Phoebe Summers | How I taught Reading & Leeds to be culturally relevant

Phoebe Summers

Phoebe Summers poster

Last week, music blog Crack in the Road released a doctored version of the Leeds/Reading festival poster, highlighting the lack of female acts in this year’s festival lineup. The internet exploded in an inevitably sexist fashion: “There are, and always have been, very few good female bands. FULL STOP,” one commenter said. “What do you people want? A apology because women can’t do the low roaring vocal which befits most rock music?” asked another.

The trouble is, neither of these statements are true, and that spurred me on to spend a few hours creating an alternative, fantasy lineup poster, consisting solely of bands with female members or female artists, to prove the point that there are enough relevant and commercially viable female bands to fill the Reading & Leeds lineup – they just don’t get booked.

I uploaded the mock poster onto my Tumblr, thinking that a few of my musician friends might find it amusing, and perhaps, it would get shared around a little in light of the “sexism in music” articles which were circulating online. The next day, it had sort of … Spread.

Screen shot Phoebe Summers

Initially, people didn’t seem to realise it was a fake poster (which was surprising, considering the numerous typos and paint-smudges). They thought it was an excellent lineup, and they’d seriously reconsider going to the notoriously laddy weekender if it were real. It was only when they read the statement below the image that they realised what they were looking at. Many bloggers pointed out it was simply a “better” billing, regardless of gender. Some, including Lauren Laverne and Josie Long, were delighted. Others suggested artists who didn’t appear on the bill: “No Yeah Yeah Yeahs?! Babes in Toyland, Hole, The Julie Ruin, Madonna.. ?!” Thus proving the sheer wealth of talented female acts touring and working today, as previously refuted by many of the original poster’s naysayers.

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By midmorning, over 1000 people had reblogged it on Tumblr, and it had been shared nearly 200 times on Facebook. I stayed at home, going through comments and checking the Leeds/Reading tags on Twitter. Watching it gaining momentum though social media was like watching an asteroid hurtling towards you: fascinating, but inescapably disastrous. And then, the inevitable slew of negative comments rolled in as it steadily got posted on bigger sites, like Drowned in Sound and the Guardian comments section. Suddenly, bands who’d shared the poster in support of women in music got in touch to say they’d been faced with angry fans branding them “feminazis.” While going through Facebook shares, I found one status calling me a “bitch, who needed a kick in the vagina”. Later, I tried to discuss the issue with another commenter, who said that my rationale made me “slightly better than the average feminist” – but apparently that was only slightly better than a “bucket of bile”.

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The most confusing reaction, however, was the barrage of bloggers who seemed hell-bent on proving that anyone who liked my alternative lineup was the REAL sexist. Because they didn’t SEE gender – they just saw good music. The sexism equivalent of not seeing race, which is to deny an entire group of people their identity. Progressive. Others were unashamedly racist (we hid your name dear racist, you’re welcome).

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The internet was the perfect petri dish to watch an interesting discussion about gender equality and the politics around diversity turn into a defensive battlefield, full of angry people who refuse to see that a lack of female representation is a problem. “I’ve never seen this happen, therefore it does not happen,” says the troll.

But hey, troll, I’ve got a news flash for you. You ARE seeing it happen – 86.9% of the lineup for Reading & Leeds is male. That’s not an oversight. That right there is a gender imbalance, and it’s not OK. My poster and the plethora of other band suggestions put to me more than proves the number of relevant acts who could have appeared on the bill. As Crack in the Road rightly say, “if you cannot see how colossally underrepresented women are across ALL cultural spheres, then you need at the very least your eyes tested.”

The aggression levelled at my poster and the people (both men and women) who dare to call out inequality or criticise the established, wealthy, overwhelmingly white, male-centered industry was astounding. Criticising the current state of festival lineups doesn’t mean your favourite, all-male skinny-jeaned rock band won’t be playing next year’s Leeds Fest. What it does is open up a valuable discussion – and highlight just how wilfully ignorant people seem to be when it comes to addressing a lack of diversity. Remind me, what century are we in again?

Phoebe Summers
Follow Phoebe here: @psgsummers

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