Last week I had a wicked time at Galtres Festival, hoe-downing to The Levellers, dancing along to Holy Moly & The Crackers, singing along to The Franceens, giggling thanks to John Otway and grooving to the Human League. I also had the privilege of programming spoken word/poetry and comedy/stand-up for the Snapping Turtle and Little Top stages.
I use the word ‘privilege’ not to mean ‘honour’, but rather a sense of power.
I am armed with many tools of privilege. I’m a white male, born in the UK, from a working class family but never fell into poverty. I’m hetrosexual and cisgender, though adhere to queer theory and don’t believe in gender binaries. My school wasn’t great, but it was still gave me a good enough education allowing me to use the system to eventually get a degree from a red brick university.
So many other people have spoken much more passionately and articulately about the issue. Check out Jay The Nerd Kid, for example.
To say: “I don’t walk into a room and see gender, ability or colour, I see human beings” if such a problematic statement. It is complete erasure of people’s experiences, treatment by society & patriarchy, struggles, representation in the media and opportunities. The same goes for poets, comedians, bands, musicians etc. Saying “I just book acts I want not based on gender/colour” as if even acknowledging gender or colour or disability would somehow be sexist/racist/transphobic/ableist.
Some argue to give artists a platform just because of their colour or gender is unfair, and that every artist should be judged based on their skill. Of course quality control has to be a factor, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I don’t consider this. But there is an abundance of quality POC, female, trans, queer and disabled poets on the scene, and of course the more these artists are given a platform the more it encourages other people to try their hand at writing, reading and performing.
At York Theatre Royal, I programme a night called Words & Whippets. In 2013 we had 6 acts (including myself). This was split 50/50 male and female. For W&W 2014 we had 5 acts, 2 women and 3 men. Galtres Festival had 12 acts, and 5 of them were women. Unfortunately several female comedians had to pull out of the comedy stage, so in the end we only had a single female comedian. However the slam we ran was all-female. I put on Hannah Nicklin’s solo show earlier this year, with 3 female acts, and 2 male acts (including myself). Myself and Stu Freestone are putting on a new regular slam called Say Owt Slam. The first event is 28th October, and we have gone for a very safe choice in Mark Grist as a headline act to help raise the profile with a well-known act. But I'm keen as part of our platform, once the event has been established, to book a variety of acts from across the UK from the LBGTQ, Black, Disabled communities and scenes.
Last week I put out a zine based on 26 different interviews with female musicians from York, about their influences, experiences and opinions. The zine can be found here: https://henryraby.bandcamp.com/merch/nice-outfit-who-are-you-supposed-to-be-cyndi-lauper
I’m not saying we need to pat ourselves on the back, and neither do we beat ourselves up. I’m not saying I’m a hero, nor a failure, because there’s no way to get it right/wrong. But it’s always worth thinking about. It’s an issue that needs considering and evaluating. I am very grateful to have so many awesome feminist and queer friends I can learn from.
Always check your privilege. Check your perspective, check your place in the world, check how you are assuming how the world works. If you are a promoter, check your acts, check your line-ups, how you run events. All I can do is ask you to at least consider it, for the moment. But if real social change needs to happen then the next stage is to change it. Deeds not words!