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Reading and Leeds: A history of sexism?

Photo credit: Faith Castle

Does Reading and Leeds Festival have a history of sexism and inequality or is it just down to popularity?

This week the line up for one of the UK’s most popular festivals, Reading and Leeds was announced with the likes of Liam Gallagher and Catfish and the Bottlemen headlining but it was met with criticism due to the lack of female artists on the lineup, something the festival was called out last year. 

The truth is just 8 female acts have been announced even though the festival is set to have their biggest year yet with 6 headline slots, 2 main stages and therefore no main stage clashes, something Reading and Leeds have been shouting about however not one of those 6 headline slots is filled by a female artist despite the likes of Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga topping the charts and becoming music royalty. Just last year pop favourites The 1975 topped the bill but shortly after lead singer Matty Healy said he would only play festivals that were a 50/50 split between men, women and non-binary artists because the audience feel more represented. However does this mean that Reading and Leeds is sexist or does the lineup follow a musical trend?

“because the people that go to them [Festivals] feel more included and more represented. It’s as simple as that. All the best art for me made me feel personally addressed.”

Matthew Healy – The 1975

It’s no secret that men have been dominating the music industry over the years with the likes of Foals, Arctic Monkeys, Lewis Capaldi and The Killers topping the charts but on the other hand plenty of female acts such as Florence + The Machine, Haim, Dua Lipa and Adele have equally successful careers meaning there’s no shortage of female talent that’s relevant. 

Reading and Leeds certainly isn’t supporting female artists as much as they should. In 2018, 300 festivals and organisations signed up to a pledge that was set out in order for organisations to commit to supporting female artists particularly when it comes to lineups however Festival Republic, the organisers of R&L chose not to. 

The festival has only booked 2 female headliners in the past 25 years despite seeing Post Malone return in 2021 for his third headline slot meaning he’s topped the bill more than women in the past quarter of a century. No one can deny that Post Malone is a great booking and whilst I’m not suggesting they take his slot I am suggesting that women get a fair chance. 

Not showcasing women at the highest level results in new emerging female artists not seeing representation in their field and reinforces the idea that it’s ok for women to be undermined by men and that the two are not of equal importance. Young girls and non-binary people need to see themselves on the headline and main stages in order to give them the confidence to persue their passion and create change however Reading and Leeds don’t seem to carry this viewpoint even though the festival insists they are moving with the times by branching out in genre. 

If Reading and Leeds really are just following the music trends they’re clearly not paying enough attention as other acts such as Lucia & The Best Boys, Jade Bird, Lauran Hibberd, and Billie Eilish have all had great success and all deserve various slots at the festival. I mean who doesn’t want to see Haim top the bill and show everyone how it’s really done? On the other hand though R&L could’ve just fallen victim to the wider issues surrounding sexism in the music industry as Male acts gain much more exposure meaning they can be perceived to be more relevant than that of a female artist. 

The longer festivals don’t give equal opportunities to female and non binary artists the more they are reinforcing the idea that the inequities within the music industry simply don’t matter and that under represented groups are not welcome in those spaces. 

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