Singer-songwriter Julia Barry speaks about feminist activism online and in music.
Forget sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Julia Barry is a musician, but not that kind. For this WAM!er from Brooklyn, it’s more like feminism, web consulting, and jazz n’ blues. Or as she would say, “small groups, coffee and tea, and board games.” When she’s not fronting her self-titled band, writing music, directing rehearsal and planning tours, she’s “web consulting for progressive projects,” that we all know and love, such as She Writes and SPARK.
And right now, Julia Barry is fighting for you. Why? Because she just created an online petition against Facebook for their use of the “Promote” button, a new feature prompting Page owners to pay money in order to reach more followers. The button may seem insignificant but it affects all of us, whether we’re page owners or individual Facebook users. As her petition explains, the feature garners a reaction something like this: “Wait, what? I don’t see everything posted by Pages that I’ve Liked? And Fans of my Pages aren’t seeing all my posts? Nope. Not even close.”
“I want to keep Facebook accountable to its users,” Barry says of the site that claims that it is and always will be free of charge. As a musician, Barry knows that many Page owners, like us over here at WAM!, do not have entire marketing teams or endless resources to pool for advertising. But organizations that don’t pay money to “Promote” only reach a small percentage of followers, leading to a gap between Page activity and the audience it reaches. Top stories and “Shares” may only reach 7% of people who have liked a Page. Thus, the petition, “Keep Facebook open to all voices – Stop charging Page owners to update Fans.” According to Barry, “It’s a slippery slope: I’m fighting the slow commercialization of one of the most popular public spaces on the internet.” On June 25th, the petition reached 250 signatures. Today, it’s at 293. Barry is hoping that soon enough she’ll have 10,000.
When she’s not working on web activism, Barry is navigating her female and feminist identity in the male-dominated music industry, which definitely has its own challenges. “I try to create authentic and honest messages about women’s struggles and women’s rights or maintaining hope and imagining a healthier globe,” but “being a woman in a public space and saying that, for someone who is feminist, can become political awfully fast.” At times performing can invite sexist comments about her clothing or unfair treatment because of her higher-pitched voice. “I think people really mean well a lot of the time, but I’m inviting them to engage with my art, and the performance, and the performance space that I create when I’m on stage. Trying to conduct myself as a feminist in the industry is challenging.”
Even then, Barry says that one of the best parts about singing her own lyrics is that “I can say my own opinion without criticism, judgment, or debate. And I can say it in a nonconventional, nonconversational kind of way.” Even if she encounters sexism, singing “definitely is a way to come to voice with things I’m concerned about.” As a woman, being able to inhabit her body, own her performance space, and create true musical expression in a sexist world is pretty empowering.
Gender has also colored Barry’s experience in plenty of positive ways. “There are definitely less women around, but I have a male producer who completely supports me. Of course there are performers and producers who are very supportive and equally hardworking, collaborative.” For Barry, one colleague in particular stood out. “I was impressed with the woman who engineered my album and that she was working in a studio where she was the only woman. She’s the one tweaking the knobs and doing the technical job. Usually, you’d walk into a studio and there would be a woman behind the front counter greeting you and it’s the guys who are setting up the mics and recording and using Pro Tools. There’s usually not too many women there. I just loved the fact that it wasn’t a big deal that she was a woman. They hired her because she’s talented and does an amazing job. And her colleagues treated her with the utmost respect.”
When asked if she has any advice for other young women in the industry, Julia offered: “Be authentic. Be strong, and don’t give up. And email me.” And sign her Facebook petition. And while you do that, listen to some of her sweeeeet harmonies.