After a year of no gigs, let alone music festivals, many fans are understandably excited to get their hands on Reading and Leeds tickets. But it's a year that also highlighted the extreme ways in which the pandemic has negatively impacted women more than men. It was incredibly disappointing, then, to see not one woman artist headlining. In fact, we have to get over half way down the announcement just to see women artists: Doja Cat and Mabel.
And it's not for a lack of female talent. HAIM, Charli XCX, and Phoebe Bridgers to name but a few, all released brilliant albums over the last year. As Stylist notes, even in Billboard's top 100 artists at the end of 2019, two out of the top three artists were women. The situation couldn't be worse for R+L organisers, given that (to make up for the impact of coronavirus last year), they've doubled the number of headliners... and yet they still couldn't find one slot for a woman. For the seventh year in a row.
Thankfully, lots public response to the line-up has been supportive of women, and not the festival. But change starts from the top, and as an interview with Lucy Wood (Latitude's booker) back in 2018 shows, the belief must still be engrained in organisers in 2021 that women just don't sell tickets; "We all want more women on the bills and we’ve all consciously tried to get more women at the top end, but there’s only so much you can really do,’ says Lucy. ‘At the end of the day we need to think about ticket sales and that the artists we choose attract people to buy tickets" (Grazia).
So what can be done about the Reading and Leeds lineup? Well, I'm not a business student so don't expect a full breakdown or plan of action from me. But I'd hope that the outcry from fans, the recognition being given to women artists by institutions like the Grammys, and sheer statistical data on just how sexist the industry is, would be enough to encourage (if not force) festivals to take a chance on women musicians.
Except it's not taking a chance at all. Women have excelled in the music industry. It's about time they take notice of that.
But it's not just Reading and Leeds. An analysis of 756 acts in 2018 found that 77% of artists on nine festival posters were male. So how can festivals move forward from this?
Well, the Keychange initiative could be a step forward in supporting women in the industry more, with 400+ organisations having already pledged to achieve gender balance by 2022. And they're looking beyond lineups, given that there's an average pay gap of 30% at UK record labels and 98% of works performed by major global orchestras in 2018/19 were by men. But the issue also extends past talent.
More needs to be done to protect fans. Research from 2018 showed that two thirds of women were worried about sexual harassment when attending a festival, with only 1% having reported the assault or harassment to a member of staff. But it's not just women: 53-56% of men were also worried about sexual harassment and assault. Anyone who's lost a mate at a festival will know it's not the easiest thing in the world to find who you're looking for. But when it comes to someone being sexually assaulted or harassed, acres of muddy fields, loud music and bad signal is no excuse to finding the oppressor. Everyone has the right to feel safe at a festival, whether you want to be at the barrier or hanging back by the food vans.
It's 2021 and, like many other creative industries, music is still sexist. 2.1% of producers are women. 12.3% of songwriters are women. 4 out of 871 producers were women of colour. 39% of women were objectified in a recording studio. This research done by USC Annenburg in 2019 emphasises that the music industry is long overdue in doing more for women. The same report suggests that 'creating environments where women are welcome', '[creating] opportunities for women to use their skills and talents', having 'role models and mentorships' and committing to 'considering & hiring more females' are all steps forward for the industry. But two years and a pandemic later, we're yet to see the effect of these improvements. Hopefully other festival lineups and research won't fall on such a flat note.