Sexism on the Road

Women's History Month

Volume CVII, No. 3March, 2007

Pat Humphries and Sandy O

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Pat Humphries (left) and Sandy O, who perform asd the group “Emma’s Revolution.”

In our experience as traveling folk musicians, there is a lot of sexism everywhere we go. There is a prevailing belief that a lot of women get hired in the music business because of their looks and there’s a huge amount of pressure in the business for women to sell themselves on that basis.

Women’s talent is devalued because of that assumption and that requirement, while women who don’t present themselves in that objectified, titillating way don’t even get considered.

It’s a lose- lose proposition for women: if you do participate, you’re treated as if you have no talent and you’re not taken seriously. If you don’t participate, it’s as if you don’t exist or you’re characterized as too strong, too opinionated, bitchy or threatening.

There are still narrow conceptions about what a woman performer should sound like, look like, act like, what instrument she should or shouldn’t play, what she should or shouldn’t sing about, what age she should be and how much money she should be paid.

We still get paid less than men, get hired less in the commercial folk circuit and get less promotion.

We find there’s greater hostility now than anytime in the 23 years that either one of us has been writing and touring.

When we have been at folk festivals where more than one woman-led act has been on the bill, male organizers and audience members have disparagingly said that “women are taking over.” But very rarely have these same people (or anyone) referred to a folk festival as a “men’s music festival” when the bill is entirely male performers.

The same goes for record labels, agent rosters, showcase and conference programs, concert series and magazine and radio features and reviews.

Of course, we’ve noticed a similar problem in other workplaces…and Congress.

We make our living through our own network of peace and justice contacts because we have more faith in and experience with them treating us on an equal basis and valuing us and our music.

Pat Humphries and Sandy O are members of AFM Local 1000, the traveling musicians’ local.