In Britain, journalists took to asking me a single question over and over: “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” I’d never really thought about that. The mostly male music press in the UK was cowardly and nonconfrontational in person. They would then go home and write cruel, ageist, sexist things. I assumed it was because they were terrified of women; the whole country had a queen complex, after all. I refused to play the game. I didn’t want to dress like Siouxsie Sioux, or act out the role of an imaginary female, someone who had more to do with them than with me. There was a popular look at the time – the vintage dress, the makeup – that just wasn’t me.
The love song inevitably changed in response to this upheaval in the music business. Record labels had always favored talent with good looks and sex appeal, but these now turned into paramount attributes. The ability to play an instrument or compose songs no longer mattered quite so much. After the ascendancy of MTV, Paula Abdul could emerge from the ranks of cheerleaders for the Los Angeles Lakers as a hit music star, and the move made perfect sense given the new emphasis on sexiness and cool dance steps. The pop act Milli Vanilli, invited to join Abdul on the Club MTV tour which took video stars on the road, couldn’t even sing their own songs, but they looked good on camera and danced with lots of energy—if they had done a better job of hiding their lip-syncing, which eventually turned them into a music industry joke, they might have continued to enjoy their video-driven stardom.
According to a study released in Science, women are underrepresented in academic disciplines that place an emphasis on “raw intellectual talent,” as opposed to qualities like work ethic. Authors Sarah-Jane Leslie, Andrei Cimpian, Meredith Meyer, and Edward Freeland note that despite the hype about the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, some of those boast equitable gender ratios while subjects in the humanities remain male dominated. Around half of the molecular biology and neuroscience PhDs in America are women, while philosophy is one of the five disciplines with the fewest female PhDs (the only fields with fewer are engineering, computer science, physics, and music composition). Even economics fares better.
Never feed the trolls, they say, but the anonymous comments are representative of the many ways people try to tamp down the voices of those seeking equal rights. “Those people want to silence you. When women are harassed online in that sort of public space—just like offline—the point is to silence you and assert their own empowerment or right to be there. It’s their world, not yours,” says Potter. “So the opposite of that is to use those words that are meant to be silencing and to scream them into a microphone to say, ‘You can’t silence me. I’m gonna turn your words against you.’”