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OPINIONS

Frost Festival Ices Women Out: An Open Letter to the Stanford Concert Network

Dear Stanford Concert Network,

We love music; we love sunshine; we love Stanford tradition. The Frost Festival is a unique opportunity to bring these three things together, and we commend the Concert Network for the work it does in orchestrating the large-scale, celebrity-drenched affair. We can’t help but notice, though, that there’s a striking trend among the 31 performers you have brought to Stanford for the Frost Festival over the past three years. All of the 31 performers are male.

The Frost Festival is hailed as a revival of a countercultural music tradition; the performers it featured (including Joan Baez) have often famously and effectively advocated for equal rights, political activism and social justice. But the revival of the festival has failed the Frost tradition—and, more importantly, the students that support it—in its problematic underrepresentation of historically oppressed populations.

The Stanford Concert Network is sponsored by Stanford and is responsible to its constituents. In other words, our money (and lots of it) heavily subsidizes Frost. We ask that the Concert Network and its supervisors consider the dramatic evidence of bias in its choice of lineup and work to correct it for future years. The slighting of women violates the spirit of Title IX (to which Stanford is bound as a federally funded university) and undermines the fair and inclusive culture Stanford strives to maintain.

Let’s take a look, for a moment, at how the Frost Festival is advertised in contrast to the performances it offers. The organizers chose to publicize the pioneering Frost Revival with a poster featuring a thin blond white woman in a skirt so short it falls above where her groin should be; the second Frost Festival with yet another white, straight-haired woman with suggestively parted lips; and this year’s Festival with a woman’s nail-polished, many-ringed, and bracelet-laden hands. Obviously, women—adorned, sexualized women—are being used as poster-girls for the festival. Why is it, then, that not one of the performers on stage is a woman? The Frost Festival’s regrettable advertising coupled with its irresponsible lineup sends students a distressing message: women are observers, draws, advertisements, the “beautiful people” that the Concert Network prominently advertises will be in attendance. Women are valued for their bodies, not for talents of their own. Women are the image; men are the voice.

Is it really so difficult to find a female performer worthy of Stanford who’s available to perform? And why has nobody even seemed to notice the imbalance? Our faculty is still heavily male (a mere 27 percent are women), and female students are in the minority of undergraduates and constitute only 38 percent of the graduate population; must Stanford project males as its cultural icons, too?

Women aren’t the only casualties of the Concert Network’s selection. The musical taste these male groups represent is generally identified with white middle- to upper-class men. As individuals, many of us may happen to enjoy Dispatch and Yeasayer (this year’s headliners), and no doubt many white male musicians are talented, worthy, and popular. But when musical styles identified with and rooted in Black, Chicano, Latino, Asian, Native American and other communities are comparatively underrepresented, something is amiss. The Concert Network suffers from some blind spots in their selection process that call for immediate redress.

What message is the Concert Network’s choice of performers sending to the world about Stanford’s values and its community members? What message is it sending to Stanford students themselves about who does and doesn’t belong here? What are the long-term consequences of subsidizing and glorifying the music performed and valued by a privileged subset of our population?

As members of the Stanford community, the issues we’ve outlined here should also raise all of our awareness, about the organizations we vote to support with our Special Fees. It is our responsibility to monitor the inclusiveness, efficacy and fairness of the groups we support in order to ensure that our money is spent ethically and productively. Stanford students are privileged with the ability to vote on how Stanford spends its Special Fees money; we are therefore responsible for exercising due diligence in following and striving to better the practices of the organizations we support.

Not too long ago, the ASSU election approved the Stanford Concert Network for $256,175 in Special Fees, the largest amount approved for a single group this year. The Stanford African Students Association (SASA) was rejected for less than a tenth of that amount ($25,200). SASA has already written an op-ed addressing the results of the election; our objective is merely to bring to student attention to what our votes demonstrate about our priorities and (often unconscious) exclusions.

We hope that this letter will open conversation between the Concert Network and many of the underrepresented communities at Stanford, and we would love to be a part of ameliorating misrepresentation at the Frost Festival and the many analogous events for which it sets a precedent. Together with the Stanford students who fund and support it, we ask that the Concert Network take a long, hard look at the performers the Frost Festival chooses to promote and the consequences that those choices have for the Stanford community—not to mention for the artists denied opportunity and funding.

Women deserve to be on stage at Frost. Correcting this problem at home is the first step to ensuring Stanford’s women performers the recognition they’re due around the world when it comes time for them to leave the Farm. Besides, it stands to reason that expanding the pool of contenders will improve the music, too—and it will certainly expand its audience.

 

Sincerely,

Annie Atura, WCC

Maggie Cremin, WCC

Tess Dufrechou, WCC

Nicole Gurtler, WCC

Simone Hudson, WCC

Annie Kaufman, WCC

Lan Anh Le, WCC

Tori Lewis, WCC

Uche Monu, WCC

Sarah Roberts, WCC

Vanessa Seals, WCC

Greeshma Somashekar, WCC

 

Contact the Women’s Community Center at wccstaff@gmail.com.

  • Hmm

    I agree that Frost should look for some women headliners in the future, especially my favorite, Natalie Merchant. They did have a Stanford female warmup for Modest Mouse, but I think Modest Mouse refused to play after her. Anyways you had a good point, but it got lost in inflammatory drivel.

    “The revival of the festival has failed the Frost tradition in its problematic underrepresentation of historically oppressed populations.”

    As I see it, the above sentence has two flaws. First, “oppressed” is a very strong word, and to use it in regards to the historical treatment of women in America is rewriting the facts. “Repression” would have been a more suitable choice. And second, “problematic underrepresentation” is redundant. Either your reader will agree with you that underrepresentation is a problem or she won’t. If she does, you are wasting words, if she doesn’t, using a vague and cliche term like “problematic” does nothing to convince her.

    “Female students are in the minority of undergraduates and constitute only 38 percent of the graduate population.”

    Has it crossed your mind that more males are applying to the university, just as there are more male recording artists? And anyways, “minority of undergraduates” is highly misleading as the gender balance is unnoticeable to anyone who doesn’t know the actual percentage (which you failed to mention, ostensibly because “minority” sounds so much worse than 47%).

    “The musical taste these male groups represent is generally identified with white middle- to upper-class men.”

    This is just patently false, seeing as most of these groups appeal roughly equally to men and women, if not even more to women. It’s super soft rock. If SCN wanted something to appeal more to male tastes, they would not have selected Dispatch, MGMT, and Modest Mouse. They would have continued selecting bands like Third Eye Blind.

    “But when musical styles identified with and rooted in Black, Chicano, Latino, Asian, Native American and other communities are comparatively underrepresented, something is amiss.”

    I won’t argue on the bands selected being suited for “white middle- to upper-class” music tastes, but many if not all of the racial groups you mentioned already have their own cultural concert days which receive undergraduate fees. Blackfest and Powwow come immediately to mind. Is it wrong, then, that Frost is directed largely towards the white campus population? We have our music festival, and y’all have yours. I don’t complain that Blackfest or Powwow doesn’t feature white talent, so why are you complaining about Frost? Obviously due to the tides of political correctness we can’t name our festival “Whitefest,” but that is in essence what it is. Get over it.

    “The ASSU election approved the Stanford Concert Network for $256,175 in Special Fees, the largest amount approved for a single group this year.”

    This should speak as to the widespread appeal of Frost. If they sacrifice their product just to bring in a women or racial minority then they may not be as successful. Not to mention there are simply not many female artists or artists of color with recognizable names that can be garnered for cheap (unlike all the white male bands that started in the ’90s and are washed up now). Now I’m all for equal representation, but not when it means providing an inferior product. Their job is to appeal to the students, and whites are still the largest racial group on campus.

  • See Paper Void

    This article is flawed, because the lead singer for Paper Void (the band opening for Dispatch and Yeasayer) is a woman.

  • See Paper Void

    In addition, Paper Void is extremely diverse — both ethnically and religiously — with African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and white members; Jewish, Christian, and atheist members. And, their music draws upon hip-hop, soul, jazz, and R&B influences — all genres rooted in the African-American tradition.

  • TY

    WOW. NO.

    THERE ARE SO MANY GIRLS.

    Sky Ferreira
    St. Vincent
    Beach House
    Sia
    Julianna Barwick
    FKA twigs
    CHVRCHES
    Purity Ring
    Chromatics
    Angel Olsen

    + A THOUSAND MORE.

  • Hmm

    I’ve only heard of a few of those. Frost is still trying to gain traction in the community. As such, they should select headliners that people have heard of. It’s spring quarter, the day before bay to breakers, so there’s lots of things students can be doing besides spending the afternoon listening to some group they’ve never heard of.

    Rather, have the students think “wow, they performed on Letterman, and I already know a couple of their songs, so I can’t miss out” even if actually the band sucks nowadays and there are thousands of better yet more obscure acts out there.

  • Anonymous

    For the record special fees are not decided by the ASSU they are voted on by the Student Body so the approval of SCN’s funds are directly democratic. Contrasting SCN’s special fees with SASA’s failure to garner enough support is rhetorically misleading.

  • frostROCKS

    “I just want to rant about something and this is all I can extrapolate on to try and prove some semblance of intelligence” – thoughts of the writer

  • laughingatyou

    Sorry you are so out of the loop on music – maybe you shouldn’t be commenting if you are so lacking in knowledge. And not that your comment justifies a response, but there’s a thing called a budget and another thing called quality music.

  • just_a_gurl

    Aside from the fact that this article obviously left out the incredible female singer for Paper Void and general diversity of the group, I also was quite frustrated by the consistent whiteness and maleness of other Frost performers. In fact, I left the performance soon after Paper Void because I was uncomfortable with the whiteness and maleness of these acts.

    Women being underrepresented in music is a huge issue. Last quarter I DJed a show on KZSU playing only music featuring women in order to try to increase the visibility of women in music. It was heartbreakingly difficult to find two hours of music featuring women that I wanted to play on my show every week in the KZSU library.

    I believe that when a historically underrepresented group expresses feelings of continued marginalization, as the women of the WCC have done here, these concerns ought to be taken seriously. Having all but one out of ~31 performers be male shows nearly as much sexism in the system as the past 43 US presidents having all been male. I know that SCN was upset about the WCC publishing this article but such apparent lack of diversity should be called out, even if it hurts someone’s feelings.

    In order to feel like I was giving SCN a “more fair” chance, since SCN members have been claiming that they gave the student population a fair chance to express their preferences through the survey that SCN sent out, I made the following chart to see the diversity of the artists suggested by SCN in their survey. This chart may have some mistakes because I guessed the genders and ethnicities of the artists based on what I found from their Google results, but it still shows a strong trend: only 12% of the suggested musicians were female and 11% of the suggested musicians were minorities. These demographics are not at all reflective of the Stanford or America.

    In the previous Daily article “Frost lineup pales in comparison to peer institution spring concerts,” SCN representatives admitted that they were hoping to get bigger and more popular acts. It’s not like Dispatch and Yeasayer were especially widely coveted by the student body. SCN could have easily used this opportunity to choose more diverse artists instead.

    There are too many upsetting things in Hmm’s comment below for me to cover, but saying “Obviously due to the tides of political correctness we can’t name our
    festival “Whitefest,” but that is in essence what it is. Get over it.” is painfully racist and indicative of what’s wrong with this situation.

    —a sad mixed gurl

    PS: Hmm, if you think Modest Mouse is feminine super soft rock, I suggest you listen to “Tundra/Desert,” “Cowboy Dan,” “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” or “Shit Luck” to better inform your opinion of their sound.

  • Nick Power

    Not a bad idea, if they get more female bands they can pay them less and have more money leftover for the Stanford African Students Association. Everybody wins.

  • La femme

    WOW! I can’t believe this is coming from a Stanford student,”I won’t argue on the bands selected being suited for “white middle- to
    upper-class” music tastes, but many if not all of the racial groups you
    mentioned already have their own cultural concert days which receive
    undergraduate fees. Blackfest and Powwow come immediately to mind. Is it
    wrong, then, that Frost is directed largely towards the white campus
    population? We have our music festival, and y’all have yours. I don’t
    complain that Blackfest or Powwow doesn’t feature white talent, so why
    are you complaining about Frost? Obviously due to the tides of
    political correctness we can’t name our festival “Whitefest,” but that
    is in essence what it is. Get over it.”

    How is it possible that someone can confuse cultural tradition:Powwow with popular music? Are you not aware of the history of Native American people in the United States? Upholding tradition is necessary and however difficult it may be for you to believe Native American people don’t just listen to ‘chanting (I call it this because I imagine that’s as far as you might go understanding this cultural tradition)’.

    and to compare Frost to Blackfest? Blackfest’s 2013 concert featured rapper Future who performed for free. Dispatch did not play for free. Why might you imagine rapper Future would play perform without receiving a compensation. Could it have something to do with African American history in the United States and at Stanford?

    Your comments are discouraging, alienating and do not build community. The organizations you mention and attempt to pigeonhole are inclusive and widely supported on campus. I hope you will rethink how you chose to frame “Frost”; I never thought of it as a “White-Fest” as you suggest. I don’t think the artists would feel comfortable to know this is how Stanford perceives them. Keep in mind each individual performer did not select the other performers who would be on stage before or after them. This was done at the sole discretion of SCN, who chose to cater (apparently from your rant) to a homogenous crowd.

    Regards.

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