British singer-songwriter Kate Nash opens up about the sexual harassment and body shaming she had to endure throughout her career, raising the issue of female inequality in the music industry.
Female musicians are the pride and joy of such a vibrant industry. They are role models, creative artists and they bring happiness to millions of people around the world. Currently the most popular artist on Spotify is pop queen Ariana Grande who continues to emit messages of female empowerment whilst icons such as Rihanna and Beyoncé, who never seem to die out, continually boost female pride internationally. However, there is a dark edge to all the success these females have generated. Gender inequality and sexual harassment are a vile disease that plague such a wonderful culture, wonderful on the surface anyway.
British singer-songwriter Kate Nash has experienced it first hand during her career. The 31-year-old from London came on to the scene after she released her debut album Made of Bricks in 2007, notable for the chart-topping hit ‘Foundations’. Since then she has cemented her place in British pop music archives, released two albums, toured the world and played a female wrestler on Netflix’s acclaimed programme ‘Glow’.
Everything started for her at the age of 17 after Kate was rejected from university and she decided working at Nando’s wasn’t spicy enough for her she started up her music career on MySpace, an unknown ancient relic to many of us now. “The site really changed music because it meant you could discover bands really easily so people could discover and listen to my music,” she explains whilst sat in her tatty denim dungarees with her fluorescent ginger hair tied in pig tails, the personification of Kate’s wholesome modesty.
Her early song covers and own material gained lots of attention online. In particular, fellow female Brit singer-songwriter Lily Allen who put Nash in her top eight friends list, which was apparently a significant gesture back then. Kate says, “MySpace gave me the confidence to book my first show, so I did, and then after that I decided I want to do this instead of Nando’s.”
Apart from a music and acting career Nash has also become a liberal spokeswoman. Nash created Feminist YouTube channel Girl Gang TV, a group of multi gender feminists that share ideas, inspire and challenge audiences by ‘searching for the truth and spreading love, joy, skills and self-confidence,’ as quoted in the bio of the account.
Kate says, “We wanted to create more space for women and promote females to be seen as equals and being able to do whatever they want to do and encourage that.” The channel, with just under 4000 subscribers, is a small part of a mass online movement for promoting feminism. Laci Green is one of the most prolific feminist YouTubers with around 1,500,000 subscribers and over 150 million views. Having also been named in the 30 most influential people on the internet it shows that there is not only a market for feminism online but also a need for it.
Kate’s burning passion for feminism springs from her own experiences and what she’s had to encounter throughout her career. “We [females] have to experience a lot of bullshit and a lot of sexism in the industry,” Nash explains, “I’ve had so much sexism from managers, publishers, the media, press, the industry. What women have to go through in the industry is so much more extreme.” Sadly, she isn’t the only female artist to have received similar treatment.
In March this year, international British popstar Dua Lipa spoke out about how females struggle to get recognition. She told CQ, “For a female artist, it takes a lot more to be taken seriously if you’re not sat down at a piano or with a guitar. For a male artist, people instantly assume they write their own music, but for women, they assume it’s all manufactured.”
The problem stretches further back than recent history as well. Lily Allen told NME in 2014, “You will notice of the big successful female artists, there is always a ‘man behind the woman’ piece. If it’s Beyonce, it’s Jay Z. If it’s Adele, it’s Paul Epworth. Me? It was Mark Ronson and the same with Amy Winehouse. You never get that with men.”
A year earlier, pop star Grimes was one of the first female musicians to use social media as a platform to express their feelings and highlight the issue. She said, “I refused to be sexualised,” along with a feminist manifesto that she posted on her Tumblr account. “I’m tired of men who aren’t professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to ‘help me out’ (without being asked), as if I did this by accident and I’m going to flounder without them. Or as if the fact that I’m a woman makes me incapable of using technology. I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers.”
It’s not just physical harassment that affixes to an unequal industry but also the more indirect treatment of women. In 2015, Bjork revealed that despite producing “80% of the beats” herself, musician Matmos was credited with producing her album Vespertine. “After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learned – the hard way – that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they – men – had the ideas,” Bjork told Pitchfork Review.
Female musicians talking out about the issue is massively important to raise recognition of what really happens. Iconic female pop star Madonna spoke out at Billboard’s 2016 award ceremony, using her acceptance speech to say, “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean a female entertainer.” She then referred to her hero David Bowie who “made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules, if you’re a boy…if you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy, but don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion. Don’t have an opinion that is out of line with the status quo, at least.”
This is the sad truth us mere music listeners must hear. Liberal lyrics and sensationalism of the rock’n’roll pop star lifestyle makes it easy to paint over the cracks and prevent seeing the truth of what really happens but these musicians have all been brave enough to talk out.
Men abusing their positions of power through misogynistic actions and sexual harassment has unfortunately been a far too prevalent topic in the news recently. A public figure that needs no introducing and has faced one too many sexual harassment cases considering he’s a politician, and quite a powerful one too, is American President Donald Trump. “I hate Donald Trump,” Kate exclaims, “The fact he can say he grabs women by the pussy and get away with it is terrifying. He’s just a complete liar and it’s very serious. Anyone that takes him as a joke is putting a lot of women in danger.”
Harvey Weinstein, the infamous Hollywood film producer, has been the other public figure in the headlines for sexual harassment. Since 2017, when The New York Time published allegations of sexual harassment against there has been a flurry of cases surfacing.
Public disclosure and the resulting social backlash gave victims across the cultural industry the confidence to come forward and Kate Nash is one of them. Distressed, she looks to the floor and says, “One of my managers used to use my name to get girls into clubs and try to sleep with them. He would cheat on his girlfriend and come on my tour just to hook up with girls and he started trying to manage my female friends. Then he tried to put his hand up their tops.”
As a result of the publicised allegations, the #MeToo campaign started. A movement against sexual harassment that encouraged victims to tweet about it and “give people a sense of magnitude of the problem,” according to American actress Alyssa Milano who popularised the phrase.
Since the issue has been accentuated online a turn of the tide has been noticed by Kate, “A lot more feminists within the media say this is fucked up now. The stuff that used to get written about me, I don’t think that would be allowed to be written about girls now.” She credits the platform of social media for this, “There’s more girls united online.”
Despite the positive work the #MeToo movement has done across the entertainment industry and further afar to increase awareness for sexual harassment, rapper Cardi B believes it won’t change anything in the music industry. A lot of females in the music industry rely on their sex appeal for commercial appeal believes the ex-stripper. She told Cosmopolitan magazine, “A lot of video vixens have spoke about this and nobody gives a fuck. When I was trying to be a vixen, people were like, ‘You want to be on the cover of this magazine?’ Then they pull their dicks out. I bet if one of these women stands up and talks about it, people are going to say, ‘So what? You’re a ho. It don’t matter.’”
The campaign was mostly welcomed by women in the music industry. Leanne de Souza started off as a band manager and has worked in the music business for 25 years since. She told The Guardian, “Back in the day all the power and influence sat with those men. You couldn’t work around them.”
“I remember being in a meeting and a man asking the band whether my tits were real. Then there’s the late-night culture. I could rattle off dozens of examples of being touched by men without their permission,” De Souza said. The recent unification against the issue is helping stomp it out though. With determination in her eyes Nash states, “We have to be motivated and strong the beat these fuckers.”
Resorting back to a feeling of despair Nash continues to talk about how it wasn’t just the sexism from her manager she had to endure, “There are also enormous expectations and pressures on females from the media. Publishers get me to guarantee that I’m going to look and sound a certain way for the rest of my life”.
‘Body shaming’, as it’s called, is a common issue for female musicians in the media. Tabloids and fashion magazines have been guilty of it in the past; In 2015, then Daily Mail journalist Katie Hopkins told Access Hollywood that, “Ultimately Kelly Clarkson is a chunky monkey,” after the pop star’s increase in weight and last year a sports journalist, Chris Spagnuolo, wrote an article titled, ‘Is Rihanna Going To Make Being Fat The Hot New Trend?’ for Barstool Sports.
Where the musicians are in the public eye it is easy to assume that they don’t get affected by articles such as these but Kate Nash is an example of their words cutting deep. Kate says her confidence was shattered when the media described her as “fat and ugly” in the past. “Girls can never be good enough. The media just want girls to spin out of control. They want the Britney [Spears] 2007 effect for entertainment.”
Nash believes the media asked questions to set her up in a cat fight “which would just be the media’s ultimate wet dream”. One of the questions she recalls being asked from a publication was “Are you annoyed that your fan base are only young girls?” to which Kate replied: “Why would that annoy me? That is like saying women don’t mean anything and young girls are completely irrelevant. Why would anyone want a bunch of old men as fans anyway?”
Misogyny and sexual harassment are the sad reality of what happens to female artists like Kate Nash in the music industry but the British diva has learnt from her experiences and she offers advice to any girl hoping to get into the industry: “Have thick skin, be tough and build up your own confidence. Be prepared for men to try and take advantage of you every step of the way and try and create your own network of people that you trust and see you for who you are and support you and don’t try to put you in a box.” If there’s one piece of poetic advice that Kate would want any aspiring female musician to engrave into their character, she says, “Don’t give a fuck what people say about you.”