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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

It’s good to talk about inequality. The more we talk about inequality the less of it there is. That was the opening to an article called Has Folk Forgotten Feminism? that I wrote for The Guardian. Or at least it was the opening until the piece was rephrased by editorial staff.

This isn’t a whine about being misrepresented. I know the pressure editors are under to attract enough readers to satisfy the advertisers that pay for a publication to exist. Neither will I criticise sub-editors, because there’s probably one reading this right now. (Hi, should there’ve been a semi-colon after the first sentence?)

But The Guardian thought my article would attract more attention if it began with an assertion that the folk scene was: “turning into a man’s world”.

I didn’t write that. It’s not something I remotely believe. But it worked. The readers came. As did the angry mob. I didn’t read the comments; that way insanity lies. But some of them found their way to me across the social networks. Some were reasonable and willing to debate. Others called me irresponsible and wrong to write about isolated incidents of sexism on the festival circuit. I was less reasonable and willing to debate with them.

I don’t know how many examples were needed to merit an article. I didn’t think it needed more than two (several more women told me similar stories but I only had 800 words and wanted to give some of those to Sandra Kerr because she was in Bagpuss.)

Nevertheless, many readers were angered at what they saw as an implication that these two occurrences of inequality meant the entire scene was a seething sexist snake pit. Even though the article stated several times that it isn’t.

To have a persecution complex about issues of inequality is to place yourself above those who’ve been directly affected by that inequality. Get to the back of the queue with your hurt feelings; we’ll deal with those when we’ve mended the millennia of patriarchal oppression. And to insist that everything’s fine, as several objectors did, is to presume your experience must be everyone’s experience. And that’ll never be true.

My experience is that the traditional folk scenes of the British Isles are the most gender-balanced of any area of music. And that musicians are judged primarily on their talents.

But when I spoke to female musicians I learned that isn’t always the case. That’s what inspired the article. If, in a scene as progressive as ours, there are pockets of chauvinism, how do we eradicate them? If there’s still an imbalance (and there is) how do we fix it? None of us would suggest ignoring inequality.

Actually there were those who did just that. And even those who responded by suggesting the women in question did themselves no favours by the way they appeared in promotional photographs.

As long as there are people on the scene who feel entitled to tell women how they should look, or that their experiences aren’t significant enough to be discussed, then articles like this still need to be written. For as long as anyone is excluded, no matter how infrequently, the conversation continues. And the least of our problems is a sensationalised subheading.

Tim Chipping


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