backgrounds, who have limited budgets, who make different kinds of music, who come from different places.
That’s another thing that puzzles me about defensiveness. Look, if these artists are right, and you’re on the inside of a system that’s exclusive, you should listen. If they’re somehow wrong, and the system isn’t exclusive, then … uh, why are you getting defensive? If these artists are right, and the system is exclusive based on gender, and you feel you don’t fit in for some other reason, then listen to how they’ve dealt with that and consider whether it might be relevant to your own experience. (Then again, if it’s simply that you feel you’re struggling as an artist and having more strong female artists will make that worse because they’ll take up more space, well … that’s a different problem entirely, but then it’s a chance to give yourself space and patience to grow rather than lash out at someone else.)
It’s also worth listening, though, to the importance of “co-conspirators” or accomplices. There’s really so much we can do to make music a richer place. That can be everyone’s problem, and everyone’s reward.
I think The Black Madonna also puts out the best argument for where female-only spaces matter – where they can be female-driven and “sacred spaces,” as she puts it. (She also notes that men should not be organizing in that same way.) I think it’s important that those of us who aren’t part of those spaces simply respect them, but this seems also an answer to female friends who have questioned them. Zuz Friday wrote about this issue for CDM in regards to an event she co-organizes, and also dealt with this question of public versus private space (and how to combine them). I can also imagine this could be a model for any group that feels like it needs its own space, whether it deals with a particular gender identity or sexual orientation or ethnic or other background. Those networks and spaces clearly have value for certain circles of people, and it seems that only enriches our larger music community.
I won’t say more, in that it’s better to listen to these two talk – it’s a genuine and honest discussion, and certainly the kind of conversation I hear a lot.
Anyway, I don’t want to ramble on too long, or also contribute to men exploiting this issue because it’s trendy, or getting defensive when called on it. I’m not perfect, either. So I’ll say to whatever extent I should also listen to criticism, I will try to do so without getting defensive. And I hope that we as a community do better – on gender, on diversity.
I hope that growing as humans ourselves and spreading music to more humans is part of our job – a job that never ends.