Conversations on Misogyny and the Music Scene, Pt. 1

Musician Kat Fox speaks up about battling dudebrah culture in the music scene in the first of two candid conversations with local artists about their experiences with misogyny in the industry.

kat fox duluth
1Musician Kat Fox. Photo courtesy of the artist

Misogyny, the discrimination toward or oppression of others solely over their apparent lack of a Y chromosome, is everywhere. For some, dismissal of a term like “misogyny” comes easily. It may even feel, at times, like the term gets bandied about rather heavy-handedly. It’s a very real offense, though, and clearly in evidence when one behaves as if gender renders others undeserving of even the simplest equalities – like pay, comfort, or basic safety. Think of it like that, and it isn’t hard to see the problems inherent in this phenomenon’s still systemic application and acceptance in the world.

I’ve been writing about arts and culture for something like eight years now, and the topic of misogyny has been coming up since my very first interview. Interviewees usually elect not to talk about it on record, though, and that’s perfectly understandable: An artist wants her primary brand association to be her art, not the BS she endures in order to share that art. Still, I always ask to write about it, even if I’ve gotten very good at accepting that not everyone wants to step into such a controversial spotlight.

Then someone like Kat Fox comes along, and she doesn’t just say, “Yes! Let’s talk about it.” She goes on to speak with her fellow artists – those who endure the aforementioned BS right along with her – and she invites them to contribute to the discussion as well. When she did so, three other emcees agreed to share their experiences and perspectives, vis-à-vis the androcracy of the arts, and their conversation will inform the June installment of our Making It series, which will feature Desdamona, Royalty, and Jayso Creative.

In the meantime, Fox has a tale of her own.

‘I’m not going to battle a girl.’

“Look, I get that I’m the new girl, or whatever,” says Fox. “But I’m not new to respect. I give out a lot of it and expect at least a fraction of it to come back.” Sadly, there are those who see such expectations as a challenge. Perhaps a threat. Maybe even a warning shot. Some take it as an excuse to do battle. Which, in the hip hop world, often takes the form of a rap battle.

“I was at a show, and the emcee who was performing challenged anyone in the crowd to rap battle him,” she recalls. “I hopped up on stage right away but was met with, ‘I’m not going to battle a girl.’” She brushed that off, dismissing it as the usual kind of trash talk to which a worried opponent will resort, in the hope of psyching an adversary out, and they got to it. But as their battle raged, it became painfully apparent that he was fully serious, and that he seriously expected sexism to help him win.

“His subject matter was limited to a.) my aspirations of getting my hair done, and b.) my butt. Pretty sure he lost. He kind of disappeared as soon as I started rapping. Yeah,” she says. “I think he lost.”

She notes that other men in the game have been quick to offer unsolicited opinions as well. They’ve tried to take her down with rude and sexist remarks, comments to the effect that audiences aren’t interested in her music — at least, not anywhere near as much as they are interested in her physical traits. “My lipstick or my butt,” she elaborates. “Or any other number of superficial attributes that have nothing to do with the music.”

“At no point did I expect to come face to face with a full grown man who is, full volume, shouting at me, things like, ‘I know your type, you’re just a huge slut, so you became a rapper, so you could be surrounded by dudes.’”

A longtime musician, Kat has worked in genres besides hip hop where she’s had similarly bad experiences. She was once thrown out of a punk band. This happened conspicuously just after the bass player failed to tag benefits onto their friendship. Another time, a jam band told her that her aspirations shouldn’t go beyond being a tambourine player.

“I’ve been a musician for my entire life,” she says. “There are many more, but those are the most recent examples, and what launched me into hip hop: I love working with other artists, and collaborating, but it’s reassuring to know that I can be self sufficient and still do what I love.”

“For some reason, I get asked whether or not I write my own music,” she notes, adding, “The men that I frequently work with don’t get that.” She’s talked to male emcees about it, and their perspectives have differed from hers. “They thought it was bizarre, and didn’t believe me when I said that [this kind of thing] happens at least once at every show I play.”

“It does,” she says, “and it’s insulting.”

Photo courtesy of the artist

It is 2016, and some men do not view women as equals.

The number of times she’s been invited to collaborate, only to find out that the guy defines “collaborate” according to some strange usage of the word she wasn’t previously aware of, may also be shocking if you haven’t lived through the same ordeals. “I’d get the old, ‘Hey, want to come over and make music?’” says Fox. “And then I’d go there, and there would be no music making to speak of. I once showed up at this guy’s house to ‘check out some beats’ and he just played his own songs, and then tried to get me to watch a movie with him in his bed. This happens a lot.”

The question, then, is why does this happen a lot? Why does this happen with any noteworthy frequency at all? Fox answers, “This is a shit thing to say out loud, but it is fact. It is 2016, and some men do not view women as equals.”

Because life and art sometimes imitate each other, and because art is often built on both exposing absurdity and imagining a world without it, Fox’s lyrics have been known to reflect these experiences. For example, this recent video for the song “Kat Kalling.”

I don’t go to shows alone anymore.

In the unlikely case that some readers are feeling skeptical, or perhaps tempted to dismiss Fox’s account as one person’s anomalous experience, or to go even further by questioning the validity of said experience … I guess that’s where I come in. As a journalist whose perspective is (hopefully) generally trusted, and at the risk of mansplanation, I can back Kat Fox up:

Back in February, I walked into a hip hop show, where the first thing I saw was a male promoter interacting with a young woman in a way that I can objectively call threatening. Later, I had an opportunity to talk to that promoter and, in an effort to demonstrate that he’d seriously failed in his treatment of the talent, I mentioned that the woman in question just might have been the best performer of the night. I went on to say that I’d like to write her up at some point. He said, “Her? Oh, if you want to get to her, you gotta go through me.” Naturally, the exchange went on, and not in a productive way, but the point is probably made well enough for us to close the curtain on my part of it here.

I later got the full story from Kat, who identified the promoter as Nick Oz. “It may make me seem unprofessional [to name him],” she says, “but I think that’s secondary to letting other women know what to expect from a working relationship with this man.”

“He invited me to play a show and then stiffed me on a guaranteed payout,” she recalls. “The issue started when he raised his voice at me to exclaim, ‘Hoes suck my dick for these shows.’ The issue developed further when he followed me through the bar to shout derogatory things at me, and then tried to kick me out. [All that] simply for requesting payment.”

“Yes, I should’ve gotten an agreement in writing. No, that isn’t the issue,” she adds. “At no point, however, did I expect to come face to face with a full grown man who is, full volume, shouting at me, things like, ‘I know your type, you’re just a huge slut, so you became a rapper, so you could be surrounded by dudes.’”

“Should I have gotten in writing, alongside the payment agreement, that he would at no point call me a slut?”

“Another anecdote,” she adds. “I got invited onstage to freestyle. It was fine enough, judging by the crowd’s reaction, even though I got cut off sooner than anyone else up there. That happens a lot actually. It. Happens. A. Lot.”

“But… this was not the point of contention here. That came immediately after the set,” she says. “I was confronted by another full grown man who, at the top of his lungs hit me with, ‘Bitch, you need to learn your place.’”

Fox concludes, “I don’t go to shows alone anymore.”

I haven’t even been exposed to a fraction of it. Not by a long shot.

At some point, you just have to look at Kat Fox’s willingness to have this discussion, in public and documented, and you have to call her coming forward what it is: courageous. Even more so, perhaps, because of her determination to broaden a frank conversation about women’s experience of misogyny in the music industry with other perspectives. (It’s noteworthy that Fox didn’t just volunteer to speak about it on the record; she went on to spread the word and let other artists who face more of the same know that she’d come across an opportunity to keep the conversation going. It’ll be well worth your time to check back next month and see what more they have to say.)

There are valid reasons for artists in Fox’s position to just soldier through quietly. No one is obligated to risk retaliation by speaking out, though I can’t help but admire more the artists like her who take this risk. I also can’t help but hope it prompts some small cultural shift in the arts scene, if not greater society. Maybe if women feel free to talk openly about their experiences, such dangerous and bigoted actions as these might shift from accepted to exceptions, so that future aspiring artists might comfortably focus more on their art than on their safety.

“I get that I’m the new girl, but that’s part of what makes this so ugly,” says Fox. “And I haven’t even been exposed to a fraction of it. Not by a long shot.”

“To be fair,” she adds, “for every scumbag, there are a dozen perfectly respectful and talented gentlemen. I’ve been lucky enough to garner the encouragement of those that matter, the men who treat women as equals.” And, if you’re wondering who she means, a scan through Fox’s Facebook page will reveal a few said gentlemen with whom she’s shared recent space on a marqee or two.

Related event information: Catch Kat Fox live this week as she celebrates the release of her new mixtape, titled Kat Sup: She’ll be teaming up with Michael Merriam and Mayda to headline an early Saturday show on May 28th at Clubhouse Jager in Minneapolis. She’ll also be part of a ten-emcee lineup at the Cabooze, June 4th at 9 pm.

Rob Callahan

Rob Callahan started working as a journalist back in the Twentieth Century. He took a break for a few years to write novels, then came back in 2009 as an arts and culture writer. His work in journalism has garnered a Marconi award, Associated Press awards, and recognition from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. His next novel, Duplicity, will tell the story of an underachieving young professional temping for the Devil, who’s accidentally promoted to project manager over the impending …   read more