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Bethany Cosentino Calls Out Music Industry Sexism In Open Letter

Ethan Miller, Getty Images
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Bethany Cosentino, frontwoman of the band Best Coast, wrote a letter for Lena Dunham’s subscription-based newsletter Lenny, in which she expounded on the pervasive misogyny and sexism that plagues the music industry.

The letter comes weeks after Cosentino openly supported Dirty Projectors member Amber Coffman, who publicly accused music publicist Heathcliff Berru, the founder of PR agency Life or Death, of sexual harassment. Several other women came forward with similar stories soon after, effectively (and rightfully) banishing Berru from the music industry. (Life or Death is now officially defunct, with former employees founding their own agency.)

But Berru’s behavior isn’t an isolated incident, and we’d be remiss to believe it so. In her letter, Cosentino details various instances of misogyny and sexism she’s faced as a female artist, including micro-aggressions lobbed at her in the form of a particularly sexist gig review.

She wrote:

I recently read a review that mostly lauded a Best Coast show — it specified how great the band sounded and how “sexy” I looked — but it bemoaned my lack of smiling. This article has, and continues to, deeply trouble me. This reviewer’s gendered critique of my presence onstage revealed how he thought a woman who he saw as “sexy” should behave. It also showed how ideas about the sexualization of women are reinforced. Many people did not see the underlying sexism of the review. In fact, in the social media referencing the article, countless people attacked me with comments like “Get over it! He complimented you! Quit being a whiny bitch!”

Some comments were supportive and questioned how an article like this could have been published. The reality is that it was published because we live in a world where this kind of thing is considered OK. We live in a world where a man can yell at me while I’m onstage, “Bethany, I wanna fuck you!” and I am supposed to not only stand there and take it but also digest it as a compliment to add to my fierce arsenal of sexy confidence. Not only should I take it, I should be smiling and excited to be sexualized by my audience. If I’m not, there is something wrong with me.

Cosentino also draws a parallel between the sexism inherent in that review — which focuses so much on the way she, as a female artist, should perform to appease a crowd — and the culture that allowed an alleged abuser like Berru to keep his job for so long (though she also notes they aren’t quite the same thing):

Though a sexist review is certainly not the same as getting sexually harassed or assaulted over the course of a decade, it’s all part of the same continuum. Because when someone critiques Best Coast’s live performance because “Bethany looks like a miserable bitch onstage,” it is a gendered attack. There are currently four men in my band, and no one is really talking about how they don’t smile onstage or how hot their outfits are. There are never comments about their bodies, demeanors, or stage presence, other than those lauding their instrumental virtuosity. What the fuck is it about a woman that makes everyone think we need to be smiling all the time to prove to the world we are having a good time?…

She also notes that female artists are often criticized for writing about “heartache” and love, while male artists are lauded for it: “Did anyone call The Beatles ‘whiny babies’ or ‘needy’ for singing the lyrics ‘This boy wants you back again’?”

Read Cosentino’s full letter over at Lenny Letter.

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