For her 13th birthday in 2001, Sadie Dupuis received a Fender Stratocaster to take to summer camp — something she knew most girls didn't get to experience.

"Every 13-year-old boy, when I was a kid, was handed an electric guitar. Girls weren't really pushed in that direction unless they guided themselves toward it or had really cool parents," she said. "For a lot of kids, their gender [got] in the way of them having access to certain genres of music."

Lindsey Jordan was almost one of those kids. In 2007, when she was 8, her older sister showed her a bill from the Warped Tour — a major annual rock tour that travels across North America. It seemed to her at the time that the entire lineup was male — did you have to be a boy to be in a band, she wondered?

Then her sister brought her to a show by Paramore, whose lead singer/keyboardist was a woman. "I saw Hayley Williams and her outfit and she's killing it, and she's so punk, and I was like: That's the coolest thing I've ever seen," Jordan told the Washington Post last year.


Dupuis now fronts the highly acclaimed rock band Speedy Ortiz, while Jordan, recording as Snail Mail, is one of the hottest new artists in guitar-based music.

They are two of several female musicians often cited as proof that the gender disparity in rock music is shrinking. And if you scour any critic's best-of list these days, you'll find it all but dominated by women — Mitski, Sharon Van Etten, Robyn, Snail Mail and Boygenius, the supergroup made up of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers.

Yet by almost any measure, women still enjoy far less success in the industry, and female artists say they contend with unspoken quotas that keep them off playlists and festival bills as well as a culture that persists in viewing them as women first and musicians second.

Only 7.7 per cent of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are women, according to research by Evelyn McDonnell, the director of journalism at Loyola Marymount University who edited Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl. In 2017, online music magazine Pitchfork found only a quarter of artists booked at the 23 biggest music festivals were women. Since then, more than 190 international festivals pledged to have a 50/50 gender split by 2022, but as of 2018, the magazine found that still "seven out of 10 artists on festival bills are men or all-male bands". And last week, only one of the top 40 songs on the US Billboard rock chart is by a female-fronted band.

Yet whenever several notable female musicians emerge around the same time, headlines scream their tired refrains.

"Rock's Not Dead, It's Ruled by Women," the New York Times crowed in late 2017. "Women are now at the forefront," declared Pitchfork, "injecting DIY rock of the past with fresh perspectives".

In the 1980s, the music industry hype machine proclaimed Joan Jett and Pat Benatar as the future of rock.

A decade later, Alanis Morissette, the Breeders and Bikini Kill had critics declaring women had finally arrived. Chrissie Hynde, of the Pretenders, scoffed: "Year of the woman rocker? Is that like the year of the pig?"


In fact, "there have always been women at the centre of rock music," said McDonnell — from Bessie Smith, with her deep influence on the blues (thus, rock); to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneer of electric gospel (thus, rock guitar); to Big Mama Thornton, who recorded "Hound Dog" well before Elvis Presley and helped set the pace for rock vocals as we came to know them.

Sharon Van Etten — who grew up on PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, Portishead, Hole and Sleater-Kinney — said while she's glad women in music are getting media attention, she "struggle[s] with wanting to say 'Yeah, women! You've heard of us. We've been hanging out. We can do things like you can'."

Perhaps St Vincent summed it up best in a fake television interview she created to promote her 2017 record Masseduction.

She's sitting in a green room, answering questions that flash across the screen.

"Insert question about being a woman in music," the title screen reads.

"What's it like being a woman in music? Very good question," St Vincent says, as the camera zooms in on her fingernails, which are painted bright yellow with black lettering reading, "F*** off."

It goes without saying she declined an interview request for this story.