Dear Old Bluesman,
We need to talk about your song last night — the one about how women should shut up, quit nagging, and generally keep their opinions to themselves. You know, the one you dedicated to all the “little ladies who are going to be mad” in the room? I know a lot of people would say that I don’t have a right to tell you how to sing the blues, being a young white woman… but since I’m also one of those mouthy women you dislike, I’m going to go ahead and say something: you’re doing your music career no favors by pushing your sexist views on your audiences.
Musically, you guys were killing it, which is why I was willing to overlook the sexism that cropped up early in your set. Telling the men to “bring your woman in close,” despite the fact that (a) none of us are anybody’s woman, (b) there were women dancing with women, men dancing with men, and women leading men all over the place, and (c) we spend ages teaching people to set and respect boundaries, particularly around close embrace, and you were telling the leads to ignore their partner’s boundaries. That song about how a man’s worth depends on his ability to “keep” his woman (and thus on his sexual prowess and wealth); the constant references to being entitled to “your woman” and her body. It’s no worse than your average blues song, and sometimes I ignore the problematic stuff because I love the dancing community that has sprung up around it, full of people who care about consent. But I’m no longer ignoring it, as of now.
A lot of people I talked about this with shrugged it off, by saying, “I don’t listen to the lyrics.” I call bullshit on that. Lyrics are part of the experience the artist is trying to create, so it’s a valid critique of the music to be bothered by something that is in the music. Might as well say you can ignore the rhythm and dance however you want. It won’t be a very satisfactory interaction with the music or your partner.
I mean, I get it. Music works best when the lyrics are something the vast majority of listeners can relate to. And you think “women are nagging bitches who should shut up already” is something that all men will say Amen to, and all women will sigh good-naturedly because they know that’s what people think and what can you do? But that’s not what people think any more. Women were probably uncomfortable, offended, and angry — and I guess that’s the point? To piss off your audience? And men were probably cringing because you reminded the women they care deeply about what assholes men can be. Personally, I was thinking about my last encounter with men who think women should shut up and stay in their place: reading the coverage of the Men’s Rights chatrooms where Elliot Rodger was inspired to go after women with a gun because they wouldn’t have sex with him. Which is a scenario that plays out in blues songs ALL. THE. TIME. That should make all of us who like blues music really uncomfortable.
It’s ironic that your song about how I should shut up has made me less likely to shut up than ever before. I’ll be telling my friends and local organizers not to book you or go to your shows unless you take out the sexism. Does getting bookings in the dance community matter to you? Oh, I don’t know, only if getting in front of the next generation of fans of your music matters to you. But you can keep your blues legacy, and play in front of the aging people who think telling women to shut up is normal, and the next generation of fans will move on to bands that don’t alienate them.
People like to tell us mouthy women that if we don’t like how something is done, and has been done since forever, we can go do something else. But, even though dance roles are becoming less tied to gender, I dare you to show me a partner dance scene that can survive if the women leave. My guess is, if you have a problem with women having opinions, you also have a problem with men following. Also, up until recently, there were no other options — misogyny was everywhere. The world is allowed to change. So which is easier: for everyone that was made uncomfortable in your audience to find a different hobby, and you a different audience, or for you to learn some non-sexist songs? Here, start with this one.
You guys are really great musicians and I would love to be able to support your music careers. But I also want to support music that doesn’t insult me.
(P.S. Organizers! It wouldn’t take much to get bands to play less sexist material! It could be part of the conversation about how we like our music slow and steady — and respectful of boundaries.)