Delivering a powerful punch both lyrically and sonically, War On Women is the feminist, hardcore punk band everyone should be paying attention to. We talked with their singer Shawna Potter about feminism in music and their upcoming debut full-length, out in February on Bridge Nine Records. Check them out on tour this winter with Propagandhi and RVIVR.
by Paige Kochanski & Elizabeth Tolbert
Open Our Eyes: For those who may not know, can you briefly explain what War on Women is and how you guys decided to form this project?
War On Women: War On Women is a feminist punk band. We wanted to sing/scream about issues that mattered to us that we felt were not getting enough attention in the media, the same issues and rights women and LGBTQ folks have been fighting for decades.
OOE: You guys are included on the ‘This Concerns Everyone’ compilation. What can you tell us about that LP?
WOW: We feel very honored and humbled to be among such a great group of songwriters, and I really love the idea of everyone having their own version of a protest song on one record. When AF Records approached us about submitting a song, it was a no-brainer.
OOE: Is there anything you can reveal about your upcoming, debut full-length?
WOW: It’s coming out in February of 2015 on Bridge 9 Records – you should buy it! OK no really, it covers a lot of territory, subject-wise, and we’re really proud of how it came out. Actually, the acoustic/stripped down version of “Servilia” is performed by the entire band on our upcoming full length. Nice bonus if you happen to like that song.
OOE: In the music scene, what is the best change you’ve noticed over the years and what needs the most improvement, as far as how woman are perceived?
WOW: There are definitely more women playing and getting bits of attention locally and nationally; we’re just seeing more women on stage, I think. That is important to show that our gender is not a genre – we’re playing different instruments, at different proficiency levels, and writing different kinds of music – just like men! Imagine that! It’s not enough, though, so until each show has at least a few women involved, people of color, and LGBTQ folks, then we won’t have true equality in music.
OOE: In a recent feature with Alternative Press, Shawna was one of the five female musicians, out of 37, to respond about their experiences with sexism. Since it’s such an unsettling topic that so many woman experience in their lifetime, why do you think that it’s still treated as such a taboo topic to acknowledge and discuss?
WOW: Luckily, it’s getting less and less taboo. People are sick and tired of dealing with harassment and violence because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Thanks to awesome organizations like Hollaback!, we’re finding a better framework and language to talk about it, which really helps, too. But really, I think taboo is the wrong word. Our society is so used to silencing women and not believing them, so when women tell their truths, it’s purposely ignored or accused of being false so that they can keep on benefiting from a system that oppresses women.
OOE: In response to that Alternative Press article, a lot of women expressed the belief that it is not up to women to educate men on sexism. Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment?
WOW: Both! It’s 2014, any resource you want on how to dismantle sexism or be a good ally to women is out there and you should do your own research. But, luckily, there are other loudmouthed women like me out there. We will tell you when something is fucked up, so it is imperative that you listen – not only so we don’t have to continually repeat ourselves, but so you can then educate other men. Help us!
OOE: How do you think society in general could improve on empowering girls from a young age to know that they can do anything in life?
WOW: Encourage team sports, stop commenting on their appearance, and allow boys to cry. I don’t know, I’m happily childless.
OOE: What artists do you think are worth listening to right now?
WOW: Right this second, Propagandhi.
OOE: You just finished up an August tour with Propagandhi in North America. How were the shows?
WOW: Great, both they and RVIVR are great to tour with, and they’re social-justice minded. Very easy to get along with! We are actually going back out with them in December and January, down to Texas and Florida, some come out and say hi!
OOE: The feminist mission in general that is the driving force behind War on Women’s music and the band’s formation has always been, and still is, a subject of much controversy. Have you found it difficult to get others to take your music and yourselves seriously?
WOW: Well, anyone that wouldn’t take us seriously in this band probably wouldn’t take any of the women seriously no matter what band they’re in, so we might as well be fighting the good fight. I think if people listen to our music, they wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss us.
OOE: There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how women are portrayed in music, particularly the number, or lack of, women represented at festivals and in magazines. Two main points that are frequently brought up are 1. that there aren’t as many bands with female members compared to bands with all male members and 2. How to determine what an equal represented number of female artists truly is (ex: exactly 50/50 at a festival, etc.). What is your response to those points of view? Is it your experience that there are fewer female artists than male? And what do you believe would be an appropriate numerical representation of female artists on festival rosters and in the media?
WOW: While this is probably best left to someone who loves statistics, I understand that 50/50 might not be possible. My best guess is 40/50, a number big enough that when you do see a woman on stage there is no “Oh my god, a woman’s on stage! Wow!” reaction.
OOE: Actress Emma Watson recently addressed the United Nations with a speech and campaign launch that’s main focus is to recruit men to the feminist mission. Do you think so much emphasis should be placed on how feminism affects men, and do you agree with her that true equality will come to women once men are free from gender stereotypes?
WOW: I think women have been fighting for their own equality long enough, and it’s time for men to do some of the work. If the masses have not been swayed by the idea of equal human rights for women is good enough on it’s own, then maybe seeing a benefit to them personally (freedom from toxic masculinity, etc) will do it. I believe in diverse tactics. I believe in conversations, however imperfect, where their were none before. I think an end to gender stereotypes will benefit everyone, especially those most disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, transgender women, especially trans women of color.
*Photo by Josh Sisk