In 1971, The Faces enjoyed a Top 10 hit with Stay With Me; a thrilling blues-rock stomp of a track which saw Rod Stewart at the height of his gravel-throated powers. The song’s theme – a one-night stand – isn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary, but the callousness and ingrained misogyny of the lyrics certainly raise an eyebrow here in 2013. Rod, being the gent he is, offers to pay the taxi fare home for the woman in question (Rita) provided she isn’t “here in the morning when I wake up.” His chat-up technique involves telling his paramour-to-be that he’s heard she’s “a mean old Jezebel,” and he even says, “With a face like that you’ve got nothing to laugh about.” What woman could resist? Especially when towards the end of the song, Rod stops to ask: “What’s your name again?”
We like to think we’ve moved on from those less enlightened times. If Stay With Me popped up on the Radio 1 playlist nowadays, there would be a Twitter storm within hours and articles in The Guardian denouncing The Faces before the week was out. But as we’ve learned in a series of jaw-dropping revelations over the past few months, the 70s was a foreign land. It’s hard to imagine anyone within the music press batting an eyelid at Stay With Me back in 1971. But then music journalism back then was a boys’ club. The oft-repeated anecdotes tell of offices thick with cigarette smoke punctuated with infrequent, erratic visits from Nick Kent scrawling florid prose on the back of cereal packets before slithering back onto the city streets in search of debauchery. You think of liquid lunches that turned into afternoon-long sessions fuelled by booze and opinion. There were women who prospered in this hotbed of testosterone – Julie Burchill and Chrissie Hynde spring immediately to mind – but they were the exception rather than the rule, and they certainly had to fight their corner to make a go of things.
But now the focus of music writing – and journalism in general – has shifted online. One advantage of this is that it gives everyone a voice, regardless of gender or appearance. Nepotism has always been rife in the media, and that’s by no means gone, but the theory is that online music journalism is meritocratic – everyone has access to the music and contacts they need and that allows the best quality writing to shine through. Where women may have been unwelcome in the past, barriers have been removed, and there are now even blogs and publications, such as Wears The Trousers – which look at music exclusively from a female-focused perspective.
Rhiannon Lucy Coslett and Holly Baxter run The Vagenda – a renowned and often hilarious blog looking at feminism and women’s issues. Many of the challenges and biases they’ve encountered whilst making their initial steps into journalism strike a chord with the world of music writing. They too believe that the rise of the internet has led to more chances for women writers: “It gives women who ordinarily wouldn’t have a voice the opportunity to share their experiences, and that’s always been what feminism was truly about.” However, old habits die hard, and a recent study by Women in Journalism (WiJ) found that in British national newspapers, 78% of front-page articles were written by men, and that men accounted for 84% of all people mentioned or quoted in those lead pieces. Rhiannon and Holly hope the tide may turn sooner rather than later: “Looking at the statistics is pretty discouraging, but we do hold out hope. As things become increasingly internet-based then it’s more likely that we’ll see a change.”
If you wanted to be a music writer forty years ago, what would have been your route to success? Most likely it would have involved attempting to live the rock n’ roll lifestyle, developing contacts and a personal connection with the movers and shakers of the music industry, and the gumption to doss down in London wherever the story was. That’s not to mention having a Y chromosome, which was practically a pre-requisite. Nowadays, it’s how you utilise the internet to fit what you want to do, and your genetic makeup is going to have far less of an impact on whether you succeed. You’ll need patience, a hard-working attitude, a Twitter account, a flair for words and a good ear, but it’s not what’s between your legs that’s important.
“Journalism is slowly becoming more female-friendly, which is a blessing because it’s one of the few places for women where people don’t judge you predominantly on your looks,” believe Rhiannon and Holly. “Diversity in editorial is so important, and most editors have realised that only providing the white male voice is downright boring.” Herein lies the key point. It’s a question of diversity, of making sure all viewpoints and attitudes are taken into account. The world of music is a fascinating place, a melting pot of countless cultures, races and backgrounds. To continue to limit those who write about it to one group – namely young, white men – would be to miss out on some truly exciting, not to mention under-heard, perspectives.
Women have been making popular music just as long as men; it’s inexplicable that they should continue to be marginalised and discriminated against in today’s society. Thankfully, the democracy of the internet is going some way to address this, and women have shown what should have been obvious to everyone all along: that they’re just as qualified to write about music as men. If a 'Stay With Me' scenario was to occur now, Rita would tell Rod where to go, and he’d be heading home alone that evening.
Words by Joe Rivers
Photo via Feminism Facebook Group