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Over the last 12 months, Zoladz has been tasked with making sense of such Make-or-Break albums as Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die, Grimes’ Visions, Grizzly Bear’s Shields and Beach House’s Bloom for decimal-point enthusiasts/authoritative tastemakers Pitchfork. In other words, her opinion of a record is able to propel bands into widespread acclaim or throw them completely off track. Her long-form think pieces for the site, as well as regular dispatches to the Washington City Paper, eMusic and Canonball, add to cultural pundits’ critical discourse.
Have you ever felt like you had to prove your knowledge of music to a guy, like he was skeptical you knew what you were talking about?
Yes. This is something I experienced a lot when I was younger and happens to me less so now once people find out what my job is, but I'd be lying if I said it still didn't happen sometimes. I've heard some people say that in a lot of spaces, men are by default assumed to be competent and knowledgeable, while women have to prove their competence and knowledge. It sucks, but it's true in a lot of other professions, especially in the arts—filmmaking, writing, comedy, painting, you name it—all these arenas where the historical influence of the Male Genius still looms large. Unfortunately, you see this with women who make music too. I remember last year I was at a Wild Flag show and they covered the Television song "See No Evil." My friend overheard this guy who pointed at the stage and was like, "Oh, cool, she's heard of Television." Of course she's heard of Television, dude. That's Mary fucking Timony! Get real.
Because the numbers are so few, do you think the camaraderie among women in the industry is stronger than it is among men? Do you think the same can be said for rivalry among women in this line of work?
I always think of this thing that the filmmaker Sally Potter once said: "As more women achieve in a given area, they are forced to compete with each other for the same space rather than the space itself expanding." And since I've become a music journalist, I'm always asking myself, "How can we make this particular space expand?" That's how I check myself from engaging in any sort of girl-on-girl rivalry behavior, be it slam pieces or nasty tweets or whatever; that's the last thing we need here.
One notable statistic to come out of Pitchfork's People’s List is that female voters counted for just 12 percent of the participants. Did that number surprise you?
I knew the number would be low, but I don’t think I expected it to be that low. The morning the list was posted, I emailed four of my close (female) friends asking them why they didn’t make a People’s List, and this incredible discussion just poured out of them, speaking honestly and anonymously about their experiences as female music fans. I edited down the conversation and then posted it on my tumblr. The common thread in their stories was that they’d all had frustrating experiences with men either assuming that they knew nothing about music or they didn’t value their opinions about music, and they’d all pretty much checked out of the music criticism conversation once and for all. So I think the question we can take away from that whole experience is, “How do we bring people who’ve felt alienated back into the conversation? How can we better honor their opinions and thoughts about music?”
Growing up as a devoted music fan, did you have other female peers who shared your passion, or did you find yourself talking about music mostly with boys?
I had both experiences. I took a guitar class for three years in high school, and that had a huge, formative impact on how I listen to and talk about music. And once I got to the highest level of the class, I was the only girl in the course. I became close friends with a lot of the guys, but I definitely felt self-conscious about my gender. I think about this experience a lot and how it prepared me to be a music writer, because this was the first time I felt like the one girl trying to be accepted into "the boys' club." I was too young to be a riot grrrl, and I hadn't read any feminist theory or anything like that yet, so although I made a lot of friends in the class I also felt lonely and alienated in this way I couldn't quite yet articulate.
Do you think the imbalance in the industry stems from women generally not being as big of music fans as men, or is something else at play here?
I've been thinking a lot about this thing Kathleen Hanna said in a recent interview. When she first started identifying as a feminist in the really early days of Bikini Kill, her mindset was just like, "Get the fuck out of my face, men!" She calls this the "Feminism 101" phase, where you're just spewing all the gender-related rage you've pent up for years. This is normal. It's a totally necessary exorcism. I went through it too, and I directed all my rage at the music world and the writing world. I would read my favorite magazines and websites and see little or no female bylines, and it would infuriate me. In my Feminism 101, I had this notion that all these male editors were sitting there, stroking their goatees and thinking conspiratorially, "Hmm, how can we keep all these women out of our publication?"
Again, I think the issue is confidence. From an early age, girls are still socialized to think that if they’re too assertive that they are bitchy or unladylike. So as those girls get older, that limits the ways they express themselves. This can be changed. I’ve some done work with Girls Rock Camp, which teaches girls how to play instruments, write songs and start bands—it injects them with this particular kind of confidence right at the age when society is trying to scare it out of them. I think these camps are going to have a huge, pervasive influence on the next generation of female musicians over time. So we need to figure out how to do something like that with writing, with all forms of artistic expression. Maybe someone needs to start a Girls Write Camp.
(Photo by Lee O'Connor)