Scottish synthpop band Chvrches has become wildly popular in the last year. But that popularity has a sad, dark side for lead singer Lauren Mayberry, who wrote a column in The Guardian this week noting that she now has to sort through dozens of sexually aggressive messages every day on her band's Facebook page.
When Mayberry wrote on the band's Facebook page politely asking people to stop sending notes about how they'd like to have sex with her, the post got thousands of "likes" and received hundreds of comments, most of them supportive. But some comments helped prove the horrible point, with a handful of men writing things like, "It's just one of those things you'll need to learn to deal with. If you're easily offended, then maybe the music industry isn't for you."
Mayberry reads through messages on the band's Facebook page because she wants to connect with and be accessible to genuine fans, but her Guardian column lays out how the way fans treat her often makes her feel sick and dehumanized:
I read them every morning when I get up. I read them after soundcheck. I read them, as we all do with our emails and notifications, on my phone on the bus or when I have a break in the day. And, after a while, despite the positive messages in the majority, the aggressive, intrusive nature of the other kind becomes overwhelming. During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a "Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this" conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet?
Women are spoken to like this every day, and not just those deemed to be in the public eye. The depressing reality is that campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project would not need to exist were casual sexism not so startlingly commonplace. I should note here that I have never said that men – in the public eye or otherwise – do not receive such comments. I can, however, only speak of what I know, which is that the number of offensive messages directed towards me, "the girl singer," compared to my bandmates is undeniably higher.
The music industry and everyday social dynamics that lead to talented musicians like Mayberry being seen as just "the girl singer" are part of the problem here. Getting up on stage is nerve-wracking for any performer and comments like the ones Mayberry documents seem to justify the fears of female artists who worry that despite however talented they are, some audience members will only ever see them as a sex object. And the sexually aggressive comments Mayberry sifts through are meant to make her fearful—she's in a position of power, holding the mic onstage. Guys who are jealous or afraid of that power want to feel like they can get in her head and shake her up, just by typing out a simple message.
As Mayberry notes, she's only a special case because she's well known. Many, many women face online attacks like this. In some ways, the social aspects of Facebook and Twitter allow us to bring this sexually aggressiveness to light, but in other ways, the technology itself enables the aggression. The trouble with trolls shapes how we all interact online. While social media provides the ability to connect instantly and intimately with people all over the world, including our favorite musicians, that level of connection can be dangerous for many people.
We can push for some infrastructure changes to prevent the social problems that social technology dredges up—like being able to report sexually aggressive memes on Facebook—but those are often Bandaids at best and counter-productive at worst. Comments like these make clear that deep and widespread parts of our culture need changing.
In the meantime, Mayberry shouldn't be defined by her reactions to online haters. She's first and foremost a musician who just wants to make music. I want listen to it. Here's a great single from Chvrches' 2012 album The Bones of What You Believe:
Photo of Chvrches in LA ia via the Daily Record.