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  • Writer's pictureSophie Smith

Why do festivals keep ignoring women?

Due to government restrictions easing we have a festival season! With the vaccination programme well under way, it is safer for festivals to open their gates to festival-goers. Though the pandemic has been rough on musicians and everyone in the music industry, we are seeing the same issues again- festivals ignoring women. There has been lots of press analysing festival lineups the last few years, but unfortunately the mounting pressure has not made the higher ups choose women in music. Year after year we’re seeing women being ignored.

In 2017 an initiative launched to create 50/50 gender splits in major festivals by 2022. A collaboration between Keychange and PRS encouraged festivals to sign onto the pledge. Gender equality on lineups seems like an easy ask, but unfortunately not many of the bigger festivals, except Glastonbury, actually signed onto the pledge.

Reading and Leeds

Reading and Leeds festival has been criticised in the past for its gender imbalance, but frustratingly there is not much change from last year. Though the festival didn’t go ahead, the gender imbalance in 2020 was one of the worst years.

Paramore and Arcade Fire are the only acts fronted by women to have headlined Reading and Leeds festival in the last 15 years, with Paramore only co-headlining. It has been seven years since Paramore played. They have failed to book a female headliner for the seventh year running. Yep, you heard it right, seven whole years.

Festival organiser Melvin Benn said in 2015 “I don’t think sidelining exists, but there was a lack of opportunity. But there’s an abundance of opportunity now.” There are more opportunities for women, but ironically he isn’t providing them. Only 3 years later in an interview with the BBC he seemed to still be sceptical about seeing 50/50 gender split in lineups saying lineups should be based on what people are listening to right now “Is that the right way to go about it, to say it’s got to be 50/50? I don’t know that it is.” Sorry Melv, that’s exactly the right way to go about it.

In 2020 it was one of the worst years for female performers, with only 9% of acts announced identifying as female. Though it has increased in 2021, it has not increased by enough. This year 14% of performers are female, which means a pathetic 5% increase of female acts. But hey, I suppose it must be hard to find big female acts like Haim, Pale Waves, Fleetwood Mac, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Phoebe Bridgers, Dua Lipa...

Isle of Wight

Unfortunately we’re looking at a similar case at IOW festival, with yet again n0 female headliners. 73% of the festival's lineup are male. It’s another disheartening statistic.

Maxie Gedge, UK Project Manager of Keychange said they try to stay positive instead of calling people out, but they’re getting tired. “It’s not an accident any more, it’s a statement of exclusion. The fact that this keeps happening shows that there are certain festivals that just aren’t taking responsibility, or they’re not viewing it as their responsibility when, in actuality, it’s everyone’s.”

Over the last 10 years they’ve only had 2 bands containing women headlining Isle of Wight festival, compared to 28 male headliners. Maybe it’s time to rename it the Isle Of Fright Festival, the lack of women is scary. We’ve heard all of the excuses, and it’s starting to feel like they’re being stuck on repeat.


Wireless has seen decreases in female acts in the last 3 years. In 2019, 20% of the acts were female whilst the 2020 lineup showed a drastic decrease to 14%. This year there is a devastating drop to 10%. For them to not even make a conscious decision to keep the amount of female acts the same, allowing them to decrease like this is heartbreaking.


TRNSMT has also seen the percentage of women drop. Though only by 1% percent, other festivals such as Parklife are making conscious decisions to include women, whilst TRNSMT are excluding women. 2019 and 2020 showed 13% of the lineup were women, this year it has fallen to 12%. Lets hope they get the memo that supporting women is hot.


Though not quite as bad as Wireless and TRNSMT, it’s still not great. More than 70% of the lineup for Latitude are men. Leaving a measly 30% for women. They may as well rename themselves Latidude because this is a sausage fest. In the words of my mum, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.


Parklife are leading the way to equality in lineups. 44% of the acts are female! Parklife are doing wonders to nurture women to the top - let's hope more festivals follow in their footsteps on the path to equal lineups. They are one of the most improved considering in 2019 their lineup only included 27% women and they’ve almost doubled their female representation! We encourage all of you to buy a ticket to Parklife to show them how much we love seeing women on lineups. Hi, Parklife? I’ll have 40 tickets please.

Now we’re heading on down to the excuses. Most of these you’ve probably heard before, probably your problematic faves hitting you with them whilst drunk in a pub.

“We don’t have enough women in bands” *cough* Have you seen the F-list? The directory of female and gender minority musicians, there are THOUSANDS of musicians on there ready and willing to play festivals. The best thing is, the work is done for you! You don’t have to scroll Spotify to find some up and coming artists, the list is already there.

Female artists don’t sell as many tickets” This is the most boring response. Tell me more about how there are no big female artists, and definitely none that could sell out MASSIVE arena tours like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo.

The problem:

There aren’t enough women at the top of the food chain, men organise most of the well known festivals meaning that they have a bias towards male acts, whether that is conscious or not. It’s easy to blame the bands on the lineup when in reality it isn’t their fault. Festival bookers need to make a conscious effort to include women. We can be nurturing so much amazing female talent!

"Unless you consciously change and really address it, then it will stay the same because we're always going to be flooded with male acts."- Emily Eavis, Glastonbury organiser

With festivals like Loud Women booking all female artists to showcase women in music at a small scale compared to Reading and Leeds, it just goes to show that some people can support women if they really wanted to.


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