Last month, Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino was one of the first people to back up Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman when she accused Heathcliff Berru, founder of the Life Or Death PR agency, of all sorts of predatory sexual behavior. Many others followed, and now Life Or Death is no more. It was one step, but there are going to have to be a whole lot more; that sort of awfulness is rampant in the music business. And now, Cosentino has written a piece for Lenny Letter, Lena Dunham’s subscription-only email newsletter. (Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry wrote a piece for it last year about an abusive relationship.) Here’s how she starts it off:
I learned very early on in my music career: never read the comment section. Or rather: only look at YouTube comments, Instagram comments, Twitter mentions, or blog comments with a discerning eye while wearing my toughest, full-body armor. While these can be places where fans say things like “Yaaas, queen, you are my spirit animal!,” they can also be rampant with hurtful and sexist critiques about appearance and identity.
The piece goes on to address the whole Berru story, and it also goes into detail about specific incidents of online and in-real-life trolling and harassment (including the burger-throwing story), as well as the sort of bullshit that comes up in reviews sometimes:
I recently read a review that mostly lauded a Best Coast show — it specified how great the band sounded and how “sexy” I looked — but it bemoaned my lack of smiling. This article has, and continues to, deeply trouble me. This reviewer’s gendered critique of my presence onstage revealed how he thought a woman who he saw as “sexy” should behave. It also showed how ideas about the sexualization of women are reinforced. Many people did not see the underlying sexism of the review. In fact, in the social media referencing the article, countless people attacked me with comments like “Get over it! He complimented you! Quit being a whiny bitch!”
Some comments were supportive and questioned how an article like this could have been published. The reality is that it was published because we live in a world where this kind of thing is considered OK. We live in a world where a man can yell at me while I’m onstage, “Bethany, I wanna fuck you!” and I am supposed to not only stand there and take it but also digest it as a compliment to add to my fierce arsenal of sexy confidence. Not only should I take it, I should be smiling and excited to be sexualized by my audience. If I’m not, there is something wrong with me.
And she sees links between the Berru story and the way critics feel free to comment on appearances in reviews, or college students feel OK about throwing burgers at a woman who’s performing:
Though a sexist review is certainly not the same as getting sexually harassed or assaulted over the course of a decade, it’s all part of the same continuum. Because when someone critiques Best Coast’s live performance because “Bethany looks like a miserable bitch onstage,” it is a gendered attack. There are currently four men in my band, and no one is really talking about how they don’t smile onstage or how hot their outfits are. There are never comments about their bodies, demeanors, or stage presence, other than those lauding their instrumental virtuosity. What the fuck is it about a woman that makes everyone think we need to be smiling all the time to prove to the world we are having a good time?…
But a line needs to be drawn. People need to stop calling women “bitches” because they’re strong and empowered. People need to stop calling me a “slut” for my public support of Planned Parenthood, an organization that has saved my life as well as many other men’s and women’s lives. People need to stop calling me a “whiny baby” because I write songs about heartache and my feelings. Did anyone call The Beatles “whiny babies” for singing the lyrics “This boy wants you back again”? Did anyone call them “desperate” or “needy” for singing “Oh please say to me / You’ll let me be your man / And please say to me / You’ll let me hold your hand”?
So yeah, we all need to do better. To read the full story, head over here and subscribe.
UPDATE: Cosentino’s essay is now online in full.