Gender equality in music, still struggling

Last week, Canadian singer-songwriter Kandle put up a post on Facebook showing the lack of female acts in some major music festivals in the US and the UK. That was demonstrated by removing male acts from three festival posters, respectively Coachella (US), Reading/Leeds (UK) and Download (UK). For anyone familiar with Coachella’s poster, for instance, that action left us to a very starry sky.

Kandle - gender equality - music festivals

A question that shall be asked now is, what are the boundaries surrounding music festivals that limit women’s participation? As in, how are these spaces more opened/accessible to male acts?

I believe this question exceeds the idea of music festivals – it seems to be an even more profound issue: the answer basically lies in the way the music industry functions. It would not be fair to believe some female acts were refused participation to these festivals; but it could be in terms of their access to the music industry in general. Now, if it is hard to know how many bands/music acts there are in the world, it is as hard to know what is the male-female proportion in the music industry.

Based solely, and I really mean solely, on what I know and what I’ve experienced, there seem to be a higher proportion of male musicians, therefore the odds for their presence in festivals are, accordingly, much higher.

That seems undeniable, yet, how did it end up like this? Why can’t we see/hear more women?

Does this have to do with the particular music genre these festivals promote? Would that mean the indie and metal music scene don’t like women as much as they like men?

Of course other factors shall come into consideration. Maybe there has been some scheduling conflicts for some female acts; or, more realistically, no more additional spots were made available to women acts, simply because these acts don’t exist!

If one of these festivals had to be a pop one, then it would have been a whole different story. Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift… they would all have been there. Difference is, these women have got a gigantic industry running after them. Is becoming a pop star the only way to success for female artists? And what is it that restrains them from trying and showing their talent? Does this have to do with beauty standards? Does one woman need to be confortable with her body first in order to perform in such a space? Where should they find their confidence?

I don’t necessarily intend to answer all these questions, but rather to stir up a discussion. The struggle is real and is surely great food for thought.



  1. This is so interesting! I’d seen this done before, removing female acts from a festival poster and it’s crazy how much of a statement it makes. I’m always so surprised because I think I listen mostly to female artists and kind of live in a little musical bubble where female artists are disproportionately represented.

    It’s also interesting because I think that the space of music festivals really capitalizes off women as attendees. Between the “festival wear” clothing lines, streetstyle blogs that feature mostly women, and the fashion sponsorship at music festivals, it’s like women are only welcome as long as they spend money on being good festival-goers. I kind of worked for the H&M tent at Osheaga this past summer and although they had male and female brand ambassadors, the activities catered to women. I also follow the really enthusiastic brand integration certain companies like Free People have with music festivals.

    On another note, Canadian artist Grimes had some interesting commentary about women in music in 2013 where she called out the media’s description of her as a “waif”:

    I have to admit, I’m still surprised by how few women are on those lineups. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Grimes could not have said it better! Thanks for sharing that! She totally makes the point about women and the music industry. Especially as she’s been in the field, she certainly knows how things work. It would be interesting to find out who is in instance of power in the industry, whether it is record labels, producers, managers… Is it mostly a male affair? I fear it is.

      I totally agree with you in terms of women as attendees. When looking up some information about festivals and audience, I found a fantastic study made by Eventbrite ( It looked up America’s 25 most buzzed about music festivals, which led to a list of mostly indie and EDM festivals. It mostly analyzes discussion about festivals within the use of social media, mainly Twitter. Although it does not state what the male/female attendees proportion is, we read that most of music festival discussion comes from women. During music festivals, the percentage of women using Twitter grows by 3%, from 52% to 55%, as opposed to men, which declines from 48% to 45% (16). Like you mentioned Fiona, fashion is also a very important feature of festivals, as the conversation breakdown demonstrates on page 13. If it counts for 10% of discussions in average, it climbs up to 27% in the case of Coachella, making it the second subject most discussed after the lineup. Unfortunately, it does not state how much of these conversations come from women, but the high presence of celebrities at Coachella and the H&M campaigns (, for instance, might suggest women represent an important market.

      This is really interesting to look at in many various ways.
      Firstly, it is interesting how festivals such as Coachella encourage women to come, spend money and enjoy fashion OVER the idea of having women headlining the festival as musicians.
      Secondly, fashion is certainly a lot about creativity, but I don’t think we could deny body image is also highly involved. How many times do we think: “Oh god, I don’t know what to wear today!”? Then imagine this in bigger proportions, in social events like major music festivals. ALL EYES ON ME… “Noooo I can’t go to Coachella, I don’t have a proper wardrobe!” I’m taking this to an (almost) exaggerated level, but this somehow becomes a vicious circle which fashion designers and companies benefit from. They reassure people, offering them solutions so they will look good (yes, look good), and make money out of it. Year after year, the same scenario, over and over again. More importantly, I am certain this situation affects men as much as it affects women. No one is really free from this system… Unless you’re really strong-minded and genuinely don’t care about your looks, which might be a rarity but yet possible.
      Finally, I wonder if there is not a certain heteronormativity beneath all this. Guys on stage, girls on floor… I mean, girls would faint to Elvis Presley, Paul Anka or The Beatles back in the days… Do talented guys really have more appeal? Is this really part of our ideologies?
      I will really have to thank Kandle on that; it’s good to shake things up a little bit every once in a while.


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