Too few women on Osheaga stages

(Published in the Montreal Gazette)

The summer festival is a hallmark of our generation; and the Osheaga lineup, a litmus test for cultural relevancy among millennials. Thousands of women will undoubtedly turn up to party, but why are female acts still so few and far between?

Of particular note is the scarcity of female DJs. Not a single woman performed on the Piknic électronik stage all weekend last year (the main stage for solo DJs and EDM artists). This year, there at least is one (The Black Madonna, performing Sunday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.).

The female presence on the two main stages was abysmal as well — last year’s Friday lineup included only a single woman on either of the two main stages (as part of a larger band, The Royal Streets). The disparity is common to festivals across Canada — none of the 19 main acts on the main stage of Toronto’s Veld festival last year were women, either.

There are several main-stage acts this year that are female or have a prominent female presence, including Grace Potter, Angus and Julia Stone, Marina and the Diamonds, Of Monsters and Men, Florence and the Machine, St. Vincent and First Aid Kit.

But women remain significantly under-represented. I Googled every single band scheduled to play at Osheaga 2015 and tallied the number of female and male performers, using biographical information from the band’s Wikipedia or Facebook page (with the exception of one act for which I could find no information online). I counted any act composed of two or more central members as a band (like The Black Keys), and any act composed of only one central member or a single DJ as an individual artist (Kendrick Lamar, Chet Faker). The results were unsurprising, but disheartening nonetheless. In total, 252 male artists comprised 86 per cent of all performers, while 41 female artists comprised a meagre 14 per cent.

Friday, July 31: 40 total acts (23 bands composed of 80 band members, 17 individual acts). Of the 80 band members, 11 are women (14 per cent). Of the 17 individual acts, 2 are women (12 per cent).

Saturday, Aug. 1: 38 total acts (19 bands composed of 65 band members, 19 individual acts). Of the 65 band members, 5 are women (8 per cent). Of the 19 individual acts, four are women (21 per cent).

Sunday, Aug. 2: 39 total acts (22 bands composed of 95 band members, 17 individual acts). Of the 95 band members, 12 are women (13 per cent). Of the 17 individual acts, seven are women (41 per cent).

While there are 42 all-male bands, only two all-female bands are scheduled to play during the weekend (both of which happen to be duos — Milk & Bone and First Aid Kit). Possibly even more disheartening is the fact that the number of women playing Saturday does not even reach double digits (nine women, compared with 75 men).

It’s 2015, and every teenage boy with a MacBook thinks he’s a DJ. But women still appear to be relegated to the role of consumer rather than creator when it comes to festival culture — DJ acts as well as other performers. Perhaps cultural expectations of femininity discourage the idea of a woman challenging boundaries or commanding a crowd. Amateur artists are told to “put themselves out there” to make it, and women are too often discouraged from self-advocating for fear of appearing immodest. Perhaps this is a holdover from generations past — with fewer female artists to aspire to, women can’t as easily picture themselves behind turntables. Or perhaps there is no shortage of aspiring female artists, but the upper sectors of the music industry are still a bit of an old boy’s club.

Whatever the reasons, it’s time for great female artists to get the main stage recognition they deserve at music festivals, and I hope the organizers of Osheaga 2016 can agree.

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