I am in a band that was born on the internet.
Although Chvrches formed and began writing in October 2011, we made our first wobbly steps into the public realm by posting a song on Neon Gold music blog in May last year. Since then, the blogosphere and social networks have arguably been the key reasons anyone knows about us at all – labels, media and members of the public included. For that reason, it has always been important to us that we communicate directly with people who care about our band through the social networking sites we run.
There are, however, downsides to being known on the internet. Last week, I posted a screengrab of one of the many inappropriate messages sent to the band’s social networks every day. After making the post, I sat back and watched with an increasingly open mouth as more and more people commented on the statement. At the time of writing, Facebook stats tell me that the post had reached 581,376 people, over five times the number of people who subscribe to the page itself, with almost 1,000 comments underneath the image. Comments range from the disgusted and supportive to the offensively vile. My current favourites from the latter category include:
“This isn’t rape culture. You’ll know rape culture when I’m raping you, bitch”
“I have your address and I will come round to your house and give u anal and you will love it you twat lol”
“Act like a slut, getting treated like a sluy [sic]”
“It’s just one of those things you’ll need to learn to deal with. If you’re easily offended, then maybe the music industry isn’t for you”
But why should women “deal” with this? I am incredibly lucky to be doing the job I am doing at the moment – and painfully aware of the fact that I would not be able to make music for a living without people on the internet caring about our band. But does that mean that I need to accept that it’s OK for people to make comments like this, because that’s how women in my position are spoken to?
I absolutely accept that in this industry there is comment and criticism. There will always be bad reviews: such is the nature of a free press and free speech. When you put your work out there, you are accepting the fact that people will comment on it, but it is your choice whether you read it or not. (Kathleen Hanna sums this sentiment up nicely in this interview.)
What I do not accept, however, is that it is all right for people to make comments ranging from “a bit sexist but generally harmless” to openly sexually aggressive. That it is something that “just happens”. Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification, whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to “just deal with”.
Since we began the Facebook page, I have seen every message – good and bad – that has come into our inbox. Many people involved with our band argued that we should give up maintaining this routine as things got busier and Chvrches’ schedule got tighter, but it is important to me that our fans know we value their interest in us by giving things a personal touch. Perhaps people assume we have a team of fancy PAs who deal with our social networks for us. Maybe the men – and I’m sorry, but they are all men – sending the notifications of impending unsolicited “anal” bothering don’t realise it will actually be me who reads the emails – or maybe they don’t care either way. But in order to get to the messages from people who genuinely wish to share something with the band, I must filter through every condescending and offensive message we receive.
I read them every morning when I get up. I read them after soundcheck. I read them, as we all do with our emails and notifications, on my phone on the bus or when I have a break in the day. And, after a while, despite the positive messages in the majority, the aggressive, intrusive nature of the other kind becomes overwhelming. During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a “Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this” conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet?
Women are spoken to like this every day, and not just those deemed to be in the public eye. The depressing reality is that campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project would not need to exist were casual sexism not so startlingly commonplace. I should note here that I have never said that men – in the public eye or otherwise – do not receive such comments. I can, however, only speak of what I know, which is that the number of offensive messages directed towards me, “the girl singer,” compared to my bandmates is undeniably higher. I should also clarify that this has nothing to do with hating men, as some have suggested. I identify as a feminist but subscribe to the pretty basic definition of a feminist as “someone who seeks equality between the sexes”. I am now, and have always been, in bands with smart, supportive guys, and have many amazing men in my life as family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful.
But maybe it’s the personal side to online interaction that these men fail to grasp. It seems almost too obvious to ask, “Would you condone this behaviour if it was directed at your mother/sister/daughter/wife/girlfriend?” but maybe going back to basics is what the trolls or 4chan addicts need. To learn a little empathy. To have a little respect for other people. To think before they speak.
Of my numerous personal failings (perpetual lateness; a tendency towards anxiety; a complete inability to bake anything, ever), naivety is not one. I am often cynical about aspects of the music industry and the media, and was sure from the off that this band would need to avoid doing certain things in order for us to be taken seriously as musicians – myself in particular. We have thus far been lucky enough to do things our own way and make a pretty decent job of our band without conforming to the “push the girl to the front” blueprint often relied upon by labels and management in a tragic attempt to sell records which has little to do with the music itself.
I am almost entirely sure that the comments underneath this article will be as varied as those underneath my original post. I am not a martyr, nor am I attempting to change the world in any revolutionary way. I am only in a band, not one of the many wonderful people in organisations striving for change. My involvement in this discussion is not motivated by a self-righteous or self-pitying urge. My hopes are that if anything good comes out of this, it will start a conversation, or continue the conversation which is already happening, encouraging others to reject an acceptance of the status quo, and that our band can continue to do what we are doing in our own way and on our own terms. For us, this has always been – and hopefully will always be – about the music, and that is what we will be getting back to now.