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Sexism In The Alternative Music Scene Exists: But So Does Hypocrisy.

Something came to my attention this evening; a post about two things really close to my heart. Sexism and the music industry. The article, written for Vice, points out the fact that in many ways, they’ve come to be truly connected, especially in the ‘alt’ community. Whilst I appreciate, as a feminist, that this is a post that needed to be written in some form, I contest some of the things that were written, not least because it attacks some of the people closest to me in my life. I’m not in denial or making excuses though, except where I feel it’s necessary – which is why I’m aiming to put across a reasonable, balanced argument about the whole thing, and about a lifestyle I feel I have a huge insight into.

What’s All This About An Article?

If you can’t be bothered to read the article I’ve linked to above, I’ll give you a quick summary. So this article, written by a miss Hannah Ewens, isn’t terrible, and I’m not going to stoop so low as to pretend that it is. Her writing style is fine – very good, actually – and as I’ve stated, she raised an important issue. She’s talking about how women aren’t as respected in the music scene as their male counterparts, the fact that they don’t have as much authority in the industry, and the idea that women are often given value based purely on their looks. Hallelujah, somebody has noticed. I’m not going to mock that.

The way she illustrates this, however, is totally off base in my eyes, and there are some glaring errors. I’m not trying to join some ‘boys’ club’ here though, I’m just being honest. How can you even begin to take the moral highground when you’re so damn hypocritical?!

What’s The Deal With These Rock Clubs?

I appreciate that this post may be lost on anyone who’s never identified as a part of the UK #Alt scene. Rock clubs like Facedown, Uprawr and the rest of them are a massive, huge part of my life. They make up part of a social scene which to me, has been a lifeline. Without being melodramatic, should they have never existed, I’d probably be a social pariah, having never experienced any friendships once I left school. Either that, or I’d be an illegal immigrant in America, having literally never found anywhere else I could fit in.

‘Alt Nights’ are a very British phenomenon, but they’re pretty awesome. I mean it when I say I’ve met some of the best, most interesting and most intelligent people in my life there, but I’ve also met some of the worst, too. These places aren’t perfect, by any means – the ones in the North are full of drama, whilst the ones in the South (and Leeds) are full of posers. But you know what? That could be said about life in general, you’re not always going to agree with everything, or everyone, everywhere. I feel like I belong in these places, and they’re a great place to get drunk, have a laugh, and dance to music that isn’t just top 40 bullshit (except when it is… and that’s also okay with me!).

Hannah from Vice doesn’t like these clubs, partially on account of the way women dress, in their scantily clad attire. I’m one of those women, I won’t lie, but the fact I have my bra on show on a Friday night, doesn’t actually say anything about me, other than that my bra is on show. See? I’m having fun!

emo me

A lot of the time, women are on stage dancing wearing pretty much nothing at all. But get this… people (men and women) have had special attire in their performances for years, much of which has pushed boundaries for on-stage purposes. The vast majority of those dancers are bloody talented. They work hard at what they do and the Facedown marketing of these women is never seedy, and nor is it at one of their Yorkshire counterparts, Fuel. The Steelcats who perform there are incredible, and take it from someone who’s taken a dance class with their facilitator – unless you’re brilliant, you won’t be able to keep up. She’s also really kick ass and organizes so much stuff for that clubnight, as well as for the Slam Dunk festival and brand. If the only thing you’re taking away from their dances is their state of undress, you’re sexualizing them just as much as the one or two pervs in the front row. Besides, women should be able to take control of their sexuality, if they so choose.


Credit: George Harrison

What’s Going On In This Subculture?

In fairness, Hannah makes a valid point when she asks: “what do half-naked girls have to do with rock?”. The answer, quite simply, is that they don’t. Everyone knows sex sells, I admit that, no matter how wrong we think that is – but it dates back way before any of us existed. I refuse to be defined by what other people do or do not wear! Just let them do their jobs, and you do yours.

Ms Ewens goes after Front magazine as well, which in fairness, isn’t exactly my fave publication, but it’s not something anyone’s forcing me (or anyone) to partake in. The fact is, these naked and half naked women are old enough to consent to wearing or doing whatever the hell they like, and if they’re comfortable and confident in that, then who the hell am I to tell them they shouldn’t? They have their own autonomy, and any attempts to make them feel inferior for it totally impose on my feminist golden rule: that of choice. I’m sure they get enough ‘slut shaming’ from everywhere else, so give it a rest, yeah?

Perhaps the morally questionable fact that Front doesn’t always pay means that if women are modelling in there, they’re doing it for attention in several cases. But if that’s their currency, then so be it. It has the potential to launch their career, whether you agree or not. In being overtly judgemental of these women, aren’t you being hypocritical in nature? Allowing women to have freedom of choices extends to letting them get their boobs out if they want. It’s pretty crappy to police womens’ lives and say otherwise. Honestly? I think they look great. I would never do it, because it’s not really the professional image I’m trying to put across and I have other things I’d rather do. Who really cares what anyone thinks though!

She Wasn’t Totally Wrong, And I Can’t Defend Sexism, Ever.

Sexism does drive me fucking crazy, regardless of my desire to be objective. There is a very real prevalence in our community, but I’ll try to be fair, here. Despite my professional and personal affiliations with Uprawr in particular, I do agree with the article in that some of their social media management is totally and utterly offensive. I could sugar coat that, but in doing so, I wouldn’t be acting true to my own morals. I can’t sit and justify posting articles out with such titles as ‘The Girl You’re Dating Is A Whore’, nor can I sit and marvel at the frankly disgusting celebration of the violation of women’s bodies , as seen recently in the whole ‘Fappening’ stuff (where loads of celebrities had their private pictures leaked). It isn’t funny at all. We aren’t all ‘lads’, so please don’t insult us! One thing I will say is that a lot of the time, women are in charge of these accounts, and so it’s not always the person you’d imagine behind it. It kind of proves that women internalize sexism and oppression though, which isn’t fun, either.

Uprawr Itself Is Pretty Fun, Though…

Uprawr are clearly aiming for a certain demographic – one that I may not like at all – but then in reality, when you get to the club you see it’s nothing like that. It’s all for show, and while I think some rebranding online wouldn’t hurt, the nights out are some of the most fun you can have. As Hannah says, “there’s no shame here, only fun. There is no obligation to be cool. You can be a reject.” – except unlike her, I believe that’s true of anyone who actually goes, not just the ‘alt-lad’ types that she mentions. Yes, there’s a ‘hierarchy’, but the only ones who really care are the ones who think they’re ‘high up’. Many of the staff are women, and contrary to opinions voiced in Hannah’s article, they’ve had more than one female DJ. It would definitely be nice to see more, of course it would, but just because they aren’t practicing positive discrimination, it’s not an inherently sexist choice in itself.

Just as I have fit in wearing nothing but hotpants and a bikini, I’ve had equally as much fun dressed down, or covered up. There are people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. I dress for me, and at least nobody there makes me feel out of place for not wearing six inch heels and tan (but I totally could if I wanted to, too.). Oh, and for the record – I have no tattoos, and don’t need to have them to attend, either. I’ve always felt like in the rock scene, I can dress how I want (unlike in my hometown where people chased me screaming ‘burn the witch!’). You’ll get critics everywhere, so screw them! Overall, if I want to look good, sue me. It’s exciting! It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve seen men stripping down too… this freedom I see at these places isn’t always gendered!

It’s a community. Let’s welcome each other – and outsiders – no matter how they look, and all enjoy the music together.

c Credit: Corinne @ Uprawr

It Can Get Weird, Yes.

There are some totally bizarre things about the alt world and its nightlife, sure. For example, I’m not going to deny that it is weird and gross when fully grown men in their thirties set up certain nights to get all sleazy with older teenaged girls. Talk about ulterior motives, especially if they are almost old enough to be his daughter (if you know, he wasn’t careful as a teen). That shit just is not cool, at all. Not in the slightest. I’m not referring to anyone mentioned in the article, but they know who they are.

Plus, while we are at it, I do indeed think it’s insane that alt-models have so much ‘importance’ in the scene – I personally feel too old for popularity contests. I will begrudgingly admit that when it comes to this kind of stuff: “come to this night and [enter alt-girl name] will be here. She’ll be roaming around the club with other alt girls, downing Jagerbombs with you. Look how attainable she is.”, which really does happen, I’m right there with Hannah. I can’t believe it’s a real thing! Cringey as hell, and I’m definitely not immune to plenty of eye rolling. However, I’d quite like to be level headed and respectful in the long run, so I’ll leave it at that.

My Personal Involvement.

Things got really personal with the Vice article when Big Deal Clothing got mentioned, I’ll admit. As I’ve mentioned on here before, I live with my partner, Dougie, who founded the clothing line seven years ago. Far from being some creeper who sits around trying to make girls with big boobs pose naked for him in his parents’ basement, he’s actually a pretty mature guy, with a mortgage and a proper job as a Marketing Designer through the week. Recently, he’s even started identifying as a feminist, on account of Little Miss Rantasaurus over here.

Hannah seems to have a personal vendetta against him though, and I can’t quite see why. She originally used an image (not credited, tut tut), of a lovely model called Leah Harris, who happens to be wearing nothing much but one of his beanies. Leah, who actually has an identity other than her breasts, wasn’t actually named in the piece. Newsflash, Vice: the only ones reducing her to her body here are you. Dougie works ridiculously hard on Big Deal, and I don’t remember him ever once pinning Leah Harris to the ground and forcing her to pose topless in one of his hats – in fact, the shoot wasn’t even a Big Deal sponsored one. Vice have since taken the image down, but it was lovely, so here you go:

leah Credit: Katy Tierney

Sure, some of the shoots for Big Deal overall may not be super ‘imaginative’, but do they need to be? They look great, they’re there to help sell the clothes – and they are doing the trick in helping what is basically a one-man-show and some good friends actually get his hard work off the ground. Support your independent scene, and all that. It’s not all glam – there’s barely any money in it these days and the hours are long and hard. His work is just as important and as much his dream as anyone else’s. Give us a break!

There are some who will call me complicit here in some greater ‘evil’ because of the shoots, or I will be accused of being naive to the fact that these women are being used as ‘commodities’. Marketing does need to go beyond just selling bodies, but I just don’t want to pity or patronize adult women who have actively sought out ways to get involved with the brand, just because it doesn’t fit your definition of ‘acceptable’.

Hannah, in all of her wisdom says: “On the vanilla end, these look-book shoots are the American Apparel ads that might spark a pissy Jezebel post or two.” The latest shoot was actually pretty vanilla – not a naked breast in sight! So with all due respect, I just don’t see how you can compare what my boyfriend does to an international company exploiting faceless women made to pose like underage girls in their underwear (or how you can minimalize Jezebel for attacking that). Not quite the same.

nat3 Model: Natalie Flanagan & Credit: Tom Calton

What Should Be Done?

Hannah wants a seemingly idealistic solution to all of these parts of the subculture, resulting in their downfall, except for the music itself. She says: “If the alt-scene is going to become female friendly and drain out the lad culture like the pus from a putrid cyst, I think there’s only one group to do this quickly. And that’s the bands and their PR.” Right. Because the music industry as an island isn’t totally male dominated too… Oh, wait. 

The truth is, alternative clothing lines and clubnights help hold up a scene that is absolutely dying on its arse – they’re now arguably just as much a part of it as the bands themselves. (Well, they shape it, at least). In terms of band collaborations, Big Deal has been known to send out clothing to bands we work with (probably the most notorious supporter being The Hype Theory’s female vocalist, Katy Jackson). This helps us and them, and so we co-exist. Katy’s a lovely girl, and she sees the effort we put into what we do, and in return puts effort into us!


The Scene ISN’T Just The Music.

Along with these alt-nights, clothing lines like ours are the ones putting the money in, sponsoring the festivals (like the female-ran Hit The Deck which got a mention), taking out adverts in the struggling music press, and they’re also often the ones giving bands a platform to perform or just promote their stuff.  They’re the reason there’s still enough people able to put on the shows you and I love, and honestly, they’re the reason I still know people at my age willing to attend with me. I know loads of people in bands who head to these nights, because they’re fab for networking. Every person I know in this industry cares about what they do, no matter the angle they are coming from, and works ridiculously hard for only small rewards. So many bands realize the value of an alternative culture surrounding their industry, because in reality, its a perfect niche which gives them much needed revenue and support.

You Can Be Anyone You Want To Be.

Hannah asks: “If you’re not an alt-girl – if you’re just the average female music fan – then how do you fit in?” I’m 24 years old, doing well in my career, and thankfully, happy enough in my own skin not to worry too much about ‘fitting in’. Not everyone at these nights are a carbon copy of one another, and we each have lives outside of the subculture. The truth is, I exist in two worlds which seemingly have very little in common. The alt world, and the feminist world. The two shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I have every right to be involved, as does anyone. Sure, I have been there – the girl in a band who’s been mistaken for a groupie. The hard working merch girl/music journalist/friend of a band who’s been mistaken for a groupie. The actual partner of someone in a band, aka ‘groupie’ (and so what…?). The girl who has been felt up by some dickhead in a club. The list goes on. Other than where I have already pointed it out, I don’t think the clubs perpetuate it, I think people do. In fact, Satan’s in Manchester were brilliant when I reported sexual harassment – in general they take these things very seriously.

We Aren’t All The Same!

In 2014, any form of sexism is totally and utterly vile, archaic and frustrating.  It hurts both women AND men, and there’s no way of defending it in the slightest. However, using umbrella terms to stereotype an entire group of people is harmful, too. It’s still discrimination, regardless of the fact that it isn’t entirely of the same magnitude. Labelling us all as misogynistic when the reality is that we are all so different is akin to slander and reminds me of how, growing up, I would be called all kinds just because of the style I was into. On an extreme level, this could even be helping to perpetuate negative attitudes and victim blaming – after all, some idiots out there still blame women for such heinous crimes as rape, and if she’s been told they’re all sexual degenerates then what was she doing with them, anyway?! (Note: Sarcasm to the max). Blaming women for their choices and for ‘lad culture’ is so ANTI feminist that I can’t even begin to explain why anyone would.

How Do We Put An End To It All?

Changes do need to be made, and we shouldn’t have to be made to feel inferior in a world dominated by men. It isn’t unique to music though – just look at the disgusting and sickening way the sporting world have been debating allowing a convicted rapist back onto a high profile football team, recently. The types of men I know in the ‘alt’ world are usually fairly open minded, and those who aren’t are just like that as individuals. It’s true of anywhere. If we’re being really pedantic, look at pop first, and hip hop, as well as people you see in the supermarket, at work, and at basically every uni, ever. If I had to avoid everywhere with a few sexist idiots, I’d never leave my house. Sad, but true. You should instead have integrity by calling things out where it’s due, and this is something I’m never afraid to do. But you don’t need to boycott – and politicize – an entire subculture… you’ll actually be doing the bands a bigger harm. Pointing the finger without checking your facts isn’t going to make anyone listen to you, but healthy communication is.

I would never excuse or dismiss any form of sexism, but I don’t think we should condemn an entire group of people which still in reality exists as a minority outside of its insular foundations. We mostly go to alt-nights because we prefer to listen to music that reminds us of the MySpace days, not because we think it’s fun to get involved with ‘lad banter’ (ugh). The way to end all this discrimination isn’t to attack from within. It isn’t to make a mockery of women for their own choices, and attempt to make them feel victimized when often, they feel empowered. Women have enough people judging them without so-called feminists calling them out, too.

Hannah, you have the right to feel offended – sure. But everyone has the right to live the way they want, providing nobody gets hurt. Destroying some of the things which are holding our scene up are not going to help anyone – although challenging them might.  I do count myself a part of this world – albeit the non sexist, non discriminatory part – and I’m actually glad. It’s a world that let me be different enough to be myself (whether men OR women like it) and to go out there and speak my mind. Let’s all work together to end this.


PS: If you’re an alt model and someone wants to get the N21 bus home with you, just consider this. If they’re wearing a Big Deal vest, they must be cool – so GO FOR IT.

PPS: I’m pretty sure Hannah (the orginal article’s author) has attended these nights she claims to condemn – paid money to be there, worn the clothes, and everything else that comes along with it. She also apparently interned for Front. I won’t slander her, but I wonder if she meant anything she wrote or just wanted to cause controversy for Vice? Feeling like you’ve outgrown a scene is fine – belittling everything about it because you’re a hipster now is not.

PPPS: Anyone childish enough to make threats/childish insults against Hannah are doing themselves a disservice in that such behavior is proving a point. I don’t condone that – there is a need for equality, and we shouldn’t criticize anyone without justification, no matter how much we disagree. Put your toys back in the pram, now!

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    • Claire Louise

      Thank you so much for that :)

  • prelapsus

    Really thorough critique of the Vice piece, I enjoyed reading it. Just one thing I wanted to add: The Vice article has a grumble about “faux lesbians kissing each other” or something to that effect. This feels like a bit of a sexist comment in itself. 2 guys kissing each other would never be accused of being “faux gay”. Assuming that 2 women kissing in an alt club is solely for the purposes of male gratification is a shitty assumption to make. I’m not denying or ignoring that some women might feel pressured into this on occasion, but if that is the case, criticise the people creating the atmosphere, not the women themselves! It basically comes down to the point you made about women still having agency. If they want to kiss each other for attention, they shouldn’t be criticised for it!

    Also more concerning sexuality as opposed to sexism: People should be encouraged to explore their sexuality if they want to. Having the freedom to do so should be something to be celebrated. Accusing people who are choosing to experiment of being somehow fake, is not only repressive, but also erases people’s perfectly valid sexual experiences/identities.

    Sorry if that was in any way incoherent, I just really wanted to address that.

    • Claire Louise Sheridan

      Thank you, and no, it wasn’t incoherent at all :) Sorry it took so long to reply! That’s actually a really interesting point. Lesbianism should never be just seen as the result as something that’s fetishized. Of course it CAN be, but real lesbians exist too, and in reality, the spectrum of sexuality is so huge, it’s not surprising girls might want to kiss on a night out! God knows I’ve had stages where I’ve wanted to kiss EVERYONE when drunk! Whatever someone’s reasoning for exploring their sexuality or just being comfortable to have a laugh, she or he shouldn’t be condemned. I can go out and pretend to be more confident than I am, so I can also go out and pretend to be more experimental, too. Thanks for the insight :)