Kate Crudgington

Where are all the Women at Festivals?

With the recent news that Florence and The Machine are to replace Foo Fighters on the opening night of Glastonbury this year, there’s been a fresh batch of criticism and even sexist remarks about female headliners at music festivals. These remarks seem to follow the following thought processes:

  1. Women don’t want to play music/like music as much as men do
  2. Women excel at pop music, not rock music
  3. Women have tiny brains and tiny hands. How can they hold guitars/drumsticks/microphones, let alone understand how to actually use them?

(Okay, I made that last one up)

Before you stop reading because you think I’m a bitter, musically bias misandrist, I’d like to state that I think the majority of all-male bands who’ve been selected to headline major music festivals are genuinely there on merit. Muse, for example, appeared to confirm earlier this year that they will be headlining Bestival, and they would be absolutely deserving. Their backlog and talent is immense, which is the case with many of the all-male bands who are fronting festivals all over the country.

The complete line-up for Reading/Leeds festivals on the left, and with only the acts including women on the right

The complete line-up for Reading/Leeds festivals on the left, and with only the acts including women on the right

As with many things in life however, I can’t help but feel these bands are also casually aided by male privilege. If you’ve got a cock, you’re much more likely to succeed in the rock music business and headline a festival, something which most young women know anyway, but the statistics below help to highlight:


This gap in the industry isn’t due to a lack of female talent, or a lack desire in female musicians to succeed. In the pop world, women rule. Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Beyonce are three of the many women in pop music who are unapologetically brilliant and creative. They have all headlined festivals in recent years and have all achieved success through hard-work, perseverance and vocal talent. So, if women in pop can make it to the top, why is it still so difficult for women in rock?

Laura-Mary Carter of the male/female two-piece Blood Red Shoes, has highlighted the barriers faced by women in the rock music industry:

After 10 years of touring, I know how many hurdles there are when trying to be taken seriously as a woman in a rock band. It’s a male-dominated world and there’s still a huge stigma that girls can’t play their instruments properly. I still encounter people at venues who patronise me, or make me feel really small and abnormal for doing what I do. In the early stages, that can be really off-putting for newer female artists. You have to develop a thick skin.”

This ‘thick skin’ is essential for female fans of rock music too. Some random guy on the internet once branded me a ‘dumb chick c**t’ for liking Joy Division, which was apparently a ‘man’s band’. I panicked and deleted my blog about the band, when I should’ve come up with a witty lyric-based reply (or quoted Deborah Curtis’s Touching From a Distance). This guys dunce remark made me question my own music taste, and my supposed ‘right’ to like a ‘man’s band’. I laugh now when I think about it, but I can’t believe opinions like this exist (even if it is within small, stupid spheres of the internet).

At live gigs I’ve been fortunate; I’m quite tall, and I wear  Dr Martens, so men tend to leave me alone, or reduce my sexuality down to my footwear (I’ve been ‘accused’ of being a lesbian on several occasions). However, as a female  in a usually male-dominated crowd, you’re still prone to sexist remarks, groping, and general harassment (you can read an excellent blog about this issue here). Fortunately, women like Laura-Mary have learnt to be ‘bulletproof’ whilst on stage and refuse to step out of the spotlight, providing the much needed visibility and encouragement for aspiring female musicians in the crowd, and the music industry.

So, how can we change these disheartening statistics? How do we get female musicians to headline music festivals? I don’t have any concrete answers, but I think we can make a difference if we do what we do with the male bands; buy their records, buy tickets to see them on their tours, and use social media to promote the living daylights out of them. Female rock bands are not a myth! There are plenty of modern girls who are ready and waiting to take to the stage, and balance out the numbers. If you’re looking for new all-female rock/alternative bands, or females who front predominantly male bands, here’s a short list of acts to get behind:

Pins, The Big Moon, Findlay, Wolf Alice, The Joy Formidable, The Julie Ruin, Savages, Deap Valley, Blood Red Shoes, Warpaint, Haim, St Vincent, Honeyblood

Or, if you want a lesson in pre-existing female ferocity, definitely invest in any of these established acts:

Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Hole, Sister George, Sleater Kinney, Joan Jett, The Runaways, Patti Smith (there are tonnes more, research away…)

(Also, I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning FKA Twigs, Gazelle Twin, Grimes & Chvrches – not rock bands, but they’re too good not to name drop!)

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