I witness gender inequality every day of my life. Specifically as a musician, it presents to me a variety of obstacles which I am constantly forced to negotiate. Times are changing for women in music, female producers are beginning to occupy a small space in the spotlight, but not fast enough, and they are often brushed aside to make room for their male counterparts. As an emerging producer I feel encouraged to help make a change for women expressing themselves through art.
The patriarchy has contorted how the arts is perceived, represented, and distributed. There’s a sense of ‘forgetting’ faced by society as generations pass. First wave feminism in the late 19th century was forgotten by the 1950s, until a second wave led by Betty Friedan with her novel The Feminine Mystique renewed the drive for equal rights politically and socially. With half a century now passed, why has the arts industry for women remained so stagnant with so little room for female producers to thrive? The fact that men occupy the vast majority of high ranking roles in most areas of the art industry creates a domino effect of gender favouritism, specifically, from my personal experience, with regards to music. Male DJs play music by men, male promoters book bands fronted by men, male historians favour male artists, erasing some of the most important artists from history – the women.
Doubtless, almost none of us have never heard of The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols. Even a non-aficionado of that era and style could pick them out of a line up. The Slits, however, an entirely non-male lineup, are almost entirely relegated to irrelevance. This happens despite their massive influence and musical clout. What happened to the reputation of the hugely influential three piece punk band from the late 70s? Without exposure they are forgotten, leaving the pedestals for newer generations to be occupied by all male bands.
So much of the music we hear has been inspired and influenced by male elders. Hyper-masculine groups demonstrate male reflections of life. If you identify as non-male you might have trouble relating to any of the narrative they are creating. But where are the hyper-feminine bands? Where are the women rocking out and expressing themselves? The industry relies heavily on the male perspective. By denying people such outlets, we actively close down avenues to represent ourselves collectively through art. Those who observe the music industry and see the prevalence of male acts commonly take it for granted that they must be superior. This is clearly erroneous for them to believe but also serves as a discouraging falsehood for many aspiring musicians of different genders.
The under-representation of women in arts is a problem socially which feeds into how humans enjoy themselves by relying on male entertainment systems. Think back – when was the last time you heard a female MC rapping? Or a female producer blaring through the PA in a bar? When was the last time you and your male friends listened to a rock band with a female lead guitarist or a standout female drummer? Even if you argue that you have, what is the ratio of this happening to not happening?
Friends of mine raise their eyebrows and giggle when I mention that I enjoy and respect Queen Latifah. Why are females asserting dominance within a male dominated industry laughable? If history wasn’t recorded to favour men as the dominant artistic force, one would know that Queen Latifah was one of the most respected names in the ‘Golden Age’ of hip-hop. We need to stop assuming that MCs today exist solely through the influence of their male elders, it’s both damaging and incorrect. MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Bahamadia, Ladybug Mecca all posses the lyrical capabilities and flow comparable to their male counterparts, yet women in rap is a strange concept to many. Women say important things in rap that men often don’t. Queen Latifah’s ‘U.N.I.T.Y’ lyrics calls out men for harassing women on the street:
Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a hoe,
trying to make a sister feel low,
you know all of that gots to go
Such an anthem is still so relevant today – why do I hear girls at festivals grooving to lyrics that are self-demeaning and not embracing womanhood as the powerful force that it is? Why do men smugly speak about a new ‘all girl band’, ‘girl mc’, or ‘girl lead guitarist’ as if the fact she is both female AND a good artist is surprising? It’s a sick sense of tokenism that’s applied to women by men.
Modern society, which the willfully ignorant deem as equal, harbours the ingrained notion that men surpass women in their ability to do almost anything; art, academics, technology, or almost any other field of achievement. The supposed physical dominance possessed by men does not apply to all aspects of life. This flimsy reasoning is used as an excuse to apply dominance over women in a myriad of industries. Someone I once knew told me that women drummers can’t hit drums hard enough meaning they can’t play as well. In my naivety, I believed him, and my confidence in female percussion players was shattered. To this day I’ve barely touched a drum set, one of the few instruments I haven’t made an effort to try. A male painter does not paint better because of his physical prowess. An artist is based on the quality of their output and vision, not their strength. A man’s brain power is no superior to a woman’s, yet men occupy the most space in the science books, the history books, academia and positions of power.
[pullquote]An artist is based on the quality of their output and vision, not their strength. A man’s brain power is no superior to a woman’s, yet men occupy the most space in the science books, the history books, academia and positions of power[/pullquote]
From the moment a girl is born they are underestimated individuals. Dolls are given as toys instead of Lego. Home economics is studied in school instead of metalwork. University engineering and programming classes are full to the brim with male students. This is not because men are born with better technical capabilities, or because there are certain skills inherently less laudable.
The system we live in has never believed in us and as a result we don’t believe in ourselves. We are socialised in such a way that not only are others’ expectations of us lowered, but our own view of ourselves and our potential is warped. I urge all women out there to not let society’s standards get in the way of becoming a musician, a producer, a woman in technology. The ‘bro’ mentality in the music industry seriously bruises a woman’s potential.To all men exclusively helping out other men, giving men the best slots at gigs, the most radio play, the best studio facilities; you are doing this for your own social capital and asserting gender dominance over non-males, who are pigeonholed and made to compromise on everything, from remuneration to something as simple as whole and unchallenged credit for work where it is due.
The challenges I face as a solo female musician and producer can be ruthless and repetitive. I am constantly being underestimated in my capabilities. Rather than being asked to collaborate as an equal, I’m often offered help. I have been offered input by others playing guitar or keys on my tracks, instruments I play fluidly by myself. Others have offered to do the ‘technical stuff’ for me, whilst smugly seeing it as a favour. I’m a solo artist who has moulded my career for myself since the very beginning, so why is it that others often ask me who is helping me along the way? By stating this and defending myself and other women in the same position I have been degraded as a social justice warrior and assured that no such sexism exists.
Sexualising and objectifying women is widespread in any industry. Women’s voices have trouble being heard. To those in denial as to whether a gender gap exists I ask, why, as a woman touring alone, am I asked what member of another band I am sleeping with? Am I a groupie? Why have I escaped rape threats standing alone outside venues with my gear? Why is it that after expressing kindness to other male musicians do I experience non-consensual touching up after a few drinks? Why do people assume my boyfriend is the musician and I’m just carrying his gear? Why am I, along with my female producer friends tokenised because some guy “loves it when women make good stuff?”. Why am I sexualised when I’m trying to be taken seriously? One guy literally said in front of my studio friends that he could imagine me playing music naked for him in his dreams.
The prevention of sexism in the music industry, in the arts, and in all walks of life will take a huge shift in social consciousness. From young girls being encouraged to learn music technology in school, to the dissipation of the male ego within the larger music industry in order to make room for women, there is much change and proactive support that needs to take place. Full potential as an artist can only be reached when expressing oneself wholly, without fear of obstacles.
Equality or equity, at least in the arts world, would give us a more rounded and expansive chorus of voices which would be free to express themselves in a manner fitting to the identity / identities that they hold, and not within rigid and oppressive parameters of ‘masculine’ expression. Right now there is an overt imbalance in the area of arts, but music in particular. This imbalance weighs heavily in favour of the white cis man. As a result of this social stigma I have felt less than human. I have shied away from taking the lead in life because of my gender, hiding my guitar away from those who would consider it masculine, preventing me from being a multi-instrumentalist and producer until a much later stage in life.I have finally rediscovered and now nurture that which was initially taken away from me by neigh saying and negation; the self-respect to pursue that which I am passionate about in the manner and style in which I see fit.