#metaltoo – An Interview with Feminist Metalheads Dear Darkness

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Founders of the #metaltoo movement, Dear Darkness is a feminist community that campaigns against sexism and misogyny in metal and hard rock. We spoke to Frida Calderon to find out more about their vital work in the metal scene.

Can you tell me a bit about the origins of Dear Darkness? How did you start this community?

Myself and co-founder Sofia Juvel met a few years ago through the hardrock and metal community as we had both been writing pieces and reviews for the heavier music scene in Sweden for many years. From our perspective as women, it was obvious that the voice of rock and metal is the voice of a man, and we decided we needed to do something to raise this issue. There are thousands and thousands of women that professionally plays, writes and talks about rock music, but it is practically exclusively on male terms. Female musicians still get questions about their appearance, family relationships and generally on how it feels to be a woman who’s being exposed to sexism in the music industry and the public on a daily basis. The few women who have the energy to review and write about music are often forced to endure a barrage of internet trolling and hatred. But even amongst fans, male conditions apply. Many women are forced to “accept the rules”, get molested and harassed during concerts and are questioned for their musical preferences.

Dear Darkness was found in 2016 with the mission to raise the voice of those who are not usually heard in hard rock scene, and let them tell their story in a way that they typically do not get the opportunity to. Our objective is to break the norms and improve diversity in the heavier music climate, and to create a social media platform where followers can be inspired and get involved in a more equal rock scene.

Were you influenced by the #metoo movement that shook up Hollywood?

Dear Darkness was founded a year and a half before the #metoo movement hit the US followed by other countries, including Sweden, but naturally that meant we had an excellent opportunity to jack into that movement and spread the word about our project as it was founded on the exact same basis – The reality for all women.

Can you tell me a bit about the manifesto of Dear Darkness and your #metaltoo campaign?

The rock and metal community needs to change in the same way as the rest of the global community and demand equality. We all need to speak up for all the women in the rock and metal community that are or have been mistreated in any way and break the hazardous culture of silence surrounding our scenes and community. There should be a zero tolerance policy for sexism, assault, harassment and violence of any kind on, off or outside stage, and this should also be clearly communicated by people with power within the music industry. We need to stand up against sexism and harassment together, make no excuses and encourage bands, fans, bookers – all people involved in the scene – to do the same. That’s essential if we want this industry to survive, thrive and be sustainable.

Have you faced much backlash against your campaign for equality?

Not really actually, people seem to understand what we are doing and are supporting us because they understand the importance of raising this issue and make the necessary changes to the industry.

What is some of the worst comments you have received as women in metal and how did they make you feel?

I’ve constantly been questioned about my music knowledge – as a woman writing about rock and metal you are always under much bigger pressure than a male colleague – and I’ve received really hateful comments connected to my writing. If I write a review on a band that a male reader doesn’t comply with, there’s a huge risk I’ll receive threatening and sexist comments or messages from him, and nearly all the female writers I know share this experience. But of course I’ve also been exposed to sexism, groping, patronizing comments and all that shit, but most importantly I have seen what other women in the community around me have been exposed to. It’s not pretty, I can tell you that, and we keep sharing the stories from brave women around us on our Instagram account regularly to show what reality really looks like.   

In what ways has social media helped you to build a feminist community for metalheads? Do you get many people reaching out to you online?

Social Media is basically our only communications channel, and that’s how we built our platform from the start. Our supporters are especially active on Instagram and so are we. We have people contacting us daily through social media and email, and it’s great to be able to connect with people all over the world that share the same love for the music and support our cause.

Why do you think there is such a generally permissive attitude towards harassment and sexism within metal? It’s almost like the mistreatment of women is expected within hard rock…

Generally, I think this happens in all communities that are very strongly consolidated – just like the metal scene. You are afraid of speaking up against certain behaviors and attitudes because you don’t want to be excluded from the group you feel that you belong to – even though you know what you or someone else is doing is wrong. 

Do you think metal has a problem with objectifying female musicians? (Example: tour names like “Hottest Chicks in Metal” and women being rated on their looks rather than their musical talent)

Metal definitely has a problem with that, just like the rest of society on so many levels. Women are objectified and discriminated, and in metal even treated as a whole genre, like “Female fronted metal” – which truly demonstrates the fact that musical skills and craftsmanship of female musicians isn’t even considered as part of their artistry.

People have made dismissive comments to me before that ‘women only like the music that their boyfriend likes, they don’t have their own taste.’ Why do you think metal fans can have such a suspicious attitude towards female metalheads? Why can’t they believe that we love the music?!

I believe it’s a symptom of the overall patriarchal structures in society which serves as a conscious or unconscious method for maintaining outdated gender roles where women are hierarchically lower standing than men. Normative male characteristics are still higher rated than normative female ones, and metal is a more extreme, loud, aggressive and heavy type of music that fits features connected to the traditional male gender role. Therefore it doesn’t comply with traditional feminine attributes like submissiveness, control, quietness, softness etc., and some people seem to have problem to fit women into that context and accept the fact that it’s actually their own choice and preference to listen to that kind of music. 

How does Dear Darkness work to break the silence on the harassment of women in metal?

By shedding a light on the structural problem and raise awareness around the issue by talking about it, we believe we are encouraging others to talk about it and share stories from the real world. We need to bring this reactionary and outdated inequality to the surface in order to make the necessary changes together. Women are 50 percent of the world’s population and we deserve 50 percent of the space – in every aspect – in an environment where we can feel safe.

Why do you think so many labels / promoters / bandmates are hesitant to speak up and take action when a band behaves in a misogynistic way? Why does sexism in metal seem to be free from consequence?

We are seeing that changing bit by bit, but there’s still a long way to go. I think people in powerful positions within the rock and metal community need to take action to encourage and empower women in and around the scene, and publically speak up against all kinds of sexual harassment – because it’s their responsibility to do their utmost to prevent any of that from happening. I believe the reason why they are hesitant to do that is fear. Fear of financial loss, fear of being excluded from their group in a male dominant environment, fear of having to confront or take a stand against the actions of a friend or business acquaintance. It’s obvious that people try to protect their favorite bands, business partners and friends by making all kinds of lame excuses for unacceptable behavior but this has to stop. Isn’t metal all about not being mainstream and not obeying peer pressure? 

You started a Podcast this year, can you tell me a bit more about that?

We did, and we’re planning to pick it up again to release new episodes – we just need to find the time since the past few months have been insane.

What does the future hold for Dear Darkness? How would you like to see the metal scene change in the next ten years?

We are hoping to grow the community platform and get even more engagement from people worldwide. If we work together, great things and big changes can happen! I hope that in ten years from now the metal scene has transformed into a much more equal and diversified community that has adapted to the positive changes throughout society. 

What advice would you give to women who have been subject to harassment in metal, but who feel afraid to speak out for fear of being dismissed?

That such a tough one, we know how hard it can be when fear takes over and you feel all alone in such a horrible situation that can tear your soul apart, but if you feel like you’re too scared to report it to the police (which would be the best thing to do, but something we know can also be a very hard step to take) a first step could be to turn to the Dear Darkness community where you can find a safe context to share your story anonymously and get support from others who have been in the same situation. You are not the only one that have this terrible experience, you share this with so many other women worldwide, and if we all connect, support and encourage each other and share our experiences, I believe the pain will be a little easier to bear. 

And finally, when it feels like an endless battle – who/what inspires you to keep going and fighting for equality for all?

I was lucky to be brought up in a large family with many independent and strong-willed women, but also men that are great role models and understand the importance of equality. I find a lot of strength and endurance in that, but also in the people I surround myself with that constantly encourages, support and empower me and my decision to fight this battle. 

For more visit http://www.deardarknessofficial.com 

Dear Darkness can be found on Instagram: @deardarknessofficial

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