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Clubland: Activist musicians unite to make history with ‘Wikipedia versus Women’

  • Emma Ayres

  • Erin McKeown Photo by Joanna Chattman

  • June Millington



Thursday, November 09, 2017

Tanya Pearson lives a life of research. She’s a Ph.D. student at UMass Amherst who in 2014 created the Women of Rock Oral History Project. It’s an ever-expanding collection of video interviews and written transcripts, housed at Smith College, documenting the lives and careers of women in rock who’ve been underrepresented — or not represented at all — by rock journalism and historical scholarship.

For the average person, research means looking something up on Wikipedia, the popular collaborative online encyclopedia. But as Pearson knows, information, no matter how important, won’t make it onto that website if it’s lacking “reliable sources” — which can’t exist if a subject doesn’t get covered in a way that’s deemed acceptable.

“It got me thinking about the language, like, ‘a notable source,’ and how that delegitimizes underground publications or zines… there are so many people who will never have access to [“notable”] media,” Pearson said.

After stories of failed attempts at creating and editing Wikipedia pages focusing on women, trans and nonbinary people in rock music (both local and national), Pearson has put together “Wikipedia versus Women,” a roundtable discussion at Click Workspace in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m. 

Participants include singer/songwriter/activist Erin McKeown, Lindsey Musielak (guitarist/vocalist of Strange Fate), Mod Behrens and Roz Leblanc from Walmart Romeo, Greg McKillop (RUUNE) and others.

“I see the discussion at Click as a part of the larger work of destroying the patriarchy and advancing true equality. Musicians and Wikipedia is as good a place to focus on as any,” McKeown said. “I’m also looking forward to more people knowing that Wikipedia isn’t some locked closet. Anyone can get in there and spar and advocate for both their own stories and for marginalized folks who don’t have the opportunity or resources to speak for themselves.”

Musielak, who is also a local music promoter, said, “The gender discrepancy on Wikipedia, and more specifically the lack of history of women in music, is problematic. As a female musician, I think it’s important to be a part of this discussion because this is where the work gets done — on a grassroots, local level. By sharing ideas and opinions with other women in the community, we can confront head-on the void of the female presence in music. I tend to avoid sites like Wikipedia to obtain knowledge on this subject. There’s such a wealth of first-hand information that exists that using Wikipedia as a primary source seems obsolete to me. Why not look to the people who’ve lived it, who’ve been there, who are currently doing it?”

The roundtable’s related event is a night full of musicians who are “currently doing it,” a live concert entitled “A Night of Primary Source Performance.” It has been put together by Amherst musician Emma Ayres (of the band Old Flame), in hopes of generating source material on the participating artists so that Wikipedia pages can one day be created. The free show takes place at The Parlor Room in Northampton on Monday, Nov. 20 at 6 p.m., featuring a multi-generational lineup that includes June Millington, Julie Cira & The Wake, Lexi Weege, Flame N' Peach & the Liberated Waffles, Kalliope Jones, Walmart Romeo, Kimaya Diggs, Lady Jane, The Paper City Picture Show, SMARTYR and many more.