Bróna Keogh is an Irish singer songwriter who has been active in the Irish music since the early 2010s. Bróna reached out to us and asked if she could share her experience as a woman in music.
Sometimes stereotypes are born out of fear or hate, sometimes they are aggravated by propaganda but there are cases when stereotypes are born out of a truth and the origin of that truth carries a deeper wound from which the behaviour manifests.
I started singing when I was a kid. I sang in the choir, with my cousin Michelle or in the back of my parent’s car. Disney was my life and musicals brought me so much joy. Music was always there. It was my friend when I felt I had none. Even now it holds my hand when I cry or lifts me up when I’m feeling low.
As a child I clung to my little tape player, the Playmobil one with the microphone on the side. While my parents watched TV in the sitting room, I was in the dining room making up dances or singing along to Celine Dion, Boyzone, Dr Hook and The Rankin Family. I learned traditional songs from my Mum and her family. A lot of my friends played music too.
My female friends did lessons and played around the campfire but my male friends were in bands, gigging around the place and performing. That’s how it looked to me. I knew of performers like Heathers and my friend Christina Quill, but they weren’t in my immediate circles during that really formative stage of my teens.
The people I knew loved music. They were very vocal about what they liked and didn’t like. There was lots of music that was ‘gay’ or ‘shit’ – terms incorrectly used to describe anything that wasn’t masculine, with a dash of homophobia to round it off. Any time a woman who played music came into our sphere, either through mainstream notoriety or within our wider community; there were four main observations that were made.
- That she was hot.
- That she was not hot.
- That she was actually pretty good for a girl.
- That she was shit.
I don’t know if that was all that was said, but for my spongy little teenage brain, these were the messages that were the loudest and formed the deepest trenches in my mind. They formed a tight little connection of perceptions that I have had to work really hard to change.
With this chorus of opinion ringing through my mind, how would I be able to pick up a guitar or a set of drumsticks and join in with ‘the lads’? From where I stood, it seemed that the mere motion of picking up a guitar was an invitation to represent all women. With this chorus of doubt in my mind, the echoing noise of small but painful jabs from my peers, what room was there to even try?
Now, I am not every woman and it is not all in me! I am just me, right and I have my own demons and my own issues. These messages might not have had the same effect on the women around me. Maybe they didn’t hear them? Or maybe they did, and they decided that they were going to do defy those stereotypes. I did not rise above or decide to defy, I shrunk and I froze. I was terrified.
It wasn’t the conflict that motivated me because my inner world was already so conflicted. It was the subsequent years of support, encouragement, praise and approval from some amazing men and women in my life that helped me to push through. My vision was so blurred and so warped that I couldn’t see or hear anything but fear and doubt, but I was lucky to have friends like Caoimhe Barry, Christina Quill, Katie Lynn, Andy Keeling, Kev Banfield, Michiele Hogerzeil and many others that spurred me on and pushed me forward.
I had insane role models like Sarah Red, Amy Kelly, Wyvern Lingo, I Draw Slow and a host of incredible female musicians to carve a new version of what it meant to be a woman, in my immediate reality. That was so important, because for all the Joni Mitchell’s and Laura Marling’s in the world, there is no truer inspiration than the woman you touch, you speak to, you see and that sees you.
I was incredibly blessed to find understanding people to work with that recognised that when I was getting emotional, something was going on underneath, that I was struggling with self doubt and a massive monster of fear that pulled my puppet strings and made me move in the most horrific ways.
I still feel frozen at times, but every day I thaw a little thanks to the warm hands on my shoulders. The stereotypes of women you hear being divas or lacking in musical chops are completely redundant.
They are the misrepresentation of what for some women are behaviours or realities rooted in pain, trauma, bullying and sexism. They are useless and outdated and frankly, there have been so many cases to prove them wrong at this stage, it baffles me that they still carry weight at all. Especially in lieu of the beautiful Irish Women in Harmony cover of Dreams, released only weeks ago.
These dangerous words have the power to supersede every word of encouragement and land in the hearts of vulnerable women trying to find their way back to themselves and to discover their voice. Not just women, but any musician who expresses their vulnerability, their femininity or chooses to share who they are without adhering to anyone else’s standards, style, or opinion. Or to any person who struggles to advocate for themselves, to communicate or finds it hard to build trusting relationships.
So please, please, please, try to block out the noise. For every unhelpful criticism or malignant comparison someone makes, allow yourself to hear a compliment. Surround yourself with people who are caring and patient that can share their knowledge and gifts in a helpful way. Don’t be jealous, be inspired. There’s enough room for everyone despite how you feel at times.
Every performance you do has the potential to lift a spirit, warm a soul or soothe a pain. You don’t know who’s out there waiting for someone like you to share your story so that they feel seen, heard and understood.
Keep on keeping on ladies and so much love to the people that see us and that are brave enough to share in our pain and celebrate our wins. I hope we can do the same for you.