Women speak out over Scottish trad music scene ‘misogyny’

Jenn Butterworth says young women have been sharing harrowing stories online
Jenn Butterworth says women have been sharing harrowing stories online.

BBC Scotland is reporting that women working in the Scottish traditional and folk music scene are calling for an end to “inappropriate behaviour” and sexism by men.

Glasgow musician and lecturer in traditional music Jenn Butterworth says young women have been sharing harrowing stories online about sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny within trad and folk music in Scotland.

“Everyone is fully aware these things are going on,” she told BBC Scotland’s The Nine, and women are speaking out in the hope it can finally change.

Fiddle player and academic Rona Wilkie says more “hair-raising” stories are coming out every week about what young women especially are subjected to from men in the industry.

Rona, from Oban, won the young traditional musician of the year award in 2012 at the age of 22 but she has been performing since she was very young.

She says she looks back on the attention she got from older men when she first performed at Celtic Connections at the age of 15 and thinks it was part of a culture dominated by older men who did not respect young women.

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“I was brought up in the north, where I guess I had been under the wing of my parents, so I had not been exposed to the pub culture in the same way,” she says.

“I was playing at a high level for my age and all of a sudden there was lots of men who wanted to talk to me. I look back at it now and I think ‘there were lots of really good players, it was not necessary to do that’.”

Naomi Phol, the general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, says men have always wielded the power in the trad music scene.

She says: “You have got people who say they can make or break your career and they are holding a certain amount of power, either through being quite high profile or by working for a label or being a promoter or booker. The imbalance of power is quite off in music.”

Ms Phol says women have been afraid to speak up but are now following the example of the #MeToo movement in which they expose sex abuse and harassment.

“I think our role is to keep talking about it and keep the pressure up so that it does not get forgotten,” she says.

The BIT Collective, which was set up to tackle gender inequality in Scotland’s trad music scene, wants a “fundamental culture change” in the attitude to women’s safety, equality and dignity.

It is calling for a code of ethics to protect women and send a clear “zero tolerance” message to men.

Rona says: “We have to be hopeful that change will come and I am very encouraged by all the people who have been supportive.

“I think we have to push for change and make sure this is not tokenistic support.

“We know that there have been discussions about this behaviour for a long time and let’s try and make sure this means we no longer have to talk about this to future generations.”

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