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The music industry notoriously hides a lot of skeletons in its closet. Underneath the facade of glory, it has a historically lousy wrap for underestimating and disrespecting the power of the women who thrive within it.

From day one, female (and non-male identifying) artists have had to navigate an array of tricky, and often subtle yet sinister dichotomies at play, that ultimately shape careers. It’s the pressure to be sexually appealing, but never sleazy, to be poised and confident, but not too confronting, to hold your own but never turn down advice from those who seemingly know better.

There’s no denying these underlying set of rules reverberate through all aspects of life for women. According to a recent study conducted by Libra, only 50% of women feel as though they have the freedom to “do what they want”, with 49% stating that society’s attitude towards women is old-fashioned and outdated. These are expectations male acts, for the most part within the music industry, don’t have to worry about. 

It’s a constant fight, and even after years of progress, there are still so many gatekeepers and figures of influence who’s backwards views impact the career trajectory of so many female acts.

Despite all of this, if we look at 2020 in particular, women are winning the music the game.

‘WAP’ is not only the year’s biggest hit, but it’s a pioneering celebration of female sexuality. Artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Fiona Apple and Haim have scooped up the bulk of critical acclaim in the press, and more so than ever, we’re witnessing diverse and honest stories around gender and sexuality dominate scenes.

In Australia, while change is occurring, we still have far to go – it’s telling in our festival lineups, through the behaviours of some fans and more, that women still aren’t 100% welcome as they are. So, to gain a greater perspective on how things are looking, we spoke with 10 Australian artists around their experiences as women within the industry.

SayGrace – Solo Artist

“I feel as though with women, people have to put us in a box to understand us like it’s impossible to conceive the notion that a woman can be several things all at once. It’s like is she sexy, is she relatable, is she heartbroken, what’s her story etc.”

“These are statements I’ve heard throughout my whole career since I was 14, all while watching my male peers grow and evolve and explore without any expectations other than just to be. I wish the music industry had that same energy when it comes to a woman’s artistry.”

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Listen to SayGrace here.

Mikaila Delgado – Yours Truly

“Starting out I felt I had more to prove to gain respect. Often feeling in the outer because I was the only girl in the room – like I was just filling a quota. There was this sense that we had to fit the criteria of being a ‘female-fronted band’ and that was all we could and should be.”

“Music shouldn’t belong to one type of person. Music is universal, owned by everyone. Everyone deserves to see someone like them, creating something they love. Everyone deserves the opportunity to create and tell their story, show who they are and what they go through.”

“I have definitely seen a lot of positive change over the years. Lineups are consciously inclusive, which brings women forward. These opportunities create inspiration for other women in music and show that all women are so badass. There is a great sense of community and support from other musicians and music fans; we all want a positive change!”

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Listen to Yours Truly here.

Sarah Bonnet – Down for Tomorrow/ A Swift Farewell

“Sometimes I get comments about how it’s ‘unusual for a rock band to have a female member who is not the singer’, to which I never really know what to reply. I feel like they need a special explanation as to why I am playing bass in a rock band when that’s ‘not what women usually do’, but I don’t have any, that’s just what I like doing.”

“I feel for a while, women in the music industry (at least commercially successful music), were judged on how they looked and what they were wearing rather than their music and creativity.”

“It’s important for everyone to be represented. If you only see successful male musicians or female singers who dress nicely and wear a lot of make-up, and you are a musician who doesn’t fit one of those two descriptions, it’s easy to feel like you can’t be successful – unless you change who you are. But seeing someone who looks like you, doing the thing you dream of doing makes you feel like it’s possible, it empowers you.”

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Listen to Down for Tomorrow and A Swift Farewell.

Bel – Solo Artist

“As a high-femme queer woman, my personal experience is that men struggle to believe that they may not be necessary for professional or personal narratives. It’s not uncommon to be viewed as less qualified, less knowledgeable, less worthy of money or praise. It occurs in the studio, at festivals, on lineups, in business meetings – the entertainment industry still has so much to overcome. I’ve said it once, and I will continue saying it, sexism is a disease.”

“All of its by-products – sexual assault, unequal pay, misandry, and backhanded compliments – exist because of the fundamental beliefs that some people in positions of power uphold.”

“Women & GNC folx are incredible, insightful, resilient, tender, potent and full of so much complexity. Women have been classed as second-best to men since the beginning of time, and we all know now that this is simply not true. The industry needs radical gender and racial diversity to reflect the world we live in, or there is no point in any of it.”

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Listen to Bel here.

Lauren Guererra – Columbus

“I have been flat-out rejected from bands because they ‘weren’t looking for a woman’, felt pressured by bandmates to play shows when it was clear I was being used to ‘diversify’ the bill, and people often used to assume that I had just picked up the bass because I couldn’t do anything else and wanted to be in a band (when in reality, I gave up classical piano to hone in on bass).”

“I have worked REALLY hard to prove myself to everyone over the years, and I think my passion for music has developed a strong reputation for myself for being a skilled bassist and musician, and a valuable source of knowledge for everything punk, hardcore, and indie rock.”

“Although, there IS an inherent problem in the fact that I’ve felt like I had to put so much energy into proving myself and being the best musician I can be when some dudes that can barely play three power chords can gain instant respect.”

“Having that support from the men and women I work closely with, as well as our amazing fans who NEVER treat me differently for being a woman, is such an incredible feeling and I am grateful. I hope other women, non-binary people and people of colour are not settling for anything less than that level of respect and support.”

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Listen to Columbus here.

Emmy Mack – RedHook

“The thing that messed me up most though happened when I was 24. A very prominent artist manager was interested in working with my band at the time, and I was absolutely ecstatic, (albeit completely naive and inexperienced dealing with the industry)! I vividly remember this one particular phone conversation when he asked me how old I was and I answered truthfully, not really thinking anything of it.”

“In response, dead silence echoed down the line.”

“‘Hmm’, he uttered finally. ‘OK’. More silence. I started to panic. ‘Is… is that bad?’ I asked.”

“‘Well we’re going to have to accelerate our timeline here. You’ve maybe got about 12 months left before nobody in the industry will want to touch you. Women over the age of 25 don’t sell. So we need to work fast.’ Thankfully, the management contract didn’t make it out of legal. But I’ve been lying about my age ever since.”

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Listen to RedHook here.

Lola Scott – Solo Artist

“Recently I played a gig where the soundie made comments to my band saying, ‘That’s why girls shouldn’t be in bands’ after he had asked whether I was triggering the backing tracks of ‘just singing’. I have also had multiple soundies undermine me and try to tell me that I am running my tracks wrong by using Ableton and that ProTools is better for live performances.”

“I’ve had plenty of producers assume that I couldn’t play the guitar even when I walked into sessions holding a guitar and they would not hide their shock very well when I wasn’t bad at it. I’ve also been told that I’m good at playing guitar for a girl.”

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Listen to Lola Scott here.

Aeora – Solo Artist

“Mostly it was a punter just casually assuming my role as a girlfriend of the band or artist, and ignoring the sight that I was holding all my own gear ready to set up for my set. It didn’t bother me as I know they didn’t intend to cause any harm. But it did make me wonder how many males got asked if they were the boyfriends – imagine that!”

“I think the majority of expectations put on me based on my gender, is unsaid. I can definitely feel the different energy given off from people when they realise I produce and sing. It’s like a level of surprise, and it never feels good to be put in a box like that, even if it is unconscious.”

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Listen to Aeora here.

Evangeline – Solo Artist

“At the very beginning of my career, I was fairly young, fairly unsure of who I was and where my place was in the world. I was insecure of my body, who I was as an artist and who I was in general; always expected to have a face full of makeup and wear dresses on my shoots.”

“I learnt early on to be cautious because there is a fine line between bonding with a producer during a session and them wanting to ‘party’ with me or assuming that I am flirting with them. It’s often made me question why they don’t take me seriously as an artist? Why am I investing time and energy in a session if the outcome for my music doesn’t align with why the producer is there? Do men ever feel objectified in these kinds of situations? This is something that I’m still navigating.”
 
“I remember one horrific session set up by a label where the male producers suggested I change the lyrics to a song I was writing. When I asked them why, they simply responded, ‘Because girls don’t think like that’. There is a preconceived idea of what a female pop artist should look like and how she should act, and breaking out of that stereotype means there are personality traits that I have to relearn; sometimes they are as simple as being more dominant and less submissive, other times it means pushing my own creative boundaries and allowing my unapologetic self to shine through.”

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Listen to Evangeline here.

Caitlin Henry – Eat Your Heart Out

“I feel like for the majority I’ve been pretty lucky with the bands and people we’ve worked with and toured with, but I’ve had a few instances, especially when we were younger, where it was assumed I was just a girlfriend of one of the band members, which was frustrating – especially when I’ve literally just been out there on stage! I think there’s also a weird vibe put on women in the scene that we are always competing like there’s only room for one or two big successful female-fronted rock acts, but there’s always been room for hundreds of male acts.”

“I think there’s a bunch of Aussie bands with women absolutely kicking ass in the scene right now and they are really showing that gender shouldn’t be a defining factor in anyone’s music career. I feel like we’ve been going from strength to strength with diversity and acceptance and hopefully, that inspires a whole new wave of girls in the next generation of bands.”

“Who wants to listen to the same sad guys over and over again singing about the same things?”

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Listen to Eat Your Heart Out here.

Image: Georgia Moloney Photography