International Women's Day 2015:
Making It Happen

- 08/03/15 -

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It's been an odd year in terms of women's rights news. In a lot of ways, the struggle and the fight for equality has been fiercer than ever. It's been seen in the response to cowardly, disgusting abuse and threats from Gam3rGat3 supporters towards significant women in the videogame industry - you can read some good articles about this topic on VICE. The biggest target is Anita Sarkeesian, the creator of the brilliant Feminist Frequency which discusses women in pop culture, including in videogames. There are the consistently horrifying reports of public gang rapes in India, compounded by the Indian government's decision to ban a BBC documentary on the subject. A recent artistic response to this huge societal problem was a fantastic idea for an Indian comic book about a female rape survivor superhero which will empower young girls and educate boys. Closer to home, there was the recent furor over women deciding to say "hey, perhaps this is a bit weird" about the  Reading and Leeds' festival lineup being almost all exclusively men. We haven't seen a satisfactory response to this yet, (my friend Jack from Alcopop's  article had some clear, sensible points, simply dismissing the idea of 'quotas') but we're waiting and optimistic. 

Confession: I, Brad Barrett, am a cisgender straight white man. Basically, I am boring and ubiquitous. Not a confession, but a statement: I am a feminist.

Over the past two months especially, I have been struck by continuous levels of discrimination against women I know. Two examples: a friend of mine experienced torrents of harassment online for being female and lesbian when an opinionated tweet of hers was featured in a tabloid news story. The other people, whose opinions were also featured and were men, were left alone. In contrast, my friend has had to alter her online identity and, as she worked hard to establish that in her career, it's temporarily set things back just because she'd had an opinion. The inspiring Xtra Mile artist Laura Jane Grace (of Against Me!; read her excellent series of articles, 'Mandatory Happiness', on Noisey/VICE) was recently attacked on social media because she wouldn't answer insulting questions about her transgender status during a radio interview, and cut the conversation short. She responded by giving an impromptu Twitter Q & A with her fans immeidately afterwards. Both women have continued on. They made it happen. These aren't my only examples, by a long shot.

Women everywhere always have to work hard to achieve something. Anything. The opportunities still aren't quite there, and women are often questioned, "corrected" or maligned. But when they do get there and triumph, it's even more praiseworthy. In line with this year's theme for International Women's Day, #MakeItHappen, my favourite example of women doing just that at the moment is NXT (World Wrestling Entertainment's developmental TV show) women wrestlers working extremely hard to change the perception of females in an absolutely male-dominated company (and industry). They are often belittled, sexualised and dismissed by employers and fans alike. There are other companies that are far better at giving female wrestling a platform (Lucha Underground, Chikara, SHINE, Beyond), but WWE is the biggest wrestling company in the world. Women are generally given no time to develop their craft and are given demeaning storylines. The long-running joke is that there are only two types of female wrestler in WWE: jealous (of each other) or 'crazy'. Another joke is that women's matches are time for 'a toilet break' when watching a two to three hour show; they generally don't last longer than a couple of minutes. This excellent article by Danielle Matheson does a wonderful job of explaining all this.

But these NXT wrestlers are putting on absolutely incredible matches, proving athletic skill, clever in-ring storytelling and intensity - as well as building a dedicated and enthusiastic audience - are not the sole tenet of men and that their abilities more than square up to their male conterparts. And, thankfully, people are catching on, appreciating the efforts and wanting a solution to the problems. The hashtag #GiveDivasAChance (yes, women in WWE are called 'Divas', while male wrestlers are called 'Superstars') trended on Twitter for a great deal of time, and garnered a seemingly positive response from the CEO of the company.

To me, this is a microcosm of the challenges all women face every day. Not being taken seriously; not being paid equally; having to deal with all sorts of unwanted male attention, commentary and opinion; not given the chance to shine; and yet, for all of this, you all turn up, work hard, enjoy yourselves, and show us all what achieving something really means. Which is what all the pieces below - by strong, intelligent, hard-working women - are about.

Please read on.

There are plenty of resources out there to help women #MakeItHappen but here are just two. For some excellent feminist and diversity articles, try reading Media Diversified (for example, this one on the Oscars). If you want to donate to something very important, point your mouse towards Refuge. They do amazing work with women and children affected by domestic violence.

Dani Cotter (Xtra Mile Recordings) - "Women make it happen every day"

You may have noticed we’ve decorated this page with purple. It is the colour (along with green and white) that came to symbolise the plight of the Suffragettes and was used for banners, flags, rosettes and badges to show solidarity. It’s also been declared (by some) to be the colour of sexual frustration! Make of THAT what you will. A colour can be a powerful thing – just ask Harriet Harmon who’s pink battle bus has taken a real beating since it was unveiled last month. Perhaps she should have used purple (avoiding the UKIP tone and shade obviously) and channelled that powerful symbolism and the might of the Suffragette movement to drive her key issues of childcare, social care, domestic violence, equal pay and political representation to the 9 million women that didn’t vote in the last UK general election. But, instead they went with pink and now no-one gives a damn about what she’s trying to turn the spotlight on – only that her bus looks like something Barbie would drive. And who can blame them?

I have been watching this wonderful 3-part documentary on the Suffragettes – you can catch it on iPlayer here for a limited time. They’re the very essence of #MakeItHappen for me. Them and a whole of host of other historical female figures that also totally made it happen, some of which are listed here in this lighthearted look at totally bad ass women.

But its not just the pioneers and well-known that need praising and celebrating. Women all over the world #MakeItHappen every day. The ‘it’ comes in all different shapes and sizes. ‘It’ can be becoming an MP, an MD, a CEO, a surgeon, a teacher, an engineer, a lawyer, a banker, a singer, or a musician. ‘It’ can be a good mother, a good daughter, a good wife, a good friend. ‘It’ can be as simple as inspiring someone else to make ‘it’ happen for them too. For me ‘it’ is sometimes just the success of getting my daughter to school, on time, with the right school books, with a clean and ironed uniform and fruit in her bag! But I’m also lucky enough to have the pleasure of working with some incredible women who are out on the frontlines everyday, making ‘it’ happen for them, and for a legion of others. Billy the Kid, Esme Patterson, Lorna Skinny Lister, Laila Sonic Boom Six and Laura Jane Grace – you are all true inspirations and it’s a pleasure to help in some small way to get your voices heard even more.

So, wear your colour purple with pride and stop and think of all the awesome women in your life that #MakeItHappen. With a unified celebration we can look proudly at what we’ve achieved and boldly stand ready to keep on fighting.

Lorna (Skinny Lister) - "Be strong, confident, sociable"

I’ve tried my hand at loads of different things throughout my life but being part of Skinny Lister is the thing I’ve stuck at the longest. I never imagined in a million years I’d be playing main stage at festivals across the world. I kind of butted my way into Skinny Lister fancying a good time, free entry to festivals and a chance to show off and meet people. I’d only just started to sing and thinking back to my first gig, I was terrified! I still get nervous before a gig but these nerves haven’t been as intense until we went to record our second album Down on Deptford Broadway in Rockfield Studios with producer Ted Hutt.

I was so nervous recording in the place where Freddie Mercury recorded 'Bohemian Rhapsody' – I crumbled under pressure! I couldn’t remember timings and words to songs I’d sang a hundred times! Total nerves messed with me. I kept going back to my room, feeling sorry for myself and even crying (not like me at all). I had to give myself a good talking to. Party George (my dad) was on the phone giving me words of encouragement. I’d read a book about the inner voice and I just had to really focus on that and practicepracticepractice so that I felt I deserved to be in that recording studio, working with that producer and taking in all the magic that had happened in that very place over its many years. Ted worked me hard and let me have my rum in the studio, which definitely helped. Thanks Ted! Well, now we have the finished product - I’m really proud of my vocals on the tracks. I can listen to them happily so I guess you can call that a success! I’m never happy with anything for long though so...on to the next thing!!

Being an only woman in the band I’d like to say that I feel different, but I don’t really. I might be a bit bossier than the lads (well, by might, I mean definitely) but organising these lads is like herding a litter of cats! I’m not sure it's a gender thing or a personality thing. I see it as the latter. I’ve toured all over the world and I have to say there are plenty more men on the road than women. The women that are there though are people I never forget. They stand out, not just because they are women, but because they are strong, confident, sociable and talented.

Hear those vocals Lorna is so proud of on Skinny Lister's second album Down On Deptford Broadway, which you can buy from our digital shop, out on 20 April 2015.

Watch our Xtra Mile International Women's Day video playlist below:

Billy the Kid - "Hire more women"

Last year for International Women's Day, I checked in with the Xtra Mile hub and remembered some of the women who helped inspire me when I was getting into music. This year the theme is #MakeItHappen. The music industry is still one of the most sexist industries I have encountered. What can we do to change this? Hire. More. Women.

Consider hiring more women as your soundman, monitor guy, merch girl, tour manager, opening act...chances are they're just as qualified but get passed over and turned down because everyone else on the tour/on the bill/on the bus/in the band/on the team/at the office is male. The best way I can think to combat sexism in the music industry is from within. Let's stick together on this. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. The next time a job comes up, consider hiring a woman. Why? Because chances are at least five people will not even consider hiring her, just because she is a woman. We are better than that. Let's #MakeItHappen.

You can buy Billy the Kid's latest album Horseshoes & Hand Grenades on CD, vinyl or download from our digital shop.

Valerie Gritsch (Xtra Mile Recordings) - "Celebrate your small victories"


Listen to our International Women's Day playlist on Spotify.

Achievements are strange. Trying to think of a major achievement of the past year, and really I'm just glad I survived it. 2014 was very stressful, for many reasons, a large one being the chronic pain I live with. On occasion, just getting out of bed was a victory, and that should be celebrated just as much as organizing Skiffle tours or graduating university (both things I also did last year - please hold your applause to the end).

How did I #MakeItHappen? When living with a chronic condition you don't have any other option, really. You just have to get on with it. Some days that means mobilizing a street team for an album launch, or running around Boston with Oxygen Thief (and milkshakes!). Other times it's sitting up late studying accounting until your eyes go funny, or trying to figure out the safest way to walk down a flight of stairs because today your legs do not like you. Everything - whether it's university, tour planning, or simply trying to make it to the kitchen for some breakfast - takes effort, and nothing is going to get started or finished if I don't swing my legs over the edge, take a deep breath, and give it all I've got.

I should mention it's also easier to try your best when you have a support system of some kind. Friends, co-workers, family; people who will walk with you, challenge you, but also be ready to help you up if you stumble. Knowing how and when to pace yourself, and ask for help, are also crucial skills. They are not a signs of weakness but rather ones of strength. It's amazing how much further you can go when you know there's someone who has your back.

For 2015, I encourage everyone to celebrate their small victories, and to lend their support to those they care about. We can all succeed and #MakeItHappen when we help one another out.

Esmé Patterson - "Sensitivity makes us feminine and strong"

As women we are made to feel that our sensitivity can be a weakness, that our depth of feeling and compassion makes us somehow less effective, and I feel that my sensitivity, my femininity, my depth of feeling is the cornerstone of all of my work.

I have played music professionally for the last 10 years, touring all over the US and Canada, and even visiting the UK. I have released 2 albums of my own and co-written with groups and songwriters, resulting in the release of a dozen albums. I started a quarterly poetry journal (Zephyr Press) that publishes new work from Colorado writers. I have been part of an ensemble that scored a ballet and performed the score live to sold-out audiences over a 3 year span. I have written music for film scores as well and have been a lead singer, backup singer and rhythm guitar player, and bass player.

All of this work is very close to my heart and I believe that is what drives me to #MakeItHappen. When the work that you do is the fruit of your spirit, of your soul, you put all you have into it and work tirelessly. A woman can understand creative work in a way that no man can truly fathom - inspiration sows it's seed, the miracle grows and develops over time, and the creation swims out into the world to live it's own life. 

This sensitivity, that some call weakness, makes us feminine, makes us strong, gives us the power to create, the power to feel truly connected, the power to #MakeItHappen.

Here's a video of one of my greatest inspirations, Nina Simone, singing about freedom and courage.

Talking about singing of freedom and courage, you can buy Esmé's second solo album Woman To Woman on CD, vinyl and download from our digital shop. You can read about the story behind the record here too.

What are you doing for International Women's Day? What are your proudest achivements as a woman? Who are your hard-working female inspirations? What will you do this week to #MakeItHappen? As a man, how are you making sure the women around you and in your life are getting the same chances you do? Any suggestions on what we can do? Let us know, as ever, via Facebook, Twitter @Xtra_Mile and at contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com.