All women know the shitfight of living life with a vagina instead of a dick. Just in case she’d forgotten, Melbourne musician Ali Barter, proudly in possession of both a vagina and a voice, was recently given a reminder lesson by a few dicks at her music school. Eloquently explained in this Junkee article then kindly retweeted by Yoko Ono (!), Ali still has much to say about this patronising and punitive lesson in patriarchal supremacy, told to an sympathetic woman in the shape of WildnFree. Everything else on women, music, invisibility, jealousy, shame, inspiration and horniness were also widely discussed over a G&T at the Grace Darling.
“I was going every week to my music history class, and really enjoying it” says Ali, setting the initial scene. “We studied two artists each week, and it wasn’t until week 6 that I realised no women had been included as artists. The next week, the class was all about Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. I felt really angry, but since I was the only woman in the class, I didn’t feel comfortable to speak up.”
Since Ali faithfully believed in her right to free speech, she posted her thoughts and feelings on her public Facebook page. The next day, she was summoned to a meeting with the department head and lecturer.
“I was really nervous, but I was kind of excited as well” she says. “I brought a computer full of notes, I’d even spoken to Dr Rebecca Sheehan from Sydney University, who runs a course on exactly this topic, on how women in music are forgotten and ignored.” Shit then got patriarchal-mafia-real.
“My lecturer and head of department sat me down, they let me speak, but then said, “We’re going to take notes of everything you say,” says Ali, to an incredulous WildnFree. “When I finished, they read it back to me,” leaving WildnFree wondering if she should call a lawyer. But, here comes the killer. Ali says,
“Then, the department head actually said, “Have you thought about how your actions could have ramifications on your teacher’s career?”
“Then my lecturer said, “This looks really bad for me, I might not get other jobs, I have a family to feed.”
“Both said, “We’d like you to take it down, retract the statement and make a public apology.”
Collective gasp, ladies. That old chestnut. Blame the victim, protect the reputation of the perpetrator. If it’s good enough for the Catholic Church, it’s good enough for music school.
“Firstly, your statement is factually incorrect,” Ali was told. “They said that because I’d stated ,‘Not one woman was mentioned.’ “Have you done the extra reading? they asked. “Because women were mentioned in the extra reading.”
Right. The ‘extra’ reading. For the record, Ali does recall women being mentioned in the class called ‘Phil Spector’, a man currently in prison for murdering one. She also recalls hearing about Patsy Cline in the class called ‘Willie Nelson’.
“After the meeting, I had to sit in the class with that teacher, plus all the boys, and I felt like shit” she recalls. “I felt really ashamed. It wasn’t until I got out and was able to speak to people about it, that they said, “That’s really bad”.” “I continued to get emails week after week from the school, with screenshots of my Facebook page, saying ‘When are you taking it down?” I just stopped going to school. It was really terrible.”
In the context of violence against women, Ali’s experience seems to sits somewhere on a dangerous spectrum. Blamed, shamed, undermined and intimidated, these seem very much like tactics used by the average abuser to keep people disoriented and silenced. The control ramps up when the abuser is challenged .This is why women don’t leave, because by now it’s far more dangerous. The mind control starts. “You got it wrong. Your feelings and needs don’t matter. Apologise to me.”
“I don’t deserve to go to class and feel uncomfortable,” says Ali. No you don’t. What’s the consequences for those men? How much do they get paid? Where’s their performance reviews? Why do they get away with it?
Sigh. They will. A man’s income and reputation is far more important than a woman’s right to know her own history, to see herself celebrated and honoured and studied just like the boys. And, as Ali was so punitively taught, it’s far more important than her right to speak up about it. And guess what sir? If you’re worried about the unlikely chance of facing some consequences and having your income slashed, try having it actually lowered 17%, perpetually, just for being female. Wouldn’t that suck? Wouldn’t that make it harder to feed your family, no matter how skilled and brilliant you may be?
Since sexism and misogyny blight the life of WildnFree every day without fail, she’s learned to keep her spirits up by studying just how powerful, skilled and wise women can be, particularly when it comes to our strengths in communication and connection. Ali agrees.
“Talking about the things you’re struggling with really helps,” she says. “I was talking to the guys in my band, saying I find it really hard when Oscar (hubby Oscar Dawson from fave band Holy Holy) goes on tour, even though I play in a band and do the same thing. I said “Do your girlfriends find it difficult?” We’d never had the conversation before, even though we’re all really good friends!
“They were like, “They haaaate it”.” I said, “Really, do they feel uncomfortable when they come to gigs?” And they said “Yeah, they don’t enjoy it’. I thought, you know what, that’s so good to hear! Now I don’t feel like a bad person now!”
Lucky Ali was skilled enough to ask the question. Chicks, let’s celebrate this strength of ours. We can connect, we can feel, we can reach out and help those silent boys express things they’d otherwise bottle up forever. We’re never told how powerful this strength and skill of ours is. Let’s name it and claim it.
“We would never have had that conversation if I hadn’t have said, “Guys, I feel like this,” Ali says. “It’s important to have these conversations. If your partner’s going off and doing something without you, it’s human to feel left out, jealous, inadequate because they’re doing something cooler than you. When we talked about it, we all felt better, and I didn’t feel so bad about myself.”
To swing the focus bak onto awesome woman in music, i.e. Ali Barter herself, her own inspirations and motivations were explored. “I love Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville” she shares. “It’s quite sexually explicit and really vulnerable. I love her because she says it how it is. She talks about stuff that isn’t comfortable, it’s awkward, like, she talks about a woman being horny. I just love that. I hearing love women and men saying things from a really vulnerable place.”
Horniness and a lack of fuck-ready male groupies is another of Ali’s bugbears. “I was speaking to Hayley from The Jezabels, and she was saying she thinks it’s fucked there’s no male groupies” she says, annoyed. “All we get is marriage proposals. Don’t you just want to fuck me? I’m an animal too you know.” God yes Ali, so we are.
Ali’s now making vulnerability and truth a crucial part of her own songwriting. “I got to a point with my music where I had to think, ‘What do I actually want to say? What am I saying?” she says, inspiring WildnFree to think the same thing about music writing. “That’s when I started writing songs like Far Away and Girlie Bits, because I had to strip it all back and be like ‘no bullshit, how do I feel?’ Writing those songs helped me get through the blockages, jealousy, fear and comparison that I was feeling in my life. If I wasn’t being honest about it in my music, I wasn’t going to move through it.”
With a debut album on the way very soon, get ready for something fucking powerful. “It’s a big mash up of an apology, hysterical anger and me coming to terms with myself” reveals Ali. “Naming it, claiming it and letting it all go”.
That’s all we can ever do.
Watch Girlie Bits and write a 2000 word feminist analysis of the historical context. Due Monday.
The Girlie Bits Tour
Thursday, December 15 – Wildlife At The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD
Friday, December 16 – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney, NSW
Saturday, December 17 – The Curtin, Melbourne