“Overcoming the Patriarchy Effect”: An Essay by Meris Gantt for Women’s History Month

Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography
Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography
In honor of Women’s History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, North Carolina indie folk artist Meris Gantt shares her essay, “Overcoming the Patriarchy Effect,” as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Women’s History Month series. Formerly a member of Boone, NC-based American Roots band Mountain Radio, Gantt currently spearheads in Handlebar Betty, whose music is a melting pot of bluegrass, folk, blues, and soul. The band independently released their debut EP, ‘Garage Apartment,’ in September 2021.
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by Meris Gantt

My name is Meris Gantt. I’m a songwriter and Indie Folk artist in the mountains of North Carolina.

I didn’t grow up seeing gender inequality in anything. My Mom raised me and my four sisters to do whatever we wanted with no regard for those societal norms. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve questioned the “patriarchy effect” and how it relates to my path as an artist. I started performing at a young age. My childhood and college years were more specific to the Music Theatre genre though as a family, we were very much into the folk, Americana and bluegrass world, traveling to concerts and festivals together.

The male dominated folk and bluegrass industry was idealized in my family. Female performers were equally celebrated but certainly judged through a more critical lens and held to a higher standard.

I think the “patriarchy effect” can play out in very subtle ways that you don’t notice until you start to peel back the layers. It wasn’t until years of therapy after giving up alcohol that I realized the ways in which I suppressed my feminine self.

Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography
Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography

I had a strong  sense of self censorship even in my early years of songwriting. I very much downplayed any sort of softness or femininity in my songs. I had a high level of perfectionism and was careful not to put any content out into the universe that might seem “sappy or weak or over indulgent.”

When I look back at my 20s and 30s, playing at local dives with predominantly male bands, I didn’t feel like I could bring any songs to the table that were “overly girly” because that just felt uncomfortable. I developed a sense that in order for a song to be marketable, it needed to be more driving and less lyrical. Of course there’s a time and a place for the quieter and more reflective songs and when you’re mostly playing bar gigs, that’s not really it.

I’ve used songwriting as an artistic outlet as well as a portal to my otherwise subconscious thoughts. I write to get ideas out of my head and onto a page but even so, there’s still this sense of needing to groom them for public consumption. If I did allow myself to write anything on the softer side, I would be riddled with self doubt and give 100 disclaimers before playing it for anyone.

It’s only now that I’m in my 40s that I’m even STARTING to let myself simply write with no thought towards an outcome or how it might seem to someone listening on the other end. Purely writing just to write. There’s a vulnerability to writing without those walls around me. I’m excited to see what comes through in the next chapter.

Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography
Meris Gantt © Enowen Photography

In a lot of ways being a woman in the music industry has made me tough and well rounded.

You really have to fight to be heard and have a seat at the table. I’ve had to learn to market, self promote, stand my ground and charge what I know we’re worth.

There’s also a degree of exhaustion that comes with it that keeps being a musician from just being about the music and creativity. Being the “Mom” of the band means not only writing, recording and performing but also booking, scheduling practices, making sure everyone knows how to get to the venue and is dressed appropriately. It’s easy to get burnt out when you just want to create but then there are the 10 other jobs that come along with that.

Overall I think there’s a sense of “bad ass-ness” that comes from working in a male dominated field. Dude bands are a dime a dozen and bands with girls are just more fun!  I went from being the only girl in a 4 piece band to one of two girls in a 6 piece band to now having 3 girls in a 5 piece band. The whole journey has been a blast but I’m loving how the scales are tipping right now. – Meris Gantt

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