A Woman’s Place is on the Main Stage: How Are Festival Organisers Still Getting It So Wrong?

Despite years of criticism, festivals across the UK still refuse to showcase women and non-binary people in their lineups.

This isn’t the first time that music fans have called out music festival organisers for their typically male-dominated line up. But it does seem to be the year that enough is enough. With a growing trend of editing festival line-up posters to show the few women and non-binary artists that feature, it’s an issue which has taken centre stage as we approach the first summer since 2019 where we might actually have festivals.

The first offender to face such backlash recently was Reading and Leeds. Although they recently doubled the number of their main stages, the headline acts are all men. In fact, since 2000 only three bands that have headlined featured female musicians – Paramore, Arcade Fire and The White Stripes. For comparison, Foo Fighters have headlined four times in the same period. But Reading and Leeds of course is not the only festival to significantly favour male and male-fronted acts – TRNSMT, Download and Victorious festival have all recently come under fire after announcing their line-ups.

The main justification for the acts they choose – who mainly comprise of 90s/00s white-male-fronted nostalgia acts – is that these are the musicians who bring in the most ticket sales. A belief, despite the lack of evidence, that women and non-binary artists just aren’t going to attract a big enough crowd. In more extreme cases, social media users were claiming that women just aren’t good musicians. So, music fans and people working in the industry took to making their own dream festival line-ups, where women and non-binary people were put in the spotlight:

Here we have just a fraction of the industry greats and rising stars who are not male or male-fronted acts. Even a handful of these musicians would make these festival lineups more interesting.

Thankfully, it’s not all bleak. Plenty of festivals are committing themselves to providing more balanced lineups. In Glastonbury’s cancelled 2020 edition of the festival, 52% of the three-day lineup were female artists or female-fronted acts including Skunk Anansie, Beabadoobee and Taylor Swift. Other festival favourites like End Of The Road and All Points East have followed through on their commitment to diversify their lineup. Loud Women Festival is committed to championing female-and non-binary-led musical acts with their yearly festival. All across the country, you can find proof that festivals big and small do not need a male-dominated lineup to thrive.

Singer Kate Nash is currently working on a project to fight back against not only the lack of diversity on festival lineups, but the unsafe spaces that they create as a result. She is currently collecting data surrounding sexual assault, sexism, racism and hate within the music industries, with a focus on festivals.

Although we’ve seen some positive changes in the UK’s biggest festivals, the majority are not taking the steps to change their behaviour that we want to see. By creating a more diverse line-up, festival organisers can send a message that everyone in the audience deserves to celebrate their favourite music. The result will be a more inclusive and safer music industry.

Photo courtesy of Tony Pham.

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