Where them girls at? The plight of being a woman outnumbered at shows

Schoolboy Q at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC

It was one of the hottest days Washington D.C. has seen in 2016, 8:30 p.m. and still registering almost 90 degrees. I bopped along V street with an extra bounce that seemed to accelerate with every step I took toward the 9:30 Club. Sporting a t-shirt from Kanye West’s 2014 Yeezus Tour, black jeans, and custom Adidas, I was particularly feeling myself – and a bright red lip tied the whole street style vibe together.

Schoolboy Q was the headliner that night, an artist I’ve followed since before his solo days when he formed the hip-hop collective Black Hippy (S/O to Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Kendrick Lamar!). I wasn’t an early fan, but when I first heard the group back in 2010 I was hooked. “Setbacks” was a strong start for Schoolboy Q as a solo artist and its follow-up, “Habits and Contradictions” was my favorite album of 2012. “Hands on the Wheel” is still one of my most played songs ever on iTunes. It was that perfect blend of sampling, production, and verbiage. It was immediate and euphoric. I couldn’t get enough of that track. His major label debut, “Oxymoron” maintained the same level of intensity as its predecessor. From “Los Awesome” to “Studio,” “What They Want” to “Man of the Year,” the album was track after track of pure production gold. And now, just two weeks ago, Schoolboy Q released his latest album “Blank Face LP” another critical success.

I had never seen the rapper perform live and I was downright giddy when I made it to the club and got into the absurdly long security line to enter 9:30.

“You can come right this way, honey,” a pleasant security woman said to me. “Oh no, that’s fine. I’d like to stay with my friend,” I replied. As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized there were two lines: one for men and one for women. The security was particularly intense that night, perhaps as a result of the tragedies that seem to continue unfolding right in front of us on the evening news every day. Each attendee was frisked so thoroughly that it felt like going through TSA. So, I acquiesced. I waved good-bye to my friend and said “I’ll see you inside.”

My line had exactly zero people standing in it.

Once inside the venue I realized I had quite some time to kill before meeting up with my friend again. I walked around, scoping out the crowd and looking through the merchandise table, when I noticed something that honestly shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. I was one of maybe 50 women in a club with a capacity of 1,200.

Nothing makes me more indignant than listening to smug men try to argue that women have bad taste in music. There’s still so much latent sexism when it comes to this subject, to the point that women who are real fans find themselves having to defend their passion within their own music communities. If you can’t name a specific song from an album (and not just any album, oh no, you must be an expert in special releases as well) you are an impostor that must be exposed for the silly female fraud that you are. It’s insulting and it’s exhausting. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I was at a show “because my boyfriend likes the band” I’d be a very rich woman.

I looked around the club and saw a wonderfully diverse crowd – black, white, Hispanic, young, old, hip, not-so-hip – but the gender gap was there, and it was the starkest I’d ever seen.

Schoolboy Q’s performance was fire emoji perfection. Because the show was a “pit stop” and not part of his official tour, he was very loose on stage and openly admitted to having no set list. He frequently engaged with the crowd, asking us what songs we wanted to hear, then going off on the mic. He also bantered with the audience and threw bottles of water into the sweaty, rapturous crowd. “None of y’all are gonna die tonight!” he joked with a big smile on his face. The crowd’s reaction to “Man of the Year” was without a doubt the most hype I’ve ever seen folks get at 9:30 and I was grinning like a moron when he came back out for an encore with “What They Want.”

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Maybe Schoolboy Q was too specific of a show to ponder the notion of underrepresentation of women at live music venues. He certainly hasn’t achieved Kendrick Lamar’s level of universal adoration, but hip-hop is no longer a genre exclusive to the male listener. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason women hesitate to attend those shows is because they worry they will find themselves in my situation – vastly outnumbered by intoxicated men in a crowded semi-public place. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly if you aren’t accustomed to the sweaty, cramped space-invading encroachment that is unavoidable at a place like the 9:30 club, when you see no female compatriots to latch onto should you start to feel unsafe. It makes perfect sense given the statistics surrounding sexual assault and bars. Approximately 25% of women will experience some form of sexual assault in their adolescence or early adulthood, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and about half of those crimes occur when the perp was under the influence of booze. When you start to dig into the statistics surrounding women’s safety, and the circumstances in which these awful crimes tend to unfold, it starts to make sense that perhaps women don’t feel entirely safe at concerts – particularly at smaller venues where alcohol is typically cheaper and there is less security. It may not even be a conscious connection. But rather years and years of gendered (and valid) paranoia.

We’ve come a long way since “On the Equality of the Sexes” but as I stood in that 1% of the crowd at Schoolboy Q, I realized we’ve got a long way to go.

This was the first in a series of essays about women and music.

The Most Important Lessons I Learned From Being Unemployed

Photo by Margaret Murphy

Photo by Margaret Murphy

As far back as I can remember, the people whose opinions I value most have always told me that life is filled with unexpected events we can’t anticipate. No matter how intently we plan for the future and build a strong sense of security, the safety net we create for ourselves can vanish — leaving us free falling through the unknown. That zone of unfamiliarity can be financial, emotional, spiritual, even all of the above, as we navigate an uncomfortable change in the state of our day to day lives.

Last November, I was called into an abrupt meeting on the first floor of our company’s headquarters. The Google Calendar invite simply read “meeting” and the guest list was hidden. None of it felt right, and my stomach started to churn with anxiety. I made my way into the conference room and looked around — at least 30 of my coworkers, some of them great friends, all sat patiently, nervously chatting and evaluating the scene. Once everyone was accounted for, our department head wasted no time with idle statements and simply said, “the company is undergoing a restructuring effort, and your positions have been eliminated.”

Ouch.

The company had been in a precarious state for quite some time, but I never imagined my position to be in danger. After all, I was a writer, the site couldn’t function without content, and our team was already stretched thin. The entire scenario felt so reminiscent of being dumped out of nowhere, for no reason by some ungrateful bro — I was nothing but nice to you and did everything right, how is this happening? I felt angry, betrayed, and, most annoyingly, duped. I woke up the next day and realized that for an indefinite period of time, my life was going to feel very unsettled.

One 15-minute meeting transformed my thriving lifestyle. Several years of living as a totally independent, self-sustaining woman vanished as I burned through my savings and turned to my mother (and the government) for financial support. This was my first experience falling through the foundation I had built for myself to stand on. It felt like a huge failure — and as I was living that sense of failure, it was impossible to objectively assess the positives of the situation.

Now that I’m once again employed, I was able to think back on those days spent floating through my apartment like a ghost. Some of these thoughts are helpful should you find yourself unemployed, and others are more universal in their applicability. I hope they’ll provide some guidance, if ever you feel like you need it.

Ignore the Peanut Gallery

A lot of people will have opinions on your situation, and because they care about you they’ll want to help by vocalizing their thoughts. Some of this advice will be fantastic, but most of it will just add to the noise already rumbling through your mind. It’s hard enough to make sense of your own thoughts when you’re in a vulnerable situation, you don’t need to absorb those of other people into the existing chaos. You’ll know a nugget of wisdom when you hear one — tune everything else out and focus inwards.

Do the Things You Love

Okay, if you love going to Neiman Marcus and spending a fortune on designer pieces, you should definitely stop doing so. But when you’re generally feeling a bit down, you shouldn’t let a little financial or emotional snafu keep you from doing things that make you smile. Love working up a sweat at the gym? Cancel that expensive membership and go for runs outside instead. Can’t get enough live music? Substitute expensive arena shows with performances at smaller venues. You don’t have to give up your hobbies now that you’re on a budget, you just need to find creative ways to continue doing the things you love.

Get Up and Get Dressed

Once your days just filter one into the next without any sense of structure, it’s easy to let yourself go. Don’t. At one point in time while I was unemployed, I realized I hadn’t put real pants on in three days. This was an eye opening moment. That magical feeling you get staying in your jammies until 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday is not at all the same as the lethargic sense of total laziness you will feel doing so on a Tuesday because you don’t have a job. Even if you have no plans for the day, put on some real clothes. It’ll put you in a better state of mind and ultimately motivate you to be more productive.

Lean On Your Loved Ones, Don’t Suffocate Them

In times of crisis, it’s completely encouraged to lean on friends and family for support. However, that does not give you the right to make your issues their issues. There is never an excuse for making every conversation all about you and wallowing to your loved ones to the point of bringing them down. When you start to sense that you may be transferring your negative emotions to those around you, it’s time to seclude yourself and work through the issues, on your own or with a professional. Your friends and family will always love and help you, but they aren’t your personal therapists. Don’t treat them as such.

Spend Time Outside

There’s a reason brilliant people like Henry David Thoreau looked for solace in the arms of nature — we have a strong connection to the lush environments that dwell beyond bright lights and concrete. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of an outdoorsy person, a simple stroll through a large, open park on a beautiful day can do wonders to clear your head. We’re often so distracted by the noise and vivacity of city life that we ignore our natural need to quiet the mind and soul. Nourish that need and you’ll reap its invigorating results.

Keep Your Chin Up

It’s so easy to let the frustration of a setback get the best of you, but it’s always important to remember that your situation isn’t permanent. Yes, in that moment, everything sucks. You feel like the world has unjustly sought you out and punished you for reasons you can’t fathom. But there will be plenty of small victories along the way, like landing a phone call, making an exciting contact, or nailing an interview. Be your own cheerleader! Ride the momentum of those small but meaningful successes, and keep your chin up. The next great thing WILL come, even though sometimes it feels like it’s not coming fast enough.

Like my mom always told me,this isn’t a failure, it’s a door waiting to be opened.