The lack of radio play and recognition for women country artists was a hot topic on the CMT Artists of the Year red carpet in mid-October. The night honored stars including Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott, and featured tributes and performances from the likes of Brandi Carlile, Alison Krauss and Gladys Knight. On- and offstage, the powerful women inspired discussions about the issue of equality in country music, which has garnered heightened awareness in recent months. While the newer artists seem to still be optimistic, some of those who have spent a long time in the genre are feeling frustrated.

"I’ve been on a soapbox for the past couple of years about country radio. Why aren’t they playing women anymore?" Sara Evans told The Boot. "It’s just been very, very disappointing."

Evans herself has been an artist for over two decades, and she's seen radio change vastly during that time. "I started onstage when I was four years old, covering all the great females, like Reba [McEntire] and Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette and on and on," Evans says. "I never would’ve dreamed when I was a little girl onstage that, at some point, I would be completely blackballed from the genre that I love so much and the genre that I’ve also contributed music to and helped grow."

Martina McBride, who began her career a few years before Evans, shared similar sentiments: "I just know that women have a really strong point of view that a lot of people can relate to," McBride says. "I feel like it’s doing the country music audience a disservice to not have it where it’s easy to get to. You almost have to go looking for it."

It's not just gender that's leaving artists such as Evans and McBride feeling alienated from mainstream country, either. "What has happened to the quality of country radio and the music itself?" Evans asks. "We just need to get it back to the way it was -- where country music used to be the best lyrics and the music of substance that really told great stories instead of talking about a girl’s ass in tight jeans down by the river under the moonlight with a beer and a truck. I mean, come on."

A small bright spot: These hardships have bred camaraderie and emphasized the importance of uplifting other women.

"We’re seeing more and more how important it is to support other women," McBride reflects. "I feel like, in country music, we’ve always done that to a certain extent, but I see more and more of it than when I started out, and I think that’s a beautiful thing."

On the CMT Artists of the Year red carpet, Danielle Bradbery listed Evans and McBride, along with artists such as Faith Hill and Artist of the Year honoree Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, as inspirations when facing adversity. The up-and-comer says those women taught her "confidence and strength, and taking a stand for yourself, and that it’s okay to walk in a room with your head held high and not be afraid to say what’s on your mind, write the realest songs and stay true to your heart." Such inspiration for younger artists -- and younger fans -- is driving the discussion surrounding women in country music home.

"I feel like it’s just so important to sing about things that so many of our fans can relate to," McBride says. Young women deserve representation, to hear songs about their life experiences and to find people to look up to; therefore, female artists need the same platform as their male components.

"Where is our genre?" Evans asks. "If it’s not mainstream country, then where is it? And without mainstream radio play, it’s hard to have a sustainable career in music."

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