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How Music Journalism Can Fight Misogyny - Comment

  by Cila Warncke

published: 1 / 3 / 2022

How Music Journalism Can Fight Misogyny - Comment

Two things came to mind while reading ‘Marilyn Manson: The Monster Hiding in Plain Sight’ (Kory Grow, 14 Nov 2021). First, that 'Rolling Stone' is to be applauded for conducting dozens of interviews with women Manson abused and taking a (mostly) unflinching look at the grim criminal freak show he is. Second, that despite this good work, 'Rolling Stone' fell short of acknowledging its role in succouring a monster. "For decades, the media has amplified and glamorized his voice – including 'Rolling Stone', which put him on the cover in 1997 with the headline 'Sympathy for the Devil,”’ writes Kory Grow. What this mea culpa omits is that 'Rolling Stone' made Manson a cover star multiple times through the years. It was not alone in glorifying someone it should have vilified. Twenty years ago, I went to work at 'Q', Britain’s answer to 'Rolling Stone'. Whenever a particularly unpleasant rumour wafted through the editorial office someone would remark: "that’s some darkness." Darkness was a thread woven into rock’n’roll, a by-product of hyperdrive ids and too many narcotics. Darkness, which came in shades from petulance to criminality, remained mostly between the lines. There was an un-articulated attitude that music journalists were benign guardians, protecting rock stars from the scrutiny of bourgeoisie morality. 'Q' didn’t condone bad behaviour but rarely shone a light on the darkness. "Somewhere like 'Q', 'Rolling Stone' or 'NME' had an editor that decided the angle of the magazine. They decided which artists they liked, what was cool. They had a lot of power," says Amanda Barokh, a freelance music journalist in London from 2008-2013. ‘The internet has taken that power away. Now ‘taste’ can come from anywhere." The internet created platforms for people to speak truth to, and about, power. Space is not enough, though. Fighting misogyny requires a concerted effort by the music industry, including journalists, as part of a broader social movement. It is not enough to denounce abhorrent individuals. Men like Manson thrive on a culture that looks away from its shadows. They flourish on the pretence that cruelty is provocative and hate speech can be a joke. Pennyblackmusic asked women music writers how journalism can do more to drive positive change. Here’s what they said. Be an ally Author, journalist and Pennyblackmusic contributor Lisa Torem makes the case that speaking out against misogyny is everyone’s job: "You don’t want the only voices to be women who have been traumatised. The allies have to come forward. It cannot just be pinned on women who’ve had to deal with enough. That means all of us. We need intelligent journalists who speak from a positive standpoint, with facts, to start dialogue. You have to get people from all different avenues involved in this discussion." "We all know what behaviour is decent and acceptable," says journalist, editor, publisher and journalism lecturer Jo Kendall. "If people step over a line hopefully it is quickly reported by the grass roots, then [mainstream] media follow-up with support to anyone affected. We need to make sure everyone is safe." Inform on the issues Misogyny and sexual violence are systemic issues that need to be addressed as such. Rather than running he said/she said reports, music journalism should be talking about the larger context. One of the most impressive pieces on Marilyn Manson wasn’t about him at all – it was a 'Louder Sound' feature that used interviews with experts on sexual and domestic abuse to challenge common reasons that people disbelieve victims. It was informative, empathetic, balanced, and added vital perspective on the broader problem of internalised misogyny and harmful social narratives. ‘"Louder' is a very socially responsible platform with Briony Edwards at the helm," says Kendall. "She’s led the charge with holding people such as Marilyn Manson to account, even commenting on the Grammys’ decision to include him in next year’s list. This gets readers on board with principles of equality and respect. It also shows rock stars we’re not going to put up with their shit." Use language with care As writers, music journalists job is to conjure scenes and emotions with words. This privilege comes with a responsibility to use language with care. "There has been this boys’ club thing where men’s behaviour has been minimised. Instead of calling out a grown man for seducing an underage girl she gets called a groupie," notes Torem. "A criminal offence needs to be treated as a criminal offence." Responsible journalism should work to deconstruct sexist tropes, even if they seem innocuous. "In 'Prog' and 'Classic Rock' we are keen to veer away from 'she’s juggling being a mum with playing tripartite acoustic black metal' as we don’t ask men about being dads, or the pressures of home life/hormones/wardrobe," says Kendall. "We steer away from the 'she strides into the interview, legs up to her eyes, with locks flowing’ style. That’s very much in the past. Description paints a picture for the reader, but it has to have balance and a reason." Amplify multiple perspectives Music journalism has had a patchy record of supporting diverse voices. Kendall, who worked in the 'Q'-adjacent 'Kerrang!' office recalls incidents she witnessed at 'Q': "A staff member was shouting out they needed copy for a small news item. Who could do it? The intern put her hand up and said 'I’d like to' but was ignored. Another editorial assistant who wanted to write was constantly knocked back. There was an air of 'she doesn’t understand our music' and 'she’s not the kind of person we want writing for us' without knowing what she could do." "‘Men set the tone and were the taste-makers," recalls Barokh. "What I would see was subtle, like a woman’s album being denigrated because it didn’t speak to male tastes. Women were asked to put themselves into men’s shoes in the context of listening to music, but men weren’t asked to put themselves into women’s shoes." The solution, Barokh says, is multiplication and amplification."‘It comes down to diversity, more voices, everybody being able to tell their story. If one particular demographic controls the narrative, e.g. straight white men, their stories are the only ones that get told. When we open up the floor to other voices, when we hear the stories of the women who were affected by abusive behaviour, it creates the conditions for progress." Support women throughout the industry Torem, Barokh and Kendall concur that women have often been shunted into stereotyped roles within music and struggled for recognition. "Women’s roles in the industry have always intrigued me," says Kendall. "Fewer writers and editors; more photographers and designers; fewer label and band managers; more PR people. There’s an unspoken code of what women are best at and it’s soft-skills and communication, not business and high-level decision-making." "In my early 20s, it didn’t occur to me I could participate in music," says Barokh. "Women didn’t see themselves reflected in music culture. They didn’t see a place to fit in. Maybe women got together with rock stars because they wanted access to that world [and] that was the only access they had." Torem, whose writing brings her into close contact with female musicians and songwriters, says, "Women have had to work so hard to be taken seriously. I’ve talked to many female musicians who had to fight to be seen as an intelligent person, a serious artist." Moral clarity, not censorship "‘People hide behind the First Amendment [guaranteeing freedom of speech] but there has to be a sense of morality," says Torem. Being responsible does not mean censoring controversial views, or denying freedom of expression. What it does mean, says Kendall, is prioritising how these views are framed. "Psychotic rants can’t be reported straight. Context is key, sensitivity to the reader, and bringing an artist to account if need be. Freedom of speech is an ideal goal, but it can’t be hateful or harmful. A magazine has to think of the well-being of its readers as opposed to generating traffic from a wild outburst." Torem highlights the importance of not conflating abusive with controversial: "There were shock rockers who never did stuff like [Manson] and they were famous. An artist can say what they want, but a criminal act is still a criminal act." "Let people [like Manson] talk," agrees Barokh. "But also listen to the people talking about the effect [abuse] has on their lives. There are men who think like Manson; these situations happen. Let’s talk about how we can move on as a society, find justice and make sure this shit doesn’t continue. I’m happy to hear what Marilyn Manson has to say, but don’t let it be unquestioned. Let it be his undoing,"

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