Sexism and misogyny are still an issue in the music industry in 2024, so you can only imagine just how hard it was to be a female musician trying to make it in the 1970s. Through nearly two dozen interviews with musicians, veteran music journalist Katherine Yeske Taylor does a remarkable job laying out the realities women artists faced in just trying to do exactly what their male counterparts were succeeding in doing but also having to deal with unfair judgement and preconceived notions while dodging sexual advances, all in the name of just playing music.
A few of the interviewees here balk at being called feminists—some because they think the word has negative connotations—but it is clear from hearing their stories that all have faced some form of backlash or prejudice simply by being women in a traditionally male dominated field. What makes Taylor’s book so compelling is the wide net she’s cast, covering musicians from a slew of different genres from folk and pop to punk and garage rock, proving just how prevalent the sexism was (is?) in every corner of the music world.
Among the most compelling stories here are Joan Osborne’s retelling of getting banned from a venue for life for daring to point out from the stage a Pro Choice booth set up at a Lilith Fair show against the wishes of the venue operators. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls also relays a conflicting choice she and her musical partner made to stop playing a female only festival—an annual event she recounts fondly as formative in her own views of gender—when they decided to not allow transgender women to participate. L7’s Donita Sparks also recounts the “no chick” policies she heard from DJs who wouldn’t play their music on the radio or the excuse that they were already playing music from another female-fronted band, as if there was a quota they could not get around. Other highlights include discussions with Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill and Lydia Lunch, both with similarly maddening stories.
The interviews were conducted around the time that the Supreme Court was handing down their shocking decision striking down Roe v. Wade and 50 years of reproductive freedom in this country, so women’s autonomy figures heavily into a lot of the stories throughout the book. The book closes on a powerful afterward from Susan Rogers, the longtime in-house recording engineer for Prince.
“How many women earning a living as a novelist get accused of not writing their own books? If the answer is ‘I can’t think of any,’ then imagine the strangeness of how often this used to happen to pioneering women rock stars and accredited journalists, as Katherine Yeske Taylor recounts in the introduction to this book.”