Having played in punk, garage and indie bands for a few years, Hayley Beth went solo in 2007 playing with numerous instrumentalists and has since released a few nuggets here and there: a solo EP and an album with a band. Her latest incarnation errs into electronic territory, ditching her soul leanings for something more sinister. As well as being a vocal wonder, Hayley is completing a double degree in psychology and gender studies. She also deals with chronic illness and disability on a daily basis. I sat down with her to chat a little about music, gender, sexuality, and disability.
Jasmine: How do you feel about being a woman in Perth’s local music scene? Does it allow you to explore the things you want to (stylistically, emotionally, etc), or have you felt impeded by it?
When I first started doing solo gigs, around 2007-2008, I did find that I would get pigeon-holed a lot, and it would make me incredibly angry. I mean, I was generally pretty angry all the time at that point in my life, but constantly being compared to other female, solo artists in Perth started to drain me. Any time I would get reviewed I would just be pissed off for any number of reasons.
I don’t feel that way any more though. Maybe it’s because my sound has changed a little, or I’m a bit older, but ultimately I don’t really have the energy to get upset about little things. Instead, I just feel this general sense of openness and respect for other female musicians now. I’m not competitive, I’m just stoked to see anyone getting up and being true to what they want to do. And that’s not to deny that I am still extremely adamant about “FEMALE” not being a genre – that still gets me fired up, but… Having chronic fatigue will do that to you. I just don’t have the energy to waste on petty irritations any more. It’s much easier on my body and my mind. So actually, being sick for a long time has possibly taught me to be a marginally better person.
Jasmine: You often speak openly on social media about issues relating to gender, illness, and the beauty industry. What are the main messages you hope people take with them after reading?
Hayley: Well, as a woman, a musician, and also someone who is disabled / chronically ill / mentally ill, I find it hard to avoid thinking about how all these labels relate to the body I happen to inhabit, and its subsequent interactions. It’s impossible
for me not to think about the way female musicians in the mainstream media are expected to not only be artists, but also models, whilst their male counterparts are hardly criticised with a similar intensity. And when you possess a body that doesn’t conform to the expectations of the media, to the medical gaze, to a society that values a person’s contribution to society by how much they work – it’s hard not to think about how restrictive systems, reductive binaries and unrealistic expectations can wear a person down. So I guess my only intention is to get people thinking and considering such constructs as privilege and how intersections of gender and disability can shape a person’s lived experiences. Health doesn’t always correlate with physical appearance, and I can still be really healthy whilst being chronically ill.
Jasmine: As a psych student, majoring in gender studies- what drew you to this? And where do you see it taking you?
Hayley: To be honest, a couple of years ago I wasn’t able to get out of bed, let alone think about attempting to complete a double degree, so I’m just really happy to be going into my third year and thoroughly using my brain again, as challenging as it is. I really want to do some sort of work or research into developing a better understanding of chronic pain, neuroplasticity, or perhaps the application of mindfulness therapy in chronic pain. I’ve recently been doing some volunteer work with Indigenous rights at Amnesty International as well, so who knows where that will take me.
But the main reason I was drawn to Gender Studies, apart from my strong feelings about disability and intersectionality, is the overwhelming rates of women who are affected by chronic pain conditions. Fibromyalgia, for example, affects women 11 times more than men, and I hear from women in the support groups all the time, saying that doctors dismiss their pain as psychosomatic (as if psychosomatic pain is any less debilitating!) or solely treating them for mental disorders. These women are often denied access to proper treatment and made to feel like hypochondriacs. I’ve been through this. It can take up to ten years just to get a formal diagnosis, and by then the risks for depression, anxiety, agoraphobia – the list goes on – are much higher than if they’d had earlier intervention. So I really want to be able to advocate some kind of change in this area, somehow. Unfortunately, because of my health, I can’t plan too far ahead in the future, but I’m still hopeful.
Jasmine: What makes you feel the most empowered? Be it physically, emotionally, personally.
Hayley: I really like animals, natural phenomena, science and history. I love learning about how incredible the world is, despite all the shitty things that humans do. Surrounding myself with good, honest, non-humans (and kids, kids are awesome) makes me feel better about the world. I also know a lot of amazing women with chronic illnesses who kick ass every day, despite being in constant, intense physical pain. Once you survive some crap like that, there’s not much you can’t do.
Jasmine: What’s the biggest change you’d like to see happen with gender equality in the next 5 years?
Hayley: Ah, this is hard! I will try my best. Here are 4 things:
- Stop policing women on what is a “good” or a “bad” feminist. This is not helpful and only slows progress.
- Close the gender pay gap, obviously, but acknowledge that it’s not just about plain ‘ole gender equality – men of colour get paid less than some white women and it’s a whole other story when you start looking at intersections of race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.
- I would like to see the entire gender equality conversation, i.e. in media, to also include sex workers and trans/queer people. People of all genders deserve human rights.
- I would like to see greater steps taken to reduce the overwhelming rates of domestic violence against women in Australia. A first step towards this would be for Tony Abbot to appoint an actual Minister for Women.ok one more thing…
- an actual Minister for Science and Indigenous Affairs would also be so nice. I don’t think this is too much to ask.