Sexism, DAWs and Rock ’n’ Roll

Hello internet! Hello to anyone interested in sound or music! “Hello world I’m your wild girl!”

My name is Kiera and I’m an 18 year old sound production student at New College Lanarkshire, Cumbernauld. I’m a vegetarian, pisces and I enjoy long walks on the beach. Oh, and I’m feminist AF.

In addition to every other amazing woman on this site, I am a huge lover of music. The first gig I ever went to was Girls Aloud in 2007 with my Dad, his best friend Adrian and Adrian’s boyfriend. I remember being in complete awe the whole time, as a little 10 year old girl in Scotland getting to actually witness and be in the same room as these five beautiful artists that I used to just play on my hi-fi every week was indescribable.

I always loved singing, and even secretly loved my dad playing Smooth Radio in the car (still do) but that one concert was the butterfly wing flap that shaped my career choice today. (Now admittedly since then my music taste has developed a bit – and I tend to listen to bands and artists that actually write their own music, but my point still stands. Give me a break, I was 10. Jeez, Rick).

So I got a bright pink guitar for my 11th birthday and the rest is history (by history I mean “pressing your fingertips down on metal strings is actually painful, I give up”). Subsequently, my beautiful Westfield gathered dust in my bedroom.

That is, until I discovered Musical Workshop when I was 14. I went from an attending young person to a volunteer which I still am today. It’s there I met many of the people I now call close friends, where I actually learned to play guitar, where I overcame my fear of performing and where I was first introduced to the wonderful Carolann, a youth worker there.

Without Carolann I would never have known anything about sound production. I was only interested in finding new music and improving at guitar. She taught me how to work a PA system so I could actually manage the live sound for my friend and OUTSTANDING artist (Toni Woods – check her out) at Kelburn Festival this summer. She’s helped open my eyes about how women are treated in the music industry and everyday society (not to mention countless boy advice and the courage to wear whatever I want because every week regardless she tells me she loves it).

I’m super lucky to have been one of the first people Carolann asked to take part in the That’s Sound project event and of course I totally jumped at the idea. A day off school to show a bunch of younger girls how powerful and influential girls can be in the music industry? Opening up their eyes to the potential careers in sound? Yes please. I met some amazing women working in music and sound that day and was sooo glad that the younger girls were getting that chance too. I loved everything about this project from the get-go, and I think its something we really have to talk about more openly without fear of coming across as “a mad feminazi” or “Kiera, it’s 4am. Why are you in my house?”

One thing I’ve learned quite quickly since leaving school is that you’re either a weirdo or you make fun of the weirdos. And its not always completely linear, sometimes you’re a “bit of a weirdo” but you make fun of the even bigger weirdos or sometimes you see someone showing signs of “weirdo behaviour” and you don’t make fun of them because you might relate to that particular behaviour or trait. BUT, you’ll jump on the weirdo-name-calling-bandwagon when you see someone else doing something “completely outlandish that you wouldn’t dream of doing because its too weirdoish”. This became apparent to me recently when I pre-judged a bunch of genuinely lovely people based on them displaying “weirdo behaviour”. How did I know they were weird? Because school and social media had told me so.

So my realisation went a little like, “Why are these weirdos being nice?”, “Why do I like these weirdos?”, “Wait. Why am I calling them weirdos?”   *lightbulb moment*

Everyone wants to be accepted, everyone wants to feel “normal” and I think that’s why it’s easy when we’re growing up to latch on to what the majority deem as “unacceptable” or “weird” trends and behaviours, which creates hurdles for us all and stops us from going after what we really want to do (like study to work in a job that’s deemed a ‘man’s job’). “We’re the normal ones, theres nothing wrong with me and even if there is, it’s okay because it’s the same thing wrong with other people (media faces and school peers) too”.

It’s the little degrading snowflakes that build together one by one that ultimately become the avalanche that ruins a persons self esteem. They’re too scared to do anything they love thats a little unpopular because they’ll be completely shunned from society. And its always little stupid things that you don’t even realise that affect you. I was recently on a social media site that sounds an awful lot like “Twooter” when I found a thread of people discussing how messed up it is that people like coleslaw! Ridiculous, right? Kind of funny because it’s so ridiculous? But over 2000 people shared it, so obviously I’m weird for liking it, I can’t tell anyone I like it because then I’ll be the odd one out. “Would you like coleslaw with your meal?” , “No thanks I’m ok”.

And that, ladies, gentleman and everyone in between – drumroll please – is how everyday sexism works. A few sentences that you may not even consciously acknowledge begin to shape young girls and women (in fact everyone) into thinking that there are things in this world you will never be able to achieve simply because of your gender. Its found in school, the workplace, the internet. Its found in media and advertisements, and its found in underrepresentation.

“Ugh but its 2017” you say. “Everyone knows that girls can do all the same stuff as guys. Sexism doesn’t exist anymore and we’ve got it as good as ever so just chill out”. You know that scene in Scrubs where Dr Cox turns to JD and sings “wrong wrong wrong wrong” to the tune of Big Ben’s chimes? That is what plays in my head whenever anyone (usually a man) says anything remotely like that sentence to me.

So now theres this split in society. Those who believe that sexism doesn’t exist anymore and that feminism isn’t needed because “everyone is treated the same now” and “its not the 1920s anymore” versus those who are “woke” and see that there is still so much work to do in creating a safe environment and equal opportunities for girls and women (not to mention the LGBTQ+ community, BAME communities and disabled people, which are 3 more discussions in their own right, so I’ll try and stick to my track).

To me, it’s so important that we educate as many people as possible on why they should be a part of that second group, but large corporate companies have capitalised on the movement and mass produced #feminist pin badges, iron on patches and “GRL PWR” t-shirts – which sounds great, but it’s not so great when the profit isn’t used to help any of the amazing charities working to make change happen. So suddenly the movement becomes a trend, not about beliefs and not about making any real change. It’s a marketing tool. It’s about fitting in all over again. The word loses its meaning.You shouldn’t be afraid to be a feminist because one group of people thinks it’s uncool. You also shouldn’t be afraid to not be a feminist because another group of cool people wear feminism merchandise that you might not have, making you, again, uncool.

Feminism is a word. Its not a dirty word. For me it means you believe that everyone should be treated equally, given the same opportunities and encouraged to be the best version of themselves by everyone around them. That’s especially important in schools, colleges, universities and employment and I’m so happy to be learning to break away from the stereotypes I was encouraged to fit into and to be studying sound. Whether you call yourself a feminist, an equalitist or a humanitarian means nothing. Its our actions that shape who we are. I think Miss Emmeline Pankhurst put it best when she said “deeds not words”.

So yes, Thats Sound may be a little project that only tackles a tiny portion of the work that we all have cut out for us, but its a project that means something and it’s growing. Its a direct action in the right direction and something that I’m proud to call myself a member of. We need more girls in sound engineering and production. Hell, we still need more girls across the board but we need to support them to realise they can do it. Whatever ‘it’ is for each person.

I like to think that I believe in equality, but the truth is that I never even imagined myself in a sound production course because subconsciously I always thought it was a boys job. Sure, girls can be performers and mathematicians and business owners because I’ve seen them do it. Live crew, engineers and producers? The only ones I ever saw were men. That is until I met Carolann. We need more Carolanns in the world. The only way we can inspire the generations to come in being on the right side of history is by leading by example. Don’t re-post that little degrading message, even if it is under 140 characters. Don’t pay to be a part of a movement because it’s a trend. Be part of the change. Don’t be afraid to be a “weirdo” or to step out from the stereotypical job roles that are churned out.

And in the interest of not having the Rock ’n’ Roll part of this article blank, I leave you with a quote from one of the biggest feminists in alternative music history:

“I would like to get rid of the homophobes, sexists, and racists in our audience. I know they’re out there and it really bothers me”.

Me too Kurt, me too.