When Grimes’ Tumblr polemic against sexism in the music industry hit the web last spring, music commentators seemed shocked at her adamance. As she lamented the lack of professionalism among her male counterparts, and the misogynistic labels such as ‘waif’ and ‘cute’ that some assigned to her, we witnessed yet another instance of an industry that is fraught with sexism. Female musicians have been echoing Grimes’ sentiment for years. Musicians who actively fight against the many faces of patriarchy in the industry, though, are only one piece of the puzzle. Rock Camp for Girls Montreal (RCGM), a place where girls aged 10 to 17 get together to learn and play music while learning about anti-oppression, reflects a more fundamental tactic for eradicating sexism through empowerment.
Co-founded in 2009 by two graduates of Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute (which studies feminisms and questions of social justice), RCGM started a five-day summer session that culminates in a concert. These summer sessions allow campers to showcase their newly acquired skills and perform original songs. Rock Camp recently announced plans to expand to also include an after-school Youth Choir program throughout the year. The camp’s main goals include teaching both the technical skills to play music and the critical thinking tools to navigate a male-dominated industry. Volunteers facilitate learning with musical instruction, as well as activities such as zine-making and media literacy exercises. By acquiring these critical thinking tools, campers are more able to dissect the lyrics of songs in popular culture and critically examine their musical role models. RCGM is also remarkably accessible in requiring no previous musical knowledge or experience, or even ownership of a musical instrument – important features for combating a scene that can be quite exclusionary.
Heather Hardie, RCGM’s coordinator, said that, “By giving campers the space where there are no boys around, its amazing how much a transformation happens during the course of the week.” In regards to the camp’s decision to create a space for female campers only, Hardie stated that, “It’s important because the music industry is very male-dominated, and to show female-identified youth that there are women out there making music is important.”
The camp’s structure and organization mirrors the lessons that it tries to convey to campers: among the volunteers, leadership positions are reserved for female, trans*, and gender non-conforming people. Hoping to set positive examples, Hardie mentioned that “a lot of the volunteers who get involved in Rock Camp feel really strongly about this, because I think it is something we wish we had growing up, navigating the music scene as women.”
Entirely self-funded and volunteer-run for the past five years, RCGM has previously only had the capacity to operate as a short-term summer camp. The expansion into an after-school program presents an exciting possibility for fostering communities that can be sustained and built upon. The program, which has thus far been pretty rooted in the Mile End community, is hoping to begin branching out and increasing francophone enrollment. RCGM definitely offers an exciting promise for all young female musicians.
Keep an eye out for one of the choir shows scheduled to take place later this fall. More information can be found at girlsrockmontreal.org.