Jenna Winston


June 2, 2016


How old are you?


Where are from originally?

I’m from Long Island, New York.

How long have you been in New Orleans?

This is my sixth year or my seventh year. Almost seven years.

What made you stay?

I love it here. I just feel included here. In New York I didn’t feel that way but I was also 17 and who wants to include a 17 year old?

In what capacity would you say you are a part of the NO music community?

I’m a young performer who is new to the scene and new to the business. In a casual capacity, music isn’t my only career, I’ll say it that way. I’m kind of pursuing two careers.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

My first instinct was to say that sexism is treating someone worse than someone else solely in virtue of their biological sex. And then I thought about it and I’m not sure what the exact definition of sexism or racism or the isms are but I know that there’s an argument for racism that says you’re only doing something racist if it’s against a minority race. And I thought about that as it would apply to sexism and I thought about what it is to be masculine and what is it to be feminine. To be masculine is to be strong, so if the counterpart to that is femininity, being feminine must mean to be weak. There is a kind of a systematic way of thinking that makes being a women the worse one to be. So I’m not sure if I think sexism is treating somebody differently because of their gender whether or not they’re a man or a women or if it’s treating a women differently because she’s a women and if there is a difference.

Do you remember being told or taught anything growing up about your behavioral expectations as a girl versus what your male peers were told?

Doing things “like a girl” is doing things weakly. I felt like I couldn’t play sports or I couldn’t play the bass. I wanted to play the bass growing up and then my parents told me little girls take singing lessons not take bass lessons. It worked out, I love singing but things that are associated with strength or physical energy aren’t considered feminine. Because of that, you don’t play sports with your friends, you play with Barbies. You’re not confident you can run the mile in gym class because running like a girl means running like an idiot.

How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?

Just mad. It doesn’t even make me feel weak anymore. It used to make me feel like “Oh right, I forgot my place, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.” And then when some traction gathered in the media for women apologizing and what that means. That really resonated with me and I was like “Damn. I do that. Why? Why do I do that?” Seriously just because I’m a woman. I apologize for being a woman. It’s kind of like an early detection system for sexist people because if somebody acts in a sexist way and I combat it and I know in my heart that all I’m doing is asserting my opinion or giving input and not apologizing for it and they respond negatively to that, I probably don’t want to associate with that person. Now when you are sexist to me, to me you are a small minded person and I want nothing to do with you. That’s how I feel.

I’ve come across the idea that there are different forms of sexism. Breaking it down into subtle sexism and blatant sexism, is your reaction the same to both of those?

The people that I interact with know better and they know they could be called out for blatant sexism. But I worked in a restaurants owned by sleazy, middle aged men and then there was blatant sexism. But I was too young to recognize it so I didn’t really respond appropriately. They would say things like “Do you get Brazilian waxes or bikini waxes?", “If you tell a woman she’s beautiful, she’ll forgive you for anything”, “If you don’t find a husband by the time you’re 27, kill yourself because your life’s over.” That’s what our boss would tell us as 18 year old girls. So that was blatant. As a woman in music, I deal with mostly men. If I’m standing in a circle of men that I know and a new man walks over, I’d say four out of five times the man introduces himself to all the other men and then skips over me. I’m not going to stop the situation and be like “You’re an asshole,” but in my head I’m like “You’re an asshole!” I mentally mark that person. I won’t treat them badly but I won’t seek them out or try to help them or be their friend. And it’s tough because a lot of men—especially when you’re in a majority male situation—nobody wants to hear it when you’re like “That guy didn’t introduce himself to me!” People are like “calm down, you anxious woman.” I’ve gone back and forth with myself about the best way to deal with subtle sexism because there is a really fine line. I think of it as an analogy to cooking fish. There’s this huge block of time where the fish is underdone, then it’s good, but then a second later, it’s dry. That’s how being a feminist is to me. You’re not saying stuff, you’re not fulfilling your responsibility, then there’s a small window where maybe it’s ok to say something against it and then all of a sudden, you’re a raging feminist and everybody hates you. So that’s something I still struggle with. There’s this very small window where it’s ok to express ideas about feminism.

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way?

No. That’s also something I’ve been thinking about. I’m in a band with one other woman and the rest are men. Her and I will have talks on our own about what happened in band practice and what the best way for us to get our ideas across would be and we always go to each other before we put forth ideas to the guys. They’re all good guys and they’re not trying to be sexist but if one of them has an idea versus if I have an idea, the response is different and her and I have realized that. I realized that I was going to her before I was going to the whole band anytime I had an idea and I said to her one day “What are we doing? We have these secret meetings all the time and we never talked about why.” Our ideas and our beings are less respected than theirs and we didn’t even realize it because they’re our friends.

Do you think they realize?

They definitely don’t realize. They have the ideas and principles, they believe in the cause but I realized that they respond so much more strongly to each other than they do to us and I was like, “That’s sexist!”

How do you feel about the fact that some forms of sexism are so engrained that both men and women can’t even register it?

I’m not going to lie, it makes me feel hopeless because if I, the abused, can’t even see the abuse, then how do I tell someone they have abused me? I’ll say it this way: if I were a man I would say why does it even matter then? If somebody said “I’m abused all the time but I don’t notice when I’m abused so I can’t tell you exactly what it is,” I would tell them to shutup. I would. Because it’s like how do you want me to help you if you don’t even know when you need help? I get that. But then I get so upset when I realize the things after the fact. You can’t bring up three weeks later that this one guy didn’t introduce himself to you when he introduced himself to the men you were standing with and that’s sexist. But in the moment you know that something is off and that you are less than for some reason. It’s not obvious to me that I’m being treated less than because I’m a woman. I just have the sense that I’m being treated as less than and that really weighs on me. It weighed on my self-confidence for a long time before I started to become aware of it. There have always been these instances where I’m in a group of men and I realize that I don’t have the same status as everybody else and I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. I thought it was because I was stupid or weak or didn’t have as much to say or wasn’t as interesting. And I realize now it’s just that men treat women differently than they treat each other and it’s shitty. It’s a nice thing to realize that I’m awesome and they’re just sexist.

I find very often that when I do try to address sexist things, the most common responses are “It was a joke”, “You know I didn’t mean that.”

People get scared. I get it. As a white woman I say ignorant things sometimes and I don’t mean to and hopefully somebody calls me out on it—actually that’s how I met my boyfriend. My boyfriend is black and I said something that I shouldn’t have and he called me out on it. And he did it in a way that was like “Let me help you understand what you did wrong,” and I was like “That’s cool, I want to date you.” My point being, I’ve been in that position, I understand that it’s uncomfortable but it’s like people need to buck up and accept the fact that sometimes they say things that are wrong even if they didn’t mean to.

That’s a really great way of putting it. Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you?

This is the saddest, hardest, most infuriating part about the fight for feminism and against sexism is that no, I can’t really. And I know it happens every single day. People try to touch me but I can’t tell you who and I can’t tell you when because it happens all the time. It’s semantics and politics and little logical loopholes and if you address it, men are able to deny it. Because if these things make you feel bad, that’s not enough. There has to be a very clear reason why what they did is wrong and what you did is right before they’re even willing to discuss it. I try to just forget about it. But I know that it happens because I’m familiar with the sensation of not being respected, of being treated less than, of people talking down to me. And it’s not fair. It’s like my brain shuts down so that I don’t feel miserable all the time. I can’t give clear examples and that’s what’s hard because you need proof to even have the conversation with someone. The fact that every woman I talk to about this also knows the feeling I’m talking about means it’s definitely a thing. But men say “What’s an example? Oh you don’t have one? It must not be real.”

When I was thinking about this project and starting to reach out to people regarding interviews, in my head it was going to be something where everyone just shared anecdotes and stories and it’s become something so much bigger and so much more conceptual. It shows that we’re all consistently thinking about this. We have spent time and energy on it and are analyzing it and it’s even more mindboggling than it already was.

I think about it every single day without fail.

While I can only see things through the filter that is my eyes and my brain, I know that men do experience sexism. There’s cultural norms and constructs that say you have this genitalia so you have to be like this. But I sometimes feel like the small percentage of men that are willing or able to talk about it are overshadowed by the fear of not talking about it.

Did you watch Emma Watson’s speech at the UN?

I have seen that. I love it.

I love it because she says if men didn’t have to be dominant, women wouldn’t have to be submissive. It’s the answer. It’s the answer for men and for women. Let’s just do away with these stereotypes. Let’s do away with the fragility of masculinity.

I want to say to all my male friends that if they feel like that, I want to talk about it, I want you to talk about it. But the second you say the word sexism, the room shuts down.

How would you feel if a black person said to you, “When do you feel like the victim of racism?”

That would be really hard to answer.

It would be really uncomfortable.

I would feel like whatever I said would pale in comparison.

Right? And then it would turn into this competition of victimhood.

People are fighting over the fact that they’ve experienced pain when we should be bonding over it.

Why don’t we just not cause each other pain?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One of the stereotypes of women is that we’re over emotional and therefore not as fit as a man to do things like manage a company or be the bread-winner for a family. We would let our periods get in the way of doing those things. When you’re talking to somebody about feminism and you get upset and worked up because it’s an issue that affects you every single day and that you think about all the time, it makes me feel so bad about yourself. But when realize that it’s not you that’s the problem and that it’s something else entirely, you feel angry at that thing. These are human emotions we feel because we’re humans. Yet if you talk about it in an emotional way, you’re fulfilling the stereotype so what the fuck do you do? It’s human to be emotional especially about something that hurts you and makes your life worse. Yet we can’t speak about it emotionally because we’re confirming everything they believe about us.

There’s a whole culture of listening to respond instead of listening to listen and when I read that somewhere, I thought holy crap, that’s so true. Because I do that!

I do that too because I like to talk. And I get it. But it’s hard because if we start feeling resentment toward men for expressing their opinions, how are we ever going to have a conversation about this? Is it reasonable to expect men to sit down and listen while we go on and on and on about how awful everything is for us? No. It’s not reasonable, I wouldn’t want to do that if I was a man especially if I’m not affected by the thing at hand. So what’s effective here? What could we actually do to make things better? I have no idea.

I know that these things are wrong and that they hurt me and yet I don’t have a solution. How do I reconcile those two?

And do you expect a man to come up with a solution?

Clearly no.

It has to be us. Why would they waste their energy on something that isn’t for them? Ideally they would, but they won’t.

Especially when they’ve grown up viewing it as something that is an attack on them.

But it’s hard for us to not come across as attacking because we’re emotional and we’re emotional not because we are women but  because we’re human with an amygdala and a limbic system and when you talk about things like this, you feel it.