INTERVIEW: JOSEPHINE SILLARS
Musician and singer, Josephine Sillars on perfume, female strength, how she looks and her new release, Problems with Power.
What smells remind you of femininity? What are your favourite smells and why?
Obvious answer, but flowers definitely! Obviously they are a traditional symbol of femininity, but I love them. Flowers are definitely among my favourite smells.
Do you feel pressure to act/look a certain way to fit in with the ideals of female beauty? How do you combat or comply with these pressures?
Yes, I definitely do and I would honestly be surprised to find someone who doesn’t feel that pressure. Especially in an industry like the music industry. So much of music isn’t even about the music, it’s about how you present yourself both on stage and off stage. I spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at pictures and videos of myself, because the ones that I present to press and the public will be judged, and it can be so, so difficult because the majority of pictures I have of me playing (especially playing live) are awful. I used to get worked up about it when I was younger, and would try almost too hard to present myself as what I deemed to be a ‘prettier’ version of myself, but ultimately that would always result in me trying to make myself smaller. Which isn’t a great attitude to have. Women should never make themselves smaller. This is one of the main topics I’m trying to combat in my new song, ‘Problems With Power’. The song is written partly from my own experiences with power and partly from friends, but the sections of the song from my perspective do directly deal with the ideals and pressures of female beauty in the industry I work in.
What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career or your personal life?
Probably my grandmother, Margo MacDonald. She’s an inspiring lady.
Do you think female success differs from male success in your industry, and if so how? Have you experienced this in your own career?
The majority of people I know in the music industry are male – and that’s just a fact. The majority of people who have booked me for gigs, or for festivals or featured my music somewhere have been male. I literally only know a handful of women who work in the industry. This definitely doesn’t mean there aren’t more, I perhaps just haven’t met them yet, but at the moment, the majority of people in my circle are male. Even the female musicians I know, seem to work primarily with men. Looking at this in terms of success – I don’t think there’s necessarily a way to gender the idea of success, and in music, I imagine the goals that I have would be similar to the goals that a male musician would have, and that we would view our successes in similar ways. However, it’s definitely harder for female musicians to succeed – and this isn’t because people in the music scene are inherently sexist, but when you have an industry built with a patriarchal structure, subconscious sexism does happen. Saying the music industry is sexist isn’t exactly groundbreaking, and obviously the Scottish scene has seen great things from female musicians in the past few years (Honeyblood, Kathryn Joseph etc), but in order for female and male successes to even out, the industry needs to admit to its sexism. People need to stop taking it personally, because yeah, most individuals aren’t sexist – but the industry is. In my experience I’ve been the only woman on a bill with several men countless times, and I have also predominantly worked with men. Even when I’m not booked on the bill for something, 9/10 there will only be one or two women among a sea of male musicians. It’s definitely not because women aren’t up to it – it’s just harder for us to succeed. And this isn’t me complaining that I’d be doing X, Y and Z if I were male and I’m definitely not saying that any of my failures are down to my gender, but ultimately, women have a tougher time in this industry. And I mean, I’m a white woman. I can’t imagine the difficulties that women of colour have.
What female or gender equality causes mean the most to you and why?
It’s definitely a woman’s right to an abortion. I think this one is important to me because I am lucky enough to live here in Scotland, where you can get an abortion safely if you feel you need one. While it’s not a right that I’ve ever exercised personally, the fact that this isn’t the case in places as close to home such as Northern Ireland is something I find extremely difficult to digest. I’m very much a my-body-my-choice type of person.
What signifies female strength to you?
Crying. I don’t like to gender the idea of strength, but if I had to, I would say crying because showing emotions in that respect is something men are taught not to do. I definitely don’t agree with that – men should be taught to express their emotions as freely as women. I hate the idea that crying is a weak thing. I cry about everything! I think expressing emotions is incredibly strong, and I think crying in particular signifies female strength because I like the idea of inverting a presumed weakness as a strength. So many things that women do are labelled weak, and I’m totally in favour of reclaiming those things as strengths.
What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.
Hmmm…. I am a thoughtful bitch. I tend to think over everything I say before I say it (which is why it takes me so long to write new songs), but then I am always very strong in my opinions when I form them. And I think that makes me powerful – I think I’m a damn rebel bitch because I use my thoughts as wisely as I can.
You can find Josephine’s song “Problems with Power” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9J77FRpBc4