Home Feature Songs for the Revolution – International Women’s Day

Songs for the Revolution – International Women’s Day

Liv Cazzola, right, of Tragedy Ann, will moderate a workshop on addressing climate change in folk music.

I’d like to begin this article by acknowledging my privilege as a male-identifying, white passing person of mixed ethnicity. I am writing this article from so-called Ottawa, and I acknowledge that this is unceded Algonquin, Anishinabek territory.

Language, I believe, is important. As a songwriter perhaps I pay closer attention to language. I also believe there’s a balance and that being too particular with language can also be problematic. I do want to acknowledge language as being an important consideration in the Songs for the Revolution articles.

This article is inspired by International Women’s Day. These words themselves will be interpreted in many different ways. For me, they remind me of the incredible women close to me that make up my family. I am inspired by those women in so many ways. My mom in particular was a civil rights activist, and one of my sisters is a multifaceted artist. Both have shaped my art considerably, and I am thankful for that.

Perhaps people will comment below on what International Women’s Day brings to mind. What does it bring to mind for you?

Let’s begin with the simple notion that systemic sexism is alive and well in our world.

‘Man up’

I wanted to bring up a short phrase that is still used a lot. Have you heard the expression “Man up!” recently? I thought that expression died before the start of the #MeToo movement, but it doesn’t seem to go away. Like systemic sexism, “man up” seems to persist in our society. This kind of language reinforces the status quo, the view, that men need to lead, be aggressive, even ruthless or unempathetic, and that they are responsible for saving the woman uttering those words. It reinforces that idea that a women is in a subservient position and this is the way our world works.

Mark Greene the author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men puts it this way: It’s crucial to notice the ways in which we shame boys. We tell boys to “man up.” We tell boys, “Don’t be a sissy.” But what we’re really communicating is, “Don’t be female, because female is less.” In wrongly gendering our natural capacities for authentic human connection as feminine, we teach boys to see girls as less even as we block our sons from the trial-and-error process of growing their powerful relational capacities.

We have to ask ourselves how that has worked for us through the years – having men lead the charge, so to speak. War, unbridled capitalism, racism, discrimination — a coincidence? That lack of balance in our society has not been healthy.

The idea that men should take charge does not need reinforcing in our society.

Sexism starts young

As we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, a day established in 1908 to work toward gender equity, I am thinking about where our society is at. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Parity Gap 2020 report ranked Canada 19th in the world and reported that gender parity would not be achieved for 99.5 years. That won’t do. I wanted to turn the Songs for the Revolution lens towards women and gender this month of women’s history.

So how do we change these subtly skewed dynamics in our world?

The challenge we face is that it begins at a young age. There is a movie I saw years ago that opens with kids playing in the sand in a playground. A three or four-year-old girl is standing, and a young boy waddles towards her and pushes her down. The little girl rises up crying and runs to her mother who gives her a hug, wipes away her tears and says to her, “It’s ok. Johnny just likes you.” That scene struck me. I’ve always remembered that as an example of how at a very young age we condone boys’ behavior and condition women to expect violence from men. That I remember that scene shows how songs, how art, can perhaps be even more impactful than reality.

How do we do better? Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Be the change you want to see.

Women leaders

There are so many Women leaders outside the music Industry that come to mind when I reflect on IWD. Author Margaret Atwood, poet’s Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman to name of a few.

When I think of youth, I think of Malala’s focus on girls education. Greta Thunberg comes to mind in terms of leadership on addressing the environmental challenges we’re facing.

Looking across Folk Alliance International, Folk Music Ontario and the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, you do see a solid female representation on the boards, which is great to see. Given some of what we’ve covered, it’s clear there’s more to address, but that is encouraging.

I want to highlight some of the incredible women leaders that come to my mind in the folk community. I feel like this northern folk community is really led by women. I hope people will comment below and highlight other women in the industry that come to mind.

I am currently associated with a label called Willow Sound Records that is run by two amazing women: Tara Shannon, a business person, singer, and outstanding songwriter and Deborah Zadovitz, a music Industry innovator and very insightful person. They are a very strong engaged, positive presence here in Ottawa.

Women in folk

Heather Kitching with Roots Music Canada is leading with her voice in many ways, but particularly in raising the voices of others in our community through Roots Music Canada.

Alka Sharma comes to mind with all the work she does as executive director of FMO as well as sitting on the board of Folk Alliance International.

Shoshona Kish, founder and artistic director of the Indigenous Music Summit, recently led an incredible panel of Indigenous Voices at Folk Alliance.

There’s also the leadership of artist Leela Gilday, who I recently got to hear speak on an FMO panel.

And then there are the artists I’ve worked with that inspire me: EniiD, Kristine St. Pierre, Angela Saini, Krista Hartman, and Julie Corrigan to name a few. There are also DJs like Anne Marie Brueger of CHUO in Ottawa.

None of these women need my endorsement. As AHI has said, “Women do not need more articles by men written about them; they need to look around the table and see women looking back at them. They need to see as many women on the festival rosters as men, not discover by chance that the guy that they gave a ride to the festival got paid more for his show than they did. LGBTQ and Indigenous, Black [and] people of colour, members of the community need to be appropriately represented at festivals, for awards, on boards.”

So I’d like to end this article with the answers I received from a number of women in the industry to the following question: How can the Canadian music community do a better job of addressing gender equity?

Liv Cazzola of Tragedy Ann and the duo the Lifers: The music community is lacking embedded support systems such as childcare, which can be a huge contributor as to whether this line of work is accessible and feasible for female-identifying folks. Another barrier to maintaining long-term careers as female-identifying artists is the objectification we face; as young women, we’re not taken seriously. And as we age, we approach some sort of expiry date that isn’t imposed on men to the same degree.”

Tara Shannon of Willow Sound Records: I think we are doing better in terms of being consciously aware that more equal representation is needed in all facets of the music industry … the challenge is finding enough women to fill these roles. We need more women actively seeking employment in the industry. I think if we continue educating the younger generation about the opportunities for women in the industry, it can help. But really, the more women in visible powerful industry positions. the more young women will see a reflection of themselves and believe it is possible. This is true of gender, race, everything. When we see a version of ourselves out there, we more easily believe therein lies possibility.

Heather Kitching, editor of Roots Music Canada: I don’t think the culture of individual organizations or larger communities changes until you have women, Indigenous people, Black people, people of colour, queer people, transfolks, etc., actually dominating the space and the positions of power and creating an environment in which we are openly talking about the structures and behaviors that keep people marginalized without people getting defensive and “fragile.” It’s on all of us who are privileged in different ways to work on ourselves and recognize and own our discomfort and vulnerability when talking about the ways that we participate in or profit from the oppression of others. And it’s on us to learn to react with humility and not anger or defensiveness when people point out the ways that our systems or behaviors are racist or sexist or homophobic or whatever.

Alka Sharma, executive director of Folk Music Ontario: I think that the best way of addressing gender equity in the music industry is to have a clear process of succession planning where women are brought to the forefront. When there is a succession plan in place, bring women in to be the successors by having them shadow the inner workings of what a CEO does, or bring them in when albums or tracks are produced so that they are actively learning. It’s important to have women involved on every level in order for women to succeed.

Let’s all step up and recognize that there is a problem in our society around equity. Let’s acknowledge that our language and actions have an impact. Let’s recognize how we can make a positive difference and keep that in mind every day as we step forward.

Your comments, good and bad, are appreciated and provide the opportunity for a discussion on these important matters for our community.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here