The new Women’s Music Co-Op held its first jam session last Friday, Sept. 13. Created by Molly Balsam ’14, the group is meant to provide a safe space for budding, female-identifying musicians to practice and form bands. Balsam explained that the co-op grew out of the perceived lack of a female presence in the music scene on campus.
“I had just started a band, Molly Rocket and the Crooks, and I wanted to sort of see who else was out there who I could connect with and play with,” Balsam said. “And it turned out that there weren’t as many people as I had hoped, and it seemed like there wasn’t even a space for women to be the forefront of the music scene at Wesleyan. There wasn’t a feminine presence or a power that I could relate to.”
The co-op held a forum on Sept. 5 to discuss the issue of women in music. There, members of the co-op and students who felt strongly about the issue assembled and resolved to improve the campus climate for women musicians.
“We decided on a few things,” Balsam said. “First and foremost, we want this to be a support system where girls can come if they feel like they’re not being heard. This will be a great place to start because all of us are kind of in that position right now. Also, [we want to have] a survey of all the female musicians on this campus who want to participate in the music scene.”
Those who attended the forum shared experiences of times when they had been passed over as musicians because of their gender.
“Frequently, you’ll have a guy being like, ‘Yeah I want to start a band, let me find all these musicians who can be in my band,’ and for some reason, it’s never a girl musician first…who gets chosen,” Balsam said.
Balsam explained that her inspiration for the co-op came from a class she took during her junior year: “Music Movements in a Capitalist Democracy,” offered through the Center for the Study of Public Life. The final project for the course was to create a festival that could be held at the University. Instead, Balsam created the co-op.
“I decided that instead of spending all my time making a festival, I wanted to create a co-op sort of group that could focus on exactly those problems and how to address them, how to find out if they are even problems, and [find out] if other people feel the same way that I do,” she said. “And this semester, now I realize that they do.”
When she was a visiting prospective student, Molly Hastings ’17 noticed the same dearth of women in the University’s music scene. She transferred her experience from the music scene in her hometown to the Women’s Music Co-Op and is now working on fostering all-female bands on campus.
“In Santa Cruz I set up some shows, and having a female and non-white presence was really big for me,” Hastings said. “So when I came here I was like, ‘No one’s even trying.’”
Hastings, along with six freshmen and sophomores, is a member of the all-girl campus punk band Faceplant. She expressed her reservations about labeling Faceplant a feminist band.
“Every time I talk about it [people] are like, ‘Oh, a feminist band,’” Hastings said. “And feminism is awesome and is a huge thing for me, but it’s not a feminist band. We are not singing songs about feminism. But because it’s an all-girl punk band they label [us as] feminists.”
Balsam noted the difficulty that female musicians face when they are lauded for their music. Often, she noted, all-female bands are celebrated for consisting of only women, rather than for their musical talent.
“The idea came to me to have a solely women-based group focused on preserving that sort of feminine energy and having an open and safe environment just for women to be appreciated in music—not for the sake that they’re women, but for the fact that they’re musicians and they want to be playing music,” Balsam said. “I feel like it so easily becomes, ‘Oh, they’re these girls who are in a band’ instead of, ‘They’re musicians who want to play.’”
Another member of the co-op, Olivia Hauser ’14, described the group’s hesitation to exclude based on gender.
“For many people it seems a little problematic to have a club or group that limits its membership based on gender, and I do agree that it feels a little weird,” Hauser wrote in an email to The Argus. “But on a practical level, what the group is aspiring to do is important. If you are someone who is marginalized, having a safe space and sharing experiences with other people like you is meaningful and…can substantially alter your attitude and the way you conceptualize your abilities.”
Hastings expressed her reservations about opening the co-op to male-identifying students in the future.
“It could be done,” Hastings said. “I wouldn’t necessarily support it. There are already spaces for that. It’s really important that there’s a space that doesn’t have men and [where] you can sort of be free of that influence. In practice, when people are jamming, I’m not going to jump in if it’s a bunch of dudes playing guitar.”
Hastings believes that the co-op is the first step toward creating a safe space for women in music on campus.
“Music is a [white, cisgendered] men’s co-op,” Hastings said. “That’s how I look at it. The world is their safe space, so we don’t need to help them find one.”