Some Peterborough Festivals Falling Behind in Gender Parity

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It’s 2018, and women are still not sharing the spotlight in Peterborough. Back in November, the organization Canadian Women Working in Music (CWWIM) released their 2017 Festival Report Card, which graded festivals on performer gender parity; of the three of Peterborough festivals included in the report, two received the lowest grade, F. As we venture forward in 2018, I find myself wondering: will this year be a better year for female musicians in Peterborough?

Peterborough Folk Festival was among the highest-graded festivals, receiving an A grade for having 64% of their acts fronted by women-identifying people. However, near the bottom of the list, with some of the lowest numbers recorded, were two other Peterborough festivals: Peterborough Musicfest, with 12% representation, and the Hootenanny on Hunter Street, with a dismal 8% (of 12 acts, local artist Melissa Payne was the only woman-fronted act).

Peterborough is a vibrant city that boasts a thriving university, a unique downtown, and a distinct art culture. Despite these qualities, it is not, apparently, insulated from the systemic inequalities that plague the music industry. The findings of the Festival Report Card are a disappointing reminder of the lack of representation on stage that too often goes unnoticed.

CWWIM’s definition of a woman-fronted act includes bands that have at least one woman-identifying person in a “significant role.” The grades don’t represent actual equality of numbers, but the basic inclusion of the female perspective, even in an otherwise all-male band. This makes the F grades of Peterborough Musicfest and the Hootenanny even more disheartening.

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A lack of diversity at festivals is a problem, and not just because it adds additional barriers for women musicians in an already-challenging industry. As CWWIM’s Candace Shaw argued in the pages of this magazine, gender equity “makes for a more interesting, varied lineup that holds the audience’s attention better. Some festival presenters have reported that women attendees at their events feel more welcome, even safer, at festivals where the lineup includes more women. And frankly, a lot of women musicians are kicking the asses of their male colleagues, musically speaking.”

The report is ultimately optimistic, however, stating the “numbers below reflect a serious and positive change in the number of women-fronted bands on festival stages—over the past four years, numbers have definitely increased.” Although, “even festivals with A grades have a long way to go,” progress is being made. The next steps are to address other imbalances in the industry, such as pay equity and increased representation of marginalized artists.

The Festival Report Card is not a tool for shaming festivals, but “is presented in the spirit of information-sharing” because “often bookers and Artistic Directors don’t realize how off-balance their lineup [is].” It serves as a reminder for music fans also, that we have a responsibility in our community to help address this imbalance.

Peterborough has a way to go until women share the stage equally. Thankfully, “doing your part” is as pleasant as attending local shows with women-fronted acts. Together, we can make a better Peterborough.


This article is part of our series “The Four Themes,” exploring four key areas of focus that Electric City Magazine will be following throughout 2018.

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Sarah Bea

Sarah Bea

Sarah Bea is a musician and recovering graduate student, living in Peterborough Ontario.