Frost Festival Ices Women Out: An Open Letter to the Stanford Concert Network

May 16, 2014, 12:20 a.m.

Dear Stanford Concert Network,

We love music; we love sunshine; we love Stanford tradition. The Frost Festival is a unique opportunity to bring these three things together, and we commend the Concert Network for the work it does in orchestrating the large-scale, celebrity-drenched affair. We can’t help but notice, though, that there’s a striking trend among the 31 performers you have brought to Stanford for the Frost Festival over the past three years. All of the 31 performers are male.

The Frost Festival is hailed as a revival of a countercultural music tradition; the performers it featured (including Joan Baez) have often famously and effectively advocated for equal rights, political activism and social justice. But the revival of the festival has failed the Frost tradition—and, more importantly, the students that support it—in its problematic underrepresentation of historically oppressed populations.

The Stanford Concert Network is sponsored by Stanford and is responsible to its constituents. In other words, our money (and lots of it) heavily subsidizes Frost. We ask that the Concert Network and its supervisors consider the dramatic evidence of bias in its choice of lineup and work to correct it for future years. The slighting of women violates the spirit of Title IX (to which Stanford is bound as a federally funded university) and undermines the fair and inclusive culture Stanford strives to maintain.

Let’s take a look, for a moment, at how the Frost Festival is advertised in contrast to the performances it offers. The organizers chose to publicize the pioneering Frost Revival with a poster featuring a thin blond white woman in a skirt so short it falls above where her groin should be; the second Frost Festival with yet another white, straight-haired woman with suggestively parted lips; and this year’s Festival with a woman’s nail-polished, many-ringed, and bracelet-laden hands. Obviously, women—adorned, sexualized women—are being used as poster-girls for the festival. Why is it, then, that not one of the performers on stage is a woman? The Frost Festival’s regrettable advertising coupled with its irresponsible lineup sends students a distressing message: women are observers, draws, advertisements, the “beautiful people” that the Concert Network prominently advertises will be in attendance. Women are valued for their bodies, not for talents of their own. Women are the image; men are the voice.

Is it really so difficult to find a female performer worthy of Stanford who’s available to perform? And why has nobody even seemed to notice the imbalance? Our faculty is still heavily male (a mere 27 percent are women), and female students are in the minority of undergraduates and constitute only 38 percent of the graduate population; must Stanford project males as its cultural icons, too?

Women aren’t the only casualties of the Concert Network’s selection. The musical taste these male groups represent is generally identified with white middle- to upper-class men. As individuals, many of us may happen to enjoy Dispatch and Yeasayer (this year’s headliners), and no doubt many white male musicians are talented, worthy, and popular. But when musical styles identified with and rooted in Black, Chicano, Latino, Asian, Native American and other communities are comparatively underrepresented, something is amiss. The Concert Network suffers from some blind spots in their selection process that call for immediate redress.

What message is the Concert Network’s choice of performers sending to the world about Stanford’s values and its community members? What message is it sending to Stanford students themselves about who does and doesn’t belong here? What are the long-term consequences of subsidizing and glorifying the music performed and valued by a privileged subset of our population?

As members of the Stanford community, the issues we’ve outlined here should also raise all of our awareness, about the organizations we vote to support with our Special Fees. It is our responsibility to monitor the inclusiveness, efficacy and fairness of the groups we support in order to ensure that our money is spent ethically and productively. Stanford students are privileged with the ability to vote on how Stanford spends its Special Fees money; we are therefore responsible for exercising due diligence in following and striving to better the practices of the organizations we support.

Not too long ago, the ASSU election approved the Stanford Concert Network for $256,175 in Special Fees, the largest amount approved for a single group this year. The Stanford African Students Association (SASA) was rejected for less than a tenth of that amount ($25,200). SASA has already written an op-ed addressing the results of the election; our objective is merely to bring to student attention to what our votes demonstrate about our priorities and (often unconscious) exclusions.

We hope that this letter will open conversation between the Concert Network and many of the underrepresented communities at Stanford, and we would love to be a part of ameliorating misrepresentation at the Frost Festival and the many analogous events for which it sets a precedent. Together with the Stanford students who fund and support it, we ask that the Concert Network take a long, hard look at the performers the Frost Festival chooses to promote and the consequences that those choices have for the Stanford community—not to mention for the artists denied opportunity and funding.

Women deserve to be on stage at Frost. Correcting this problem at home is the first step to ensuring Stanford’s women performers the recognition they’re due around the world when it comes time for them to leave the Farm. Besides, it stands to reason that expanding the pool of contenders will improve the music, too—and it will certainly expand its audience.



Annie Atura, WCC

Maggie Cremin, WCC

Tess Dufrechou, WCC

Nicole Gurtler, WCC

Simone Hudson, WCC

Annie Kaufman, WCC

Lan Anh Le, WCC

Tori Lewis, WCC

Uche Monu, WCC

Sarah Roberts, WCC

Vanessa Seals, WCC

Greeshma Somashekar, WCC


Contact the Women’s Community Center at [email protected].

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