Sexism and Being a Female Musician

A friend recently posted a blog that reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago at a sci-fi convention. I was not sure whether to chalk this event up to sexism in music, or just being new to that particular crowd.

The friend who posted the blog was Steph Anderson. She was moved to post her experiences with sexism in music after reading an article on BuzzFeed. What got my attention on this subject was that she and I have similar backgrounds. We both write and perform music about Harry Potter as well as about other topics that lend themselves to performing at sci-fi conventions.

My experience occurred at a convention whose theme changed yearly, and this particular year it was horror. All the guests and musical performances, known as filk, were horror-related. I performed as Mandala at Twilight, my vampire-themed music project.

I was excited to see that there was a song writing contest and eagerly entered it. I signed up an hour before the competition was to start and when I showed up at show time, there were only three other entrants. Two were male and one was female.

The audience was not huge, but there were people in attendance who were familiar with my vampire songs as well as my Harry Potter-themed music. Other audience members were familiar with my fellow songwriters because these filkers had been either performing at or attending this con over the years. I suspected that one of the contestants was recruited at the last minute to bulk up the number of competitors because, right before this musician performed his song, he admitted that he had just written it an hour before. It kind of sounded like he had.

After all four of us performed and while the judges were deliberating, the people I spoke with in the audience thought I had the first place award in the bag. I wasn’t sure about first place, but the one guy had a 10 minute-long song with about 15 verses, which made me start to daydream part-way through. His song was also a cappella, which it seems would not go over well with judges since a song is composed of more than lyrics and a melody; it also has accompanying music. Mr. Last Minute’s song was fair, and the other woman’s song was good, but I worried for her that her off-key performance would color the opinions of the judges. My song was more pop than traditional filk songs, but I figured a catchy lyrical hook, in addition to the fact that my song contained music, would help it to do well against the other song-writers given everything I just described.

The awards were handed out and I heard a few murmurs of surprise from the people sitting behind me. First place went to 15-verse guy, second place went to Mr. Last Minute, I placed third, and the other woman got fourth/last place. Someone behind me leaned forward and whispered that they were really surprised I did not get first place.

I was not too surprised. I figured that the two men were very active in the filk community in this area and that this familiarity may have played a role in the decisions of the judges. I thought, well they know me now, maybe next time.

After the room cleared out and I made my way into the hall, one of the judges approached me. She was the only female judge on the panel. She said she gave me the highest score and couldn’t understand why the other judges scored me as low as they did.

To this day I still do not know if it was that I was new to the scene, or more specifically, not in the “old boys” club. Neither should make a difference in a song-writing competition.

Art is subjective. Even if I really did think I was the best songwriter in the world, which I DO NOT, there is no way to know what will resonate with someone. I will never know for sure why the judges voted the way they did. At least third place looks snazzy if you don’t know it was out of four contestants. I got a nifty prize and was happy to get a few new fans, including the female judge who gave me her CD later that evening. What counts is that I enjoyed myself.

I just wish that the blatant sexism that we see all around didn’t force me to question if certain things don’t work out because I legitimately didn’t deserve them or simply because of my gender.