March is Women’s History Month, which conjures images of women in wide-brimmed hats marching for voting rights in the early 1900s and Amelia Earheart standing in front of her airplane. Over the past few years, however, I’ve become increasingly interested in spending each March telling the stories of the women who made history right here in Minnesota by daring to pick up musical instruments, microphones, and recording equipment and join men in the studios and on stage.
In what’s now become an annual tradition, I’ll host a two-hour celebration of female musicians from Minnesota on the Sunday, March 15 edition of The Local Show. And as I sit down to program the show and plan out other features throughout the month, I find myself thinking about not just how to mark Women’s History Month, but why. Why do we still need to separate the women from the men and discuss them as if they are two different species? Haven’t we evolved past thinking about music in gendered ways? And what is it really contributing to the community in 2015?
To be honest, the “why” behind our all-female Local Show is something that my (male) colleagues and I have discussed at length. And equity in our music community is something I think about every day—not just between male and female performers, but between white artists and artists of color, performers of different age groups, and musicians who specialize in more niche sounds verses those who capitalize on the trendy sounds of the day. And while we have certainly progressed in certain areas, it’s far from a level playing field.
When Time Magazine included the word “feminism” on their list of suggested words to ban in 2015, it disgusted me not just because I have long identified as a feminist, but because it implied that caring about equality was some kind of flash-in-the-pan social media trend that would soon become passé.
One of the most dangerous elements of our current call-out culture—in which Facebook screeds pop up like scorecards at the outrage Olympics and open letters, hashtags, and two-way monologues have replaced actual back-and-forth conversations—is that it’s getting harder and harder to discuss the big-picture, systemic problems we’re facing as a culture in any sort of meaningful way. Everyone will race to dogpile a television personality or public figure for the tiniest slip-up, but all that backlash rarely leads to any kind of long-term change. So what are we supposed to do when things are askew?
The fact is that women are still being marginalized in the music world. On average, less than 16 percent of each year’s Coachella line-up has been female-fronted, while only two women have received top-billing at the popular California festival in its 16-year history. Locally, only three of the 40 acts at this year’s Soundset hip-hop festival are women, while roughly 12 of the 40-plus acts that have been announced for the inaugural Eaux Claires festival include women–which is actually one of the higher ratios nationwide. And in the latest City Pages Picked to Click best-new-bands poll, only one woman—one!—managed to place in the top 10 alongside groups of celebrated dudes.
Have things improved dramatically for women in music over the past 50 years? Absolutely. But surveying the scene, it does feel like the stakes are still high and that there is work yet to be done.
This month, I’m devoting all of my time and attention to the badass women who have blazed trails, created space for a bigger variety of performers on stage, and continue to push our scene forward here in Minnesota. I’ll dig into the stories behind some of the lesser-known female figures in local music history, from the Pioneer Press‘s first female music critic to the nation’s first all-female country-western band, which was started in Minneapolis. And I’ll put together playlists of musicians from different eras who helped shape the community as we know it today.
Hear the music each Friday at noon on the Local Current stream, and keep an eye on the blog all month for my latest interviews and research. And don’t forget to set aside two hours on Sunday night, March 15, to listen to the Women’s History Month edition of The Local Show.
On the Local Current stream:
Friday, March 6 at noon
Early Minnesotan innovators, from polka to swing and country-western
Friday, March 13 at noon
An hour of the most riotous rock ‘n’ roll of the ’80s and ’90s
Friday, March 20 at noon
A look at Minnesota’s female soul, jazz, and gospel pioneers
Friday, March 27 at noon
A survey of some of today’s most influential female artists
On 89.3 the Current:
Sunday, March 15 from 6-8 p.m.
A two-hour celebration of women who made Minnesota music history, including an exclusive California desert interview with Babes in Toyland.