Brooklyn-based pop artist Birch is no stranger to sexist behavior. In her new single, “Spelling Lessons,” she writes about her first memory of sexism with a school librarian who chastised her for “distracting” the boys with her outfit. Recently, she sat down with The Tempest to talk about female empowerment and the importance of speaking out.
The Tempest: You’ve been described as a “voice for female empowerment.” What does the term “female empowerment” mean to you?
Birch: To me, female empowerment is about helping women step up in the world and overcome the adversity we’ve faced throughout history. We’ve come a long way in the past 100 years, but we still aren’t at a state of complete equality. The laws may have changed, but many people’s mindsets have not. Until we reach true equality, we need to keep empowering women and educating men.
Your album was inspired by the 2016 presidential elections. How has writing music about your experience as a woman right now helped you deal with your emotions around the current political environment?
I started writing this album in 2017, just as Trump took office, as a way to cope with the devastation that I, and so many others, was feeling. Writing this album has been like doing a deep dive into the aggressions and micro-aggressions that I have faced as a woman in my lifetime. It also drove me to look back into my family history and a history of domestic violence that my great grandmother faced.
You’ve talked about how the song “Spelling Lessons” was inspired by an experience where a school librarian chastised you for your clothing, and that this was “the first time I was taught that girls exist FOR boys, not WITH boys.” Do you have any advice for young women on how to fight or speak out about these kinds of sexist messages we receive?
Honestly, I’m still learning how to speak out too. It’s hard because we’ve been taught that things like this are “not a big deal” and brainwashed into believing it. Nobody wants to step up and be seen as “dramatic” or “overemotional”. But unless we step up and talk about what makes us uncomfortable, nothing is going to change. My advice to young women is to surround yourself with other young women who will support you and bolster you up. The days of female competition are over; it’s time for female solidarity.
Since you’ve started using your music and platform to talk about feminist issues, what kind of a reaction have you felt from your audience and from the music industry?
I’ve received nothing but positive reactions from my audience, especially women – because we’ve all been through some form of the experience I wrote about in “Spelling Lessons.” I love getting messages from people saying things like, “OMG this happened to me too, I was so mad about it, but didn’t know what to say because it’s just how things were”. It feels like we’re finally in a time where we’re all having the same light bulb moment, the same realization that the way we’ve been treated has not been ok.
Besides speaking out through your music, what kind of actions do you take on a daily basis to speak out about or fight sexism like the kind you experienced in that moment? Do you have any advice or thoughts for other folks looking to do the same?
I advocate for and support organizations that are fighting for women, such as Planned Parenthood and use my social media platforms (@birchmusicnyc) to speak out. I’ve also been doing a deep dive into what it means to be white and feminist, and the responsibility I have to fight for the rights of black and indigenous women as well as, if not more than, my own. I’ve been following the work of activists like Rachel Cargle and Layla Saad (she has a fantastic program called ‘Me and White Supremacy’ – go check it out) and doing the mental work to dismantle “white feminism” within myself and my community.
My advice to others looking to speak out about feminist issues is to learn from people who don’t look like you and help raise up other women by helping them share their work with the world. Speak up about what you believe in, use your social media platforms (people are going to unfollow you, but you’ll be fine) and engage with people in your community.
Birch’s new album, femme.one will be released on April 5th. Her new single, “Spelling Lessons” is out now and you can can follow her on social media @birchmusicnyc.
This article was edited for length and clarity.