Bethany Cosentino has long been an outspoken activist for women’s rights, particularly in the music industry. She openly and without hesitation calls out bullshit on Twitter and Instagram, has left interviews because of sexist questions and has become an inspirational figure to many who face varying degrees of sexism in their day-to-day lives.
It was just a few weeks ago that Dirty Projectors‘ Amber Coffman called out now-disgraced music publicist Heathcliff Berru, who had sexually assaulted her a few years prior – a move which prompted a flow-on effect that saw a handful more women come forward to also expose what he had done to them, Cosentino included. The day after this, Beru stepped down from his role at Life or Death (which once boasted a roster of D’Angelo, Killer Mike, Kelela and many more), and by the end of the week the company ceased to exist at all.
Now, Cosentino has penned an essay for Lena Dunman and Jenni Konner‘s fortnightly newsletter, Lenny. I have been a subscriber to Lenny since it’s inception late last year, and I can honestly say this has been my favourite one yet.
Titled Burgers, Bitches, and Bullshit, Cosentino details her own experience in the music industry, and sheds some light on how to move forward from here.
“I will NEVER apologize for being an outspoken boss, because I don’t owe anyone an apology. The Bethany you see in interviews and on social media and out in the world, that is the absolute, real-deal Bethany,” she writes, before going on to detail how this approach (ie being her total, full self) actually sometimes works against her because some people can’t handle an unapologetic woman who is confident and proud – especially when it comes to social media.
“With social media’s omnipresence, it seems women can’t do much of anything in public without someone making a misogynistic crack. Why has it become acceptable for “criticism” to take the form of abusive online commentary or vulgar, inappropriate heckling?”
Not only does she go onto mention the appalling review written last year that said that although the band sounded great, the reporter was more interested in what Bethany was wearing and why she wasn’t smiling more, but it’s not just online sexism she – and many others – face. “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,” she writes, before detailing an incident involving someone literally throwing a cheeseburger at her face whilst she was playing at an unnamed college.
From here, Cosentino goes onto describe and highlight the discrepancies when it comes to critiques of her band. Whilst there are four other members in her band (all males), it is only her that gets described as a “miserable bitch” because she just so happens to not be smiling on stage – even though the dudes behind her are doing the same; a move she describes as a “gendered attack”.
“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?”
You can feel how just plain fed up she is with this shit. She reaffirms she knows she has chosen the right career for herself, and her widespread success as part of Best Coast is testimony to that. But it seems that no matter how successful she becomes, and how outspoken she is, she still gets reduced to the novelty of a female musician who is expected to look sexy and smile a lot. It’s an innate, internal, and toxic way of thinking that is very clearly apparent within not only the music industry but the world as a whole – and it needs to stop.
“People need to stop calling women ‘bitches’ because they’re strong and empowered,” she says. “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?'”
It’s a brave, bold move to write this essay, and I am sure she would have been bracing herself for some sort of backlash – but I am also sure Bethany wouldn’t have given a flying fuck either. These are the powerful women we need in the industry; trailblazers who are willing to get in there and shake things up to show just how rampant, and commonplace, behaviour like this is. It’s incredibly inspiring and motivating for myself as a female in the music industry to read this, and to have one of your heroes tell you to keep going, which is why her final paragraph is perhaps the most important of all.
“I am a creative, strong, outspoken woman, and my voice will not be silenced,” Cosentino says, finishing up on her rightful pedestal. “If anything, I will deal with the sexist bullshit and have burgers thrown at my face so that I can use my voice to say “THIS IS NOT OK!” and let women (and men) know that we don’t have to accept this type of behavior. To the girl who is feeling confused about her own identity, I say this to you with total confidence: You are talented, you are resilient, you are unique. And don’t ever let some burger-tossing bro allow you to think otherwise.”
To read the full essay, you can sign up for Lenny here – a move I urge you all to do. Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to go conquer my day and be an “outspoken boss” just like Bethany. Get out of my way.
Image via Lenny