Sunday, 30 September 2012

Lewis Mullen

A singer-songwriter and banjo player, Lewis plays in various folky collectives around Falkirk and Edinburgh.  He is the author of the zine 'One and All Towards Equality: Why Men Should Take An Interest In Feminism'.


You've played in lots of bands.  Have you had any experiences of sexism?

There was  a time when we were playing in the Ferny Brackens (Lewis's current band), and we were playing in the (Edinburgh pub) Blind Poet, and when we were lugging the gear out to the car, there was an old woman saying that I wasn't being chivalrous because I wasn't helping a woman to carry the stuff.  So I suppose it was nice that she thought she was sticking up for a stranger, but it seemed to me to be misplaced, because she (female bandmate) clearly wasn't struggling with the gear.  So to me, that ties into that whole thing of, the women in the band are just there to look pretty and not to help carry heavy equipment etc.

What did you say to her?

At the time I didn't really know what to say, so I just said 'yeah, I'm a complete bastard amn't I?', and she didn't really say anything, she just stormed.  But I wish I'd said something along the lines of 'she's as strong as me, if not stronger, and we're both carrying what we're able to carry'.

But she has the excuse of belonging to an older generation.

I guess.  One other example I have is; we were playing a gig in Aberdeen, and we were talking before the gig and this guy had lots of technical gubbins - pedals and laptops an stuff, and I noticed his attitude to the sound engineer, who was female.  I knew her, and I knew she had a steady partner.  This guy was hitting on her.  It was pretty clear that she had a good technical knowledge, and I think the guy was quite surprised how quickly she picked up on what he was doing.  I just liked that she didn't tell him to fuck off, but she made it really clear that she wasn't on the menu, so to speak, and she just got on with the job.  And it just stopped him in his tracks, because she was really professional about it.


Why do you think this sort of thing happens?

I think there's a kind of mindset that people get into - I'm thinking mostly of straight men, that music = sexy, and women = sexy, and I don't think they expect to see a woman sound engineer, and when they do it's like the 'chicks with guitars' syndrome -  there's a calendar I saw with lots of women holding guitars.  So they find music sexy and they find women sexy, and then they encounter a sound engineer, and rather than just assuming that she's good at her job, they just go, 'woah, this is sexy'.

What could help to alleviate the problem?

I think for instance, this sound engineer's approach of not taking any shit, is a good starting point.  

So what can men do?

Well what I try to do myself is, when I walk into a venue, I don't make assumptions about who the sound engineer is.  I was playing a gig the other week in a tea room in Glasgow, and someone came up to me and said, 'what do you want?', and I said 'I'll have the peppermint', and then I realised what she'd actually said was, 'what inputs do you need?'.  And it made me think that, a lot of people, particularly men, must do that a lot, and just assume she was a waitress.  So what I did was, I apologised, and then I answered the question she'd actually asked, and then I made a point of talking to her as you do any sound tech.  And I think she was ok with it.  So generally, just don't make any assumptions.


What would need to happen, to change things on a wider scale?

 There would need to be a shift in the perceived gender roles in the music industry in general.  As to how you could achieve that, I think it's always going to be little steps, and I suppose, the people who are teaching sound technology, if they had more of an emphasis on making it a more welcoming line of work for people of all genders, sexualities etc, then you might get more women working in sound engineering, and it would seem like less of a novelty.

When I had my first gig as a volunteer sound engineer (Lewis and I both signed up to volunteer at the same time), it was complete mayhem, because I was told it was going to be a solo artist, but it turned out to be a solo artist plus his six-piece band, with all manner of outlandish instruments.  And what I notice now, looking back, was that at no point, no matter how crazy it got, no-one said, 'it's a shame there's no sound engineer here', whereas when you were doing the sound tech, when things got a bit mad, they were saying, 'well the sound engineer should be here'.

  


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