Is there a difference between male and female people? Is there? Seriously. I have yet to identify a single character trait I would attribute solely to one gender or the other.
– Kristin Hersh, “Paradoxical Undressing”
Earlier this month I went through to Edinburgh for a music blogging seminar hosted by Olaf Furniss at Born to be Wide. It was a lively and interesting discussion, with a panel consisting of bloggers The Pop Cop, Lloyd Peenko and Matthew “Don’t Call Me Mr Toad” Young. They were joined by music PR Mike Gourlay and Scott Hutcheson from Frightened Rabbit – in fact, The Pop Cop has posted extracts from Scott’s contribution on his site which are well worth a read/listen.
You might have noticed – well, you probably haven’t if you think about these things as little as I do usually – that everybody mentioned above is a boy. At one point Olaf turned to the panel and asked, and I paraphrase bluntly, something along the lines of so why don’t girls blog about music? Their response was to point out that well, that Last Year’s Girl’s sitting over there, how about we ask her?
My response was predictably a bit crap, since my gender has never stopped me. It’s been playing on my mind since then though, so much so that I’ve been bugging people for their opinions ever since. There are certainly loads of women involved in the music industry in Scotland, so it’s not a lack of interest. And I know plenty of female bloggers – there is, I believe, another meetup in Edinburgh this weekend. It’s just that rarely the two come together, at least in Scotland: just look at Ten Tracks’ Top Scottish Music Blogs list. While there is a female presence among the collaborative sites mentioned, none of the suggestions are written by girls – and yes, I’m aware that the post itself was before you start.
This autumn it’ll be twelve years since I started posting shit on the internet for my own amusement, but there’s an argument that Last Year’s Girl isn’t even a music blog at all – it even says so underneath every post. That it has evolved as such is a testament to my interest in the subject matter, on what is probably really to all intents and purposes a general interest, personal blog. Still I’m very proud of what I do, and I love and am happy to consider myself a part of this music blogging community that seems to have sprung up in Scotland in the last couple of years. Just because you were all so busy having a life in the late 1990s… no, no, I jest.
Part of me wonders, of course, if I’m seeing an issue where one simply isn’t – as I said above, I tend to just do what I do and not really think about these things. Blogging is the great democratic medium after all, and it’s not as if there are any barriers to entry. Jason at The Pop Cop, who was able to point me in the direction of several female Scottish music bloggers, tends to agree.
“I genuinely, honestly don’t think this is an issue at all,” he said in response to my email. “If we’re looking at Scottish music blogs, there are 15 or so, and fair enough, most of them are run by guys, but it’s such a small community that I don’t feel it is representative of a wider trend about women and blogging.
“Now, there are many, many big areas where women are under-represented, and that is troubling, but I’m really not convinced that music blogging is one of them. As I said at BTWB, I thought the original question made a sweeping generalisation about what is a very small field.”
I think it’s a fair point. When you think about it, it’s so easy to start a blog that they can be picked up and abandoned fairly readily. The music blogging community in Scotland is quite a close-knit one, and if there are only a few fish… in… skirts… in this particular pond, well that doesn’t mean the same is true for the entire ocean. Heather Browne’s I Am Fuel, You Are Friends was one of the first blogs I ever read and it’s still one of my favourites, due in no small part to its well-written content and our shared love of one Mr Ryan Adams. There are so many music blogs out there you have your own favourites you tend to stick to, and I can’t really comment any further afield.
Over the past couple of days I’ve been emailing back and forth with feminist music writer, and author of The Girl’s Guide to Rocking, Jessica Hopper for an American pespective. “I think there are as many women blogging about music as men and if those dudes foisted it on you, well, they are lazy and not paying attention,” she said, which is perhaps true of the blogosphere as a whole but not our local scene. “I think that the internet and blogging has given a lot of women and girls a chance to chronicle their obsessions as never before. Boys/men are traditionally socialised to be self-centred in their activities – it’s totally normal for a boy to spend every afternoon alone in his room practising guitar, whereas for a girl, expectations are that 1. she plays a chamber instrument if anything at all and 2. that she is doing something social, something outwards,something in service of others–babysitting, a sport, hanging at the mall… or whatever… and I think the same applies to our adult expectations of women in music.”
Her point about ‘chronicling obsession’ is an interesting one, because it chimes with something Olaf Furniss of Born To Be Wide said to me both after the event and later, by email. “I talked to a couple of friends about it and there was a feeling that men perhaps have a more trainspottery inclination,” he said. “How many women proper trainspotters have toy heard of? It seems to be a similar situation with record shops. I only know one woman who owns a shop and it tends to specialise in traditional and world music.
“It’s interesting that it seems to be specifically music, as one of the most celebrated political bloggers in Britain appears to be Penny Red and a lot of film bloggers I hear on the radio are women.”
Matthew Young is similarly dumbfounded. “I suppose there are the cod-anthropology explanations, which may or may not be wildly inaccurate and totally made up: that men’s collecting instincts are more acute than women’s,” he told me, echoing Olaf’s comments. “Men, by popular stereotype, seem to feel more compelled to collect things and I guess music blogging, much like running a record label actually, is a form of collection, in a way.”
My friend Miss America, who blogs about art and other subjects at Miss America Writes, is insistent that it’s not guys thinking girls can’t blog that’s the problem. “Personally, I feel like I don’t know enough about gigs, bands or albums to write intelligently on the subject,” she said when I asked her what, if anything, would stop her writing about music.
“Along the lines of the sexism argument, it could be that girls might not think they’ll be taken seriously because of the ‘omg he’s so hot’ stigma that girls get when they talk about their favourite bands. It’s that stereotype that guys like bands because of the rock-n-roll, and girls like the band because the lead singer looks hot in a tight pair of jeans.
“Is it time to try to turn that archaic thinking around and encourage more of them?”
I don’t know guys, what do you think? Am I devoting too much time to an issue that just isn’t there? Do you think, as Jessica Hopper asked me, that maybe girls in the scene aren’t choosing to blog because they feel discouraged or like their opinions are less valid? I doubt it, no matter my opinion of Frank Turner in a tight pair of jeans, but it would be interesting to hear from somebody without my longevity, for want of a better qualification.
And if you’re interested in hearing more, you can catch the Born to be Wide debate again and watch a musical showcase curated by the bloggers as part of next month’s goNORTH festival in Inverness from 9th-11th June. Sorry if I’ve fucked it up again, guys.