In August 1994, I interviewed American singer Courtney Love in a hotel room in London. Her band, Hole, had played an emotional set at Reading Festival the previous evening — the first since her husband, Kurt Cobain, had killed himself — and I wasn't sure in what kind of mood I'd find her. She hadn't given an interview since his death, but was making an exception because she hoped the stories she had to tell me would help young women in the music industry.
I was interviewing Love for my first book, Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock , a collection of 13 interviews with female musicians including Björk, Tanya Donelly and Liz Phair. Love said that when growing up there weren't many female role models for an aspiring rock star to look up to. And she had stories to tell: of people assuming Cobain wrote her fierce, poetic lyrics; of guys yelling "Show us your tits!" at gigs; and of being sexually assaulted by audience members when she dived from the stage.
Her response? "I wore a dress that was so restricting, and shoes that were five inches high, so I could barely stage dive. Then I got the best write-ups — for being feminine, I guess. I couldn't move well and I was restrained, which equals great review[s]. That's pretty horrid."
She was unshakable in her belief that, on stage, she could be whoever she wanted. But there was resignation too; this was how the industry worked.
Kim Gordon, of New York rockers Sonic Youth, pointed out that women who performed into middle age were portrayed as "losing it" while their male counterparts were generally perceived as "just getting better". Björk explained how she had learned to turn a blind eye to ingrained sexism: "I guess I've taken being a woman for granted and decided early on that the only thing for me to do was just ignore it. People used to say, 'Wow, she can do all this and she's a woman'. That upset me ..."
In the years since the book's 1995 publication, I felt cautiously optimistic about the way in which the treatment of women in the industry, by both insiders and by fans, appeared to be evolving. There were more female bands and the opportunities offered by the internet had given women a better chance of being heard on their own terms. When, around 2010, Virago, my publisher, asked if I'd consider updating my book, I procrastinated. Back in 1995, giving women a "safe space" in which to talk felt necessary; now, I wasn't so sure. I started to change my mind after reading an article by Lauren Mayberry, of Glaswegian three-piece Chvrches, in which she hit back at online trolls who called her a "slut" for having the audacity to pose in a band video wearing — wait for it — a minidress and wet-look hair.
Then American rapper Cardi B was vilified on social media for daring to be a straight-talking woman of colour. She doesn't hold back in her online posts. When, this year, a conservative commentator suggested on Twitter that the rapper's latest video was out of sync with the #MeToo era, she responded by asking: "If I twerk and be half-naked does that mean I deserve to get raped and molested?" But then neither does Kanye West, and he is given a much easier ride.
Björk said she was no longer willing to ignore misogyny in the business, and was sick of the men who had co-produced her records being given all the credit. She wanted it known that things were harder for women in the industry.
Lauren Mayberry was one of the first women I interviewed for A Seat at the Table: Women on the Frontline of Music , the follow-up to Bollocks, published the past week. She explained how she had posted a screengrab of a "particularly inappropriate message" on Facebook. "Within a week, over half a million people responded. The messages the band received were shockingly abusive."
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She is not the only musician to be attacked by online bullies in sexually aggressive fashion, either.
It is far from certain that back in the nineties an artist such as Christine and the Queens, real name Heloise Letissier, would have enjoyed the huge success that she has found in the past two or three years. Born in France, Letissier identifies as "pansexual", says she "doesn't relate to gender" and refuses to conform to pop's typical expectations of how a young woman should look.
Despite her success, Letissier remains with a small Anglo-French label, Because Music, that gives her the autonomy to do as she pleases. She believes the major labels, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner, are as susceptible to sexism as they have ever been, and statistics show that male executives still outnumber females. Letissier says she has lost count of the number of A&R people who said to her, before she signed for Because Music: "I love what you do, but you should be sexier!"
However, none of the women in the book is a complainer. They are, rather, sharing their stories so that other women will find the courage to speak up, to say "me too", to realise they are not alone and, ultimately, to be themselves.
Alison Moyet, who has been in the music industry for more than 35 years, told me she had finally figured out how to be a woman on the front line of music: "People sometimes say on Twitter, 'Alison Moyet is not lovely'. Why should I be lovely? Loveliness is not a prerequisite for craft."