Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Why I'm Not Blogging About The New MBV Album

So I'm not writing about the new MBV album, even though I've downloaded it and it's sitting waiting for me. I made breakfast, was going through old memories from the last one (22 years is a long time, I was thinking about what had changed in the interim.)

Someone I know RT'd a tweet from a mutual acquaintance into my timeline. I can't tell you the exact words because he's blocked me now, but it was something along the lines of "all over the country, indiedads are telling their kids that no, it was always like that, you never could hear the vocals."

I rolled my eyes at that tweet. And I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think twice about replying, because there's always that twitch. The Terrible Bargain. Is this going to be taken in the spirit it's meant, mild grumbling and correction, or is this going to cause an argument. I thought, nah, it's OK. I know the guy who RT'd it really well, I talk to him all the time about this stuff. I reasonably know the guy who posted the original, I've been down the pub with him, I've met his IndieWife, I've been to indiegigs with both of them.

And I tweeted back "Indiedads. Because no women at all listened to MBV. Despite there being, you know, 2 women in the actual band." Light, casual, ironic. A reference to the fact that Bilinda was, once upon a time, known as the Poster IndieMum in London, and had even performed early gigs with her own IndieChild clinging to her leg.

The response I expected: something along the lines of "haha, you're right, I met indiewife at a Pastels gig, she thinks the new album is (GREBT / terrible / a return to form / not C86 enough / whatever)"

The response I got: "It's just my personal experience, crawl back under a rock, I'm blocking you."

Oh god. It's option B, ruin the whole afternoon.

Why does it matter? Well, firstly it matters because instead of listening to the hottest event in IndiePop in 22 years, I'm crying at my computer screen, reeling from a super-personal hostile reaction I was not prepared for. And because obviously, this isn't about one indiebloke being rude to me on the internet. This is about years and years of facing abuse, bullying, being told I'm "crazy" or awkward or rude or just plain batshit for pointing out, again and again "the world is different than you have represented. It has women in it."

Here's the difference: "haha, this indiedad is having to tell his kids, it was always like this, you never could hear the vocals" is a description of your personal experience. "Indiedads across the country are ..." is a generalisation which draws gendered conclusions about who listens to music, about who passes musical knowledge on to children, and how. "Oh no it doesn't, it's just a description" you may say. But what you leave out in a description is as important as what you leave in. You may never notice this, until you are the one who is consistently and routinely left out of that description. When you, as a man (or as a white person, or a straight person, or whatever) draw a conclusion based on your personal situation, and generalise it to the entire world, without even noticing who you've left out, that is a problem.

Let me tell you about another twitter altercation, a few weeks ago, with a very different result. Someone I know wrote about the demise of HMV for the papers. He described his experience of going to the Rock section, looking at but not buying some Hawkwind CDs, then glancing around the shop, and noticing that there were no women in the Rock section. Except he didn't just stop there. An observation, of what he, one man, saw, in one shop, at one time. He then drew the conclusion that there were no women in HMV, ever, and that meant, HMV - or maybe rock music itself - had failed to reach female consumers and female audiences.

Which was news to me. I mean, literally, news, printed in the Guardian website as it was, as a descriptor of "This Is How The World Is" - no women in HMVs. Because I had been in HMV, that morning, had picked up some Hawkwind CDs so less, but not bought them, glanced around, seen mostly dads, with buggies, but also a couple of other women, another woman rolling her eyes at how expensive a CD - oh, let's pretend it was Interpol or some rock band that lots of girls like - and we both left without buying anything.

This twitter exchange had a very different outcome. The writer apologised unconditionally for the mistake - and followed this with "if you were there, too, why didn't you come and say hello?" at which point we compared notes and figured out that we had actually been in different branches. His observation of the lack-of-women had been correct, but his conclusion had been wrong. We had a good conversation, I talked about how expectations-of-gender create gendered spaces - that if you repeat enough times "women don't go to X" then women will, indeed, desert X in droves, and treating music shops that way will result in no women in them, even though lots of women love the indierock! He said "my point, you are proving it!" and talked about HMV's marketing strategy and what he thought had gone wrong. It was a *good* conversation, and a good experience, I think, for both of us. I had walked into that conversation feeling erased, and I left feeling listened to.

Here's the thing: his experience was true. My experience was also true. And we found a space where both experiences could be true, without one experience erasing the other.

More importantly: he didn't insult me for raising it in the first place, or cast aspersions on my motives. He also didn't take it as a personal insult to *him* that I had raised the issue, he was able to step back and say "oh, my personal observation is not the same as general experience. My bad." He did not attempt to silence me by blocking the conversation from even happening in the first place.

See, this is the other crucial piece of the puzzle. One of most insidious effects of gendering things is that it pushes people - usually women - out of that space. A simple observation like "Men love rock music" encloses in its absence the idea that women do not love rock music. This absence manifests itself in more insidious ways. Music magazines get moved from "general interest" to "Mens Magazines." I consider buying a ticket for a Nu-Gaze show with all the musical children of My Bloody Valentine, and notice that there is not one woman on the stage. So I don't buy that ticket, and that show's audience becomes even more male, re-enforcing the idea that Nu-Gaze is now a male-coded thing. This is the biggest difference between indierock in 1991 and indierock in 2013 - it's not even buying a new My Bloody Valentine record without leaving my bed. It's that in 1991, talking about the biggest band in indierock, half the band was female. Half the audience were female. And no one thought this was weird at all.

There are so many other conversations that Indiedad and I could have had. It's true, it's something I've noticed myself, going to gigs where the band's audience has aged, there are way more men than women, as the women seem to drop out of the room.  "My wife used to go to every indie gig with me in 1997," male friends have moaned to me. "Women just aren't interested in music any more!" Oh hey! Your wife is no longer able to keep up with an expensive and time-consuming hobby? Really? Maybe you should re-evaluate your childcare decisions and your household division of labour instead of re-evaluating what women do and don't like. But that's a much more awkward conversation to have, huh? Much easier to accuse *me* of being the thing that crawled out from under a rock.

So women get erased from the conversation, not just once, but twice. The first time, when old people's music is made the province of "dads" alone, and all those all-male gigs and all-male year end lists and the record shop that all the women have mysteriously vanished from. That's an erasure by omission. And then for a second time, and this is the one that's harder to address. That time when I, as a woman, have to choose, "swallow it, or ruin the afternoon." That time when you call a woman crazy and chase her from the conversation instead of responding as if she were an actual human being, with a valid point that might be just as based in her own experience as your observation was. That's a wilful erasure, and to me that's worse.