How Josie Proto Made a Women’s Safety Pop Song

Josie Proto does not tolerate chat calls. A few days ago, as she drove home – in a swollen muscle car that belonged to her boyfriend, she says that a “little blonde girl” like her is not expected to drive – a construction worker let out a wolf hissed and blew a few peeping kisses, all aimed at her.

“I just felt that thrill,” said Proto, a 20-year-old British pop singer and TikTok personality. “I couldn’t stand that asshole.” Proto ignored the two-way traffic and made a three-point turn to stop next to the man. “I hit my brakes and rolled down my window and I was like, ‘Did you just make faces at me?’ He said, ‘No, no.’ I said, ‘Good, because if you did, I’d be rolling on your foot now.’ Then I made another three point turn and accelerated.

“It was the craziest thing I have ever done!” Proto said, stunned, in a Zoom interview with The Daily Beast. “I really don’t think he will do that to girls anymore. It made me feel so much stronger.

It’s also a great plug-in for her new single, released in June, titled “I Just Wanna Walk Home”. In blunt and blunt terms, the lyrics detail the different ways young women make sure they get home safely after a night out or a late commute. She mentions that she holds the keys to the house like brass knuckles, makes sure she walks on a well-lit side of the street, and “tells the bouncer a joke to get him. remember when I left “just in case she has a witness in case the worst happens.

Proto wrote the song in response to outcry and protests over the death of Sarah Everard, a young Londoner who was killed by a former cop on her way home in March. It was a manifestation of so many women’s worst case scenarios and spurred a #MeToo mini-movement, where many took to social media to share their close calls and graze danger. It was a cathartic moment, sure, but one that left a lot of people like Proto wondering: who didn’t already know this was a reality?

“I was really frustrated; I felt like everyone was really focusing on the stats and the facts, ”explained Proto. “There was this chart going around that said 97 percent of women were sexually harassed. Some people were destroying the statistic by saying it came from a bad source. Other people said the number didn’t matter: anything over 1% was too much. And I was like: you miss the point. Whatever the statistics, it is obvious that we are afraid. If you are a nice person, you definitely want 50% of the population to feel safe. Everyone dismissed the emotion as if it wasn’t a valid answer to an argument.

Proto made it clear that she wrote the song in reaction to the public debate about women’s safety, and not Everard’s specific case. “I was shocked and hurt by his death, but it’s not something that frustrated me,” she said. “It was so normal. And it’s really sad. But I felt that doing this song about his death would be a little too raw. I never wanted him to feel like he was pinned down because of [Everard]. She deserves more than that.

Still, Proto admits there is an uneasiness when it comes to gaining fame following tragedy. “It’s really strange,” she said. “I wanted to point out in all the interviews and promotions I have done for the song that while Sarah Everard’s tragic death was a catalyst for the song, it is not” in her memory “because I believe that it would be callous to those. who knew her personally. It was a very fine line with the outing, trying to stay on the awareness side, instead of promotional and personal gain. I am incredibly grateful for the reaction that the song had, although I am aware of the connotations given the timing. However, I think, more unfortunately, that there would never be a time when a case would not arise in someone’s mind upon hearing something on this topic.

The young singer vividly remembers the first time she called herself a spade. She was 12 or 13 years old and was doing a charity showcase for the older residents of the village where she comes from, a small parish in the south-east of England called Lower Breeding. “We were singing songs, doing comedy, playing, dancing, doing skits – the stuff you do when you’re 12 and think you’re the next Taylor Swift,” Proto explained. She was handing out tea to an elderly man when he said “something like ‘Oh what would I do if I was younger’ or ‘those legs!'” Proto recalls.

“It was the first time I suddenly said to myself… what am I saying to that?” I felt dirty and ashamed that this happened to me, ”Proto said. The following year, she started working at her local pub, which is still one of her favorite places in the world and the first place she performed. But it was also an education in sexist micro-aggressions. “There have been all kinds of remarks like that,” she said. “People thought they could get away with it, because I was young and vulnerable.”

“Six times! And it was so obvious that my friend and I were young. I went back to my mom’s house and I said to her and she said, ‘Yeah. it’s going to start happening now.“

– Josie proto

When Proto was 15, she and a friend walked into town on the hottest day of the year. It was a journey of about an hour, and Proto remembers being honked and taunted six times by different men. “Six times! And it was so obvious that my friend and I were young. I went back to my mom and I said to her and she said, ‘Yeah. This is going to start happening now.

Proto grew up in a family obsessed with music; his parents would put David Bowie, Queen and Elton John. Her grandmother kept an old guitar in the house she gave to Proto when she was about 10 years old. She learned to play a chord. It was so exciting for her that she played the same chord, and nothing else, for two years. When her parents were fed up, she learned the song “This Train is Bound for Glory”. She taught herself for a few years, then started seeing a guitar teacher who taught her the rest.

Going to a girls’ school taught Proto the language of empowering women: “This experience teaches you that women are amazing and really strong and can do whatever they want,” she said. “But it also teaches you that women are so oppressed. It teaches you about prejudices. She mentioned that she campaigned for a music technology course; the nearby boys’ school had one, but administrators assumed the young women would not be interested in these classes. “I hated it,” she said. “It started a bit of fire in me.”

Proto has nearly 50,000 TikTok subscribers; she has spent her life sharing too much on the internet. She loves her online community but recognizes her darker side. “You laugh about these things with your friends, like I have a stalker on Facebook,” she said. “It was when I was 15: a guy started following me, commenting on normal things, and I just thought he was a fan. Then it got more personal. You could interpret what he said as obscene, as if he asked me for a private concert. It just got worse and worse, but the problem was people assumed that because you have a public platform, you have to accept it.

“It’s hard for me as a 20 year old to learn all the normal things you learn at 20, and also to keep my art project in a marketable place for the money conscious people in the world. industry.“

– Josie proto

Proto signed with Island Records this year. Her songs show a brave girl, but she’s hesitant about how to market her femininity in the sex-obsessed and youthful pop world. “The way people talk about the industry, they call your personality and your public image an ‘artist project’,” she said. “It’s so surreal to me, it feels like adopting a fake personality. For my artist project, it’s just me. I just record songs in my room, I just write songs about my life. My music is not separate from who I am; it’s the same thing. So it’s hard for me as a 20 year old to learn all the normal things you learn at 20, and also to keep my art project in a marketable place for the money conscious people of the world. ‘industry.

She tries to keep her face away from album covers. “It’s difficult because as a woman you may have to put your face more into things, because you are selling your image rather than your music,” Proto said. “Men are a lot less likely to be put on stuff – how many times have you seen Ed Sheeran on the covers of his albums? Ariana Grande is all over hers. And don’t get me wrong, how you market yourself is up to you. It is rewarding that women can sell themselves as their face, their beauty and their sensuality. I think it’s really cool. But when you want to do the opposite, the options really aren’t there for you.

Proto said she faced “pushback” after making the “conscious decision” not to put her face on EP covers or certain music videos. “I don’t think it’s malicious misogyny,” she said. “I think people see me and go, people will like it if she’s on the spot. They don’t think why this could be the case. But I always saw it as a very important thing: I don’t sell my face. I sell my music.

A clip Proto is really proud of Is features her face, along with a dozen other women who have synchronized the lyrics to “I Just Wanna Walk Home”, a sad display of solidarity and involuntary brotherhood. She found the cast after appealing on social media. “We had a fantastic daughter who was 13 but lied to say she was older so she could be in it,” Proto said. “Which was amazing, and also her mother was okay with that.”

After filming, Proto chatted with the women about their experiences upon returning home. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Some girls were 16, 17 years old, but talked about it as if they were elderly women who had lived it all their lives. There was all this burning sensation in the room. How can you not hear this and change your behavior? How can you not hear people talking like that and feel something? “

Like everyone else, Proto went into lockdown as a totally different person than she is now. By the time she returns to performing live, she will be 21, three years older than the last show she gave when she was 18.

“Will I remember how to do it?” I don’t know, ”she said. “I’m nervous about meeting people in person because my social battery isn’t fully charged yet. I’m afraid I have a ridiculous amount of social anxiety because I’m not used to being around people. But I’m mostly excited, because I haven’t met anyone who listens to my music. I am dying to meet the people who have supported me so much on the Internet, in person. But I am terrified at the same time.

Mara R. Wilmoth