Why SPAAT is Spitting Venom This Month

A pretty lenghty piece exploring the impact SPAAT has already made on its province.

After seeing a lack of female performers on the bill for music festival after music festival like The George Street Festival, Confederation Hill, Random Sound, and Salmon Fest … seeing a fifth festival in a row follow suit broke the camel’s back.

When Harbourage announced their lineup of all male-fronted bands, they became the target of discontent that sparked the formation of SPAAT, who quickly formed a spin-off festival, HERbourage (an all female-fronted lineup), which they pulled off the very same night.

And so began the first initiative of SPAAT: to use art and activism to push their mandate, which is not of expecting tokenism (including female performers more in arts festivals simply for the sake of including female performers) but of re-wiring the brains of the subconsciously sexist.

To affect change in the world requires education. Having a community group holding media, festivals, and organizations accountable for their actions can only help, and SPAAT’s Facebook group is pure of intent: they’re aiming to give a voice to issues in St. John’s as they pertain to marginalized demographics.

A quick peek at the group’s threads and it’s clear they’re already empowering themselves. To quote local artist and cultural advocate Mary MacDonald,

“I think [Harbourage’s organizers] think we’re saying that women should be included just so there are women and we want a balance. That’s not it. We want to see the good work that female musicians are producing. It’s about GOOD WORK being recognized … it is extremely difficult for women to be recognized.”

Contrary to the opinion of some, feminism isn’t about shouting blindly for equality; it’s moreso about shouting when and where equality clearly failed to exist, so that equality will come to exist where it currently doesn’t. Like modern day local music festivals. It wasn’t that long ago Patsy Cline had to shout at her husband and haters, “I’m not a terrible mother for wanting a career in performing.”

Shouting might make people uncomfortable, but waiting until a fifth festival in the same season snubbed female performers was not unreasonable timing. While I believe none of these festival’s organizers were maliciously snubbing women, it’s almost worse that it was an unintentional oversight, five times. It means musical diversity on stage (gender included) wasn’t even considered.

Thanks to some online raging and rioting, and Lorne Loder taking it on the chin for the sins of music promoters across the province, we have all learned from their oversight, and show promoters are certainly less likely to upset SPAAT moving forward. People are quick to turn on a thing in this province, and bad press can sink a festival. It’s safe to say, thanks to this week, we’ll be seeing more women in music festivals.

So, while Spaat serves as a place for people to therapeutically vent rage and feel empowered upon seeing they’re not alone in it, it’s already become more than that: a vehicle for social change. Already, it’s a place for dialogue and action to coalesce between people feeling slighted in the same ways.

SPAAT currently exists for the marginalized to come together, but as an open group, it can certainly double as a place that reasons with its opposition — because the people they’re calling out are certainly reading. So it’s providing a great place to have them see the error of their ways. A calm, convincing, well-articulated conversation has more power than an atom bomb to change a person’s way of thinking.

Ask Martin Luther King, who affected change through well-articulated speeches to alter the way a time-period thought. Screaming fuck you wouldn’t have worked as effectively, he’d have been written off as an angry black man, the way too many people write female discontent off as angry feminism.

Now, let’s pause for a second to check out Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper – I’ve heard well over 100 new albums in 2015, and few are as innovatively combining as many genres as this. Stick around for the bridge, and tell me they wouldn’t be wicked live:

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Every Friday on the Overcast, we post “Singled Out: The Top 5 Songs Added to Overcast Radio This Week,” and the goal is exhibiting 5 new songs from every genre and gender, with the idea being to please a variety of tastes. It’s not about inclusion, but discoverability, and that requires exposing all genres and genders.

In defense of Harbourage stating, essentially, “booking bands isn’t as easy as asking for who you want,” they aren’t wrong – it’s a miracle to find one band in your price range with an opening in their schedule, and if you do, their management is likely going to ask who else is on the bill before they say yes.

But another comment from a thread in SPAAT came from Andrea Vincent of local festival Lawnya Vawnya, who wrote about how sexism-quashing in the music industry will require some supportive action from music promoters.

“If promoters are not giving these bands a chance to play (intentionally or not), then where DOES it start? OF COURSE it is our responsibility as promoters. If we get more women on stage who are making great music, more young girls will stick with it. If more young girls stick with it because promoters are giving their peers a chance, then poof. Part of that gross cycle gets broken.”

And how about the local acts at these festivals? Confederation Hill and Harbourage had zero. One of them could’ve been local?

HERbourage included the debut of a new supergroup, Punchtable, fronted by Sarah Blackmore with the likes of Megan Harnum (Scrambled Meggz) and Greg Hewlett (Boathaus) involved. They’d have drawn a crowd from anyone paying attention to the local music scene. The fact they hauled HERbourage off so fast is proof of all the talent locally that festivals can tap into.

It’s important to remember these days that we’re not always talking about representational inequality anymore, so comments I’ve overheard  like “whatever, my boss is a woman, equality is here,” don’t understand the plight. We’re combating the worst form of sexism these days: the subconsciously sexist.

I’m talking about the guy who laughs about the number of women his roommate is cycling through his bedroom, but frowns on the women leaving his bedroom. My own awakening of this phenomenon came to me about 5 years ago, when I was jurying a music award. 4 of the 5 jurors were male, given the at-the-time lack of young women in media; a whole other issue.

The conversation about shortlisted artists was strictly about the music … until we got to talking about the female-fronted band on the list. Suddenly, my colleagues were talking about “babe factor” and how hot she is when she performs. And I wanted to shout at them for considering that a musical pro.

These were good guys – they didn’t mean any harm or to be derogatory, but what else can you call it? She’d written songs just as good as the guys had, but the conversation about her had become, “Her boyfriend is such a lucky guy,” which reduced her from songwriter to sexy woman.

Ever since that night, I’ve noticed that kind of subconscious sexism in the world. Keep an eye out for it in yourself, as I have been doing since, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught myself a few times, and learned from it and grew. I’ve cut the words “Bitch” and “Girl” from my vocabulary, not because I think they’re derogatory, or mean them to be, but because enough women have told me they find them derogatory.

What galls me these days is people saying “sexism doesn’t exist anymore.” It does. When I wrote a piece called “The Real Take Away Message from the News about Jian Ghomeshi,” I received threats of physical violence for “siding with women.” A surprising number of women wrote scornful comments.

And when I wrote “Why I’ll Walk the Slut Walk,” a few women accused me of “using Slut Walk to get in some chick’s pants.” I had a girlfriend at the time, thanks. Such dismissal of the feminist plight only proves apathy still exists for it.

So join the discussion by searching SPAAT on Facebook, and keep an eye on the conversations happening in SPAAT. A good person is a well-rounded person, and the passion in these threads can shape you like a chisel and hammer. If you’re open to it.

In addition to future house shows like HERbourage, SPAAT is planning to put out a series of zines that give marginalized people a space to express themselves. They’ll choose a topic for a zine, invite people to submit to it, and then put it together as a collective.

The first zine coincided with HERbourage so its topic was Women and Music – their experiences of being in bands, playing live music, and generally existing in a male-dominated scene. They have a lot of exciting ideas brewing, and we’ll bring them to your attention as they come to fruition.

Here’s another hot jam off a female’s 2015 album. It’s called “Sprinter” by Torres

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9 Comments

  • Hear hear, Righteous Babe! I can’t stand all this neo-feminism “womyn” bullcrap. It’s offpoint. I just want equal pay, and to walk to the ATM without being catcalled. Ticking off “female” on a driver’s license isn’t offensive. It’s just a fact. I was born with ovaries, so I am a female. “Bitch” however, implies bitchiness because I’m a woman, and “girl” belittles the power a female can have. But not saying “female” or spelling woman with a Y? weird. Point being, best to invest energy in campaigns like ending catcalls or roofies, not asking people to be on egshells over whcih noun to use in addressing us, as if we’re royalty or something.

    • Being born with ovaries doesn’t make you a woman. Identifying as a woman makes you one. Saying it has anything to do with what organs you have is transphobic.

  • Can I just say, as a basass feminist who has spent 15 years making legislative changes and social reforms to better recognize “FEMALES” as equal to their male counterparts in the workplace, bar scene, and arts world … that comments like Evelyn’s are presicesly why peopel make fun of feminists. What kind of comment is that? “Don’t call us females!” It’s an adjective, a descriptive word. If writing a poem, you don’t wanna say woman every line, to need to mix it up with female. It’s like saying “her” isn’t acceptable, but “She” is. You can’t go messing with grammar. That’s non-sense feminism, which makes no one take feminism seriously. Please, stop. Focus on ending rape, misogyny, and the belittlement of women in professional roles, NOT telling men how to refer to us. THat doesn’t change the world, it jsut baffles and confuses people. Especially under articles where a man/male/guy/dude just tried to help explain why we need feminism. Selectively “spit venom,” don’t just strike out for the sake of it. I am a female, I’m not ashamed of my vulva or reproductive system. I’m proud of it. a male can’t bring life into this friging world!

    • There are, in fact, men who can “bring life into this world.” Trans men with vaginas who choose to not take HRT or undergo surgery can have children. Intersex men may have working vaginas/ovaries, and may be able to have children biologically or through a surrogate. Congrats on erasing them, which is literally what I said using the term “females” does. You proved my point for me!

      As I said, using it as an adjective is fine. Using it as a noun is not.

      I’ll focus on all parts of feminism, thanks, and that includes the terms to which women are referred.

  • You mention some words you shouldn’t use, like “bitch” and “girl,” when referring to women, but using “female” as a noun is also derogatory. The word “woman” exists. Use it. “Female” isn’t exclusive to humans, and the term “females” is often used in a negative manner. It is often used to reduce women to their reproductive organs, which can also alienate trans women, lump trans men in with them, and ignore intersex folks altogether. Using it as an adjective is no issue (e.g. “I have three female cousins.”), but outside of that, it’s best to just use “women.”

  • Can I politely point something out? A quick check of The Overcast’s archives shows that over the past 12 months, the cover photo of the paper has featured a total of 30 men and just 9 women. Every time (not exaggerating, I mean literally EVERY SINGLE TIME) a woman was featured, she was posing next to a man/men. In fact, the last time you had a female-only cover was July 2014, when you featured the awesome Melanie Caines. How do you explain this?

    • Well, those are definitely statistics worthy of scrutiny.
      But a woman standing by a man is about having both a male and a female present.
      I’m honestly open to understanding how that belittles a woman?

      As for cover images, the cover stories are selected based on topical events,
      and ensuring a rotation of some kind like: ARTS / FOOD & DRINK / POLITICAL, repeat.
      We can’t control things like who is running in an election, or who opened a new restaurant.
      We can, and will, however, consider ensuring better gender balance when possible, thanks to this note.

      Here’s the rationale on the last 12 issues

      November 2014: Construction in St. John’s.” We’d asked Texas Chainsaw to play our Christmas Party, because they’re engaging performers. And things led to having them be on the cover for November, playing construction workers. The female member of the band chose to sit it out on the curb during the shoot.
      December 2014: “Winner of the Borealis Music Prize.” Jon Hynes won by Jury, it was out of our hands he was male.
      January 2015: For the Announcement of the Albedo Grant, the sponsor of our Albedo Grant was a male.
      February 2015: For the Burger Challenge, the photo shoot involved a family, and when things got messy with the burgers, it was Ken who stepped up to smash a burger into his face for a catching photo, and we ran with it spontaneously. THe image inside from the same shoot will verify this started with a mother, daughter, and boyfriend (The mother being our food writer).
      March 2015: For the “Challenges of running a local restaurant,” we simply went with two familiar faces associated with a restaurant: Kelly from Rocket and Stephen from Adelaide.
      April 2015: “ECMA Nominees.” We can’t control who is nominated for the ECMAS, or who showed up for the shoot;luckily some women were and did.
      May 2015: “Albedo Grant Winner.” The winner was chosen by a jury. We can’t control who won our $10,000 grant.
      June 2015: “Food themed issue.” THis was a gender neutral illustration of a whale.
      July 2015: “Blue Dot Movement.” THere was no person on the cover; gender neutral
      August 2015: “Summer Cocktail Showdown.” We wanted to have two people — a man and a woman — from one of the participating restaurants, and thought of Stephen and CHrissy since they’re a couple people associate with Mallard.
      September 2015: “Man Wins 4 Millions Opens NEw Restaurant.” Seemed like the story of the month, to combat the notion downtown restaurants are struggling. We have no control over who owned the restaurant.

      I’m not shrugging off your comment by saying, “It’s more complicated than you think,” nor calling it tokenism to consider stats like these. I assure you your comment will be taken into consideration. And thanks for bringing it to our attention. Quite frankly, I wish there was more of this: polite conversation in Internet comments, imagine!

      • Thank-you! 🙂

        A woman posing next to a man doesn’t necessarily belittle the woman, but when done consistently and combined with a lack of female-only covers (and a plethora of
        male-only covers), might imply that women are cover-worthy only when a man is involved.

        You absolutely can’t help who opens a restaurant or who wins an award, etc…. but you do get to decide whether that story makes the cover of your paper or on an inside page. It’s similar to a promoter choosing a lineup. There are issues and complexities involved, but at the end of the day, you are choosing the priority for your paper in terms of coverage.

        • Totally … to some degree 😉 Take the current cover. It happened out of my own stupidity! I assigned too many food stories for the food section, so one got bumped to the cover slot (so the paper wouldn’t be out the money the writer was paid if we tossed a story). I sent Emily a panicked message, “um, can you tack another 100-200 words onto the Social Hosue piece to make it a cover story?” And she did; the cover story was a last minute panic. September’s cover story was initially going to be a launch party for Overcast Radio. And October kinda HAS to be about the federal or provincial elections …

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