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Despite Some Big Steps Regarding Gender Equality in Music, Is There Still One Big Divide?
THERE was a time when we had to wait years…
IN THIS PHOTO: Sara Cox/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
for genuine steps to happen in the battle against sexism in music. Whether it was a lack of female headliners at festivals or a lack of female D.J.s; progress happened slowly and I feel like the last couple of years have done more to realise parity. That being said; there is still an awful long way to go. Last week, I wrote an article regarding the inequality in the radio industry and how few female D.J.s are being heard. Maybe things are different regarding smaller stations but the big guns are not doing enough to ensure there is equality in their ranks. I pitched the idea that Sara Cox should vacate the absent Drivetime slot and that would be a big step. Not that I had anything to do with it but she has just been appointed as the new Drivetime host. It is the first time, I think, that BBC Radio 2 have hired a female D.J. for that position and it shows there is that desire to change. Whilst there are still many more men on the station as a whole; having a female breakfast host (Zoë Ball) and Sara Cox in that late-afternoon/evening position; will it lead to evolution at other stations? Other BBC stations can take some steps and I think, although Cox’s appointment is a big step, there is a long way to go and it would be good to see the momentum going.
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Naturally, some have scoffed at her taking over the Drivetime show but there is recognition among many that more female D.J.s should be in these lucrative shows and things do need to improve. I do wonder how long it will take before we see true equality in radio and, indeed, every other sector of music. I am always looking at statistics regarding producers, engineers and festival headliners; the songwriters being recognised and artists getting airplay – is there actually equality there and are we getting close?! I do not think we are anywhere near to actually equality but, with little/big steps here and there; I am hopeful this movement will carry on and things will, gradually, get better. Cox’s new show will be great and it does mean that two female D.J.s at the station are hosting really big shows. I am not suggesting other radio stations lack any awareness and are dropping the ball but statistics show that there is still a huge disparity between men and women. It does not only exist in terms of numbers and who is hosting the most lucrative and big shows – there is that gender imbalance regarding pay and a need to close the gap. It would take a long time for me to name all the sectors and corners of music where more needs to be done but, as we know this, I will save you the trouble of hearing me prattle on.
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It may be controversial territory but I wonder whether there is a division between men and women regarding the fight for equality. One could argue there are few men in the media who are actively and persistently calling for change; most of the voices are female and, in fact, the absence of high-profile men speaking out is causing delay and a lack of progress. I appreciate the appointment of women to prestigious time slots is, more often than not, the case of male management making that decision but one could argue they are culpable of making poor decisions in the past; holding back equality and spending too much time and money with male talent. We all know most of the boardrooms and executive suites are filled with men; most studios and festivals are run and dominated by men – they hold great power and positions but, in reality, are they doing enough to speak out and call for change?! It is no surprise that most of the voices calling for change in the music industry come from women. I am not sure what percentage of men are out there and speaking loud but it is a tiny minority. I wonder whether there is general apathy (in men) or whether there is a bigger barrier at work. I realise there must be, one would hope, many other male journalists that refuse to be silent and are big advocates of gender equality.
Most men in the industry would call themselves feminists and, if asked, would like to see equality happen as soon as possible. I think there is a practical difference between those who think about these things and want them to happen and those speaking out and protesting for change. Any radio and T.V. interview regarding sexism and gender inequality features women and when one hears podcasts surrounding a need for equality; they are always fronted by women. It is great to see so many women in music leading a charge and getting their voices heard but I wonder whether a division between the genders is occurring. It may sound like a personal gripe but I tend to find, when I pitch a show about sexism in music or contact someone (a high-profile feminist or name) my calls are ignored and it is hard to get any sort of response. I have my posts shared by female musicians and D.J.s when I write features about them but when it comes to putting together my own features and shows; a big project that unites those in the industry, men and women, and discusses the problems at hand…there are many deaf ears out there. One could say it is a case of me lacking cachet but I have seen many female journalists/members of the public have their calls/queries answered and posts shared.
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It could not be a personal thing – as those I contact don’t know me from Adam – and I recently contacted a radio production with a view of putting together a documentary regarding gender inequality and they already have an idea like that in process – fronted by a female journalist. When was the last time any radio documentary or T.V. show was broadcast, in relation to sexism and the need for change, with a man at the front? Has a man ever done anything like that and, in cases where there are documentaries/broadcasts; what is the proportion of men-women? Perhaps there I an assumption that men will not understand the true issues regarding sexism or they do not have the experience to warrant authority. If you have a man fronting a show about gender inequality; will that come across as ironic and problematic?! If we are looking at creating better rights for women in music, having a bloke talking about it seems rather cheap, foolhardy and unwise. Does that create problems and show that, in fact, everything needs to be controlled by men?! I am not saying people like me dominate the market and put together scores of shows regarding sexism but there needs to be a bit more integration. There are natural barriers that assume men do not want to produce these shows or would lack any knowledge. In cases of sexual abuse and sexism, indeed, women are more qualified and have that direct experience but does that mean men should be excluded?!
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Whilst a journalist like me cannot understand what it is like to be overlooked in regards my gender and is unaware of the pain that comes from being excluded on that front; I know the statistics and I have ample understanding of the realities and what needs to be done. I have not been sexually assaulted or passed over because I am a woman. As a man in the industry; life is a little easier for me but that is not to say I lack empathy and that desire to right things. I have endlessly pitched shows and asked to be on shows to talk about the problem – including Woman’s Hour – but everything has been ignored. The same goes when I ask for advice (from women in the industry) and try and get something together. There is not a sexism working away there but I feel there is that feeling that a man does not have the authority and experience needed; that having someone like me speak openly seems more sexist. I agree that women need to be at the forefront when it comes to calling for change but there is that whitewash. Maybe there are fewer men in the industry who passionate about equality but I know there are enough out there. From musicians and D.J.s through to label owners and producers; that need to see things improve and create an open dialogue is important to so many.
The best way, I feel, to make some big movements is to create that dialogue and integrate more. I am not suggesting there is a fifty-fifty split, gender-wise, when it comes to shows and discussions but it needs to be a bit more open. I was talking with someone about my issue and they said, perhaps, women feel men are doing it to boost their own profile and there is arrogance behind that desire (to talk out). Some might be suspicious and feel the issue of sexism is heightened when you add men into the dialogue. I can understand that and, to be fair, it is a hard balance to strike. Maybe the fact men have not experienced sexism and have an easier time in music means they should show more respect and the discussion is more veracious and potent when it stems from those who genuinely suffer and are overlooked. I get that but not all men in music are privileged and not all feel like men should dominate. Another musical contact suggested the most effective way of opening up the debate and startling people is to have men talking with one another regarding what needs to be done and how things can improve. At the moment, from the outside, it looks like most men do not care and women are having to do all of the campaigning themselves.
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The reality is a little different. A lot of men might feel like they’d be excluded if they asked to be involved or they might not have the necessary passion and knowledge to make a difference. Having different voices in the mix can only be a good thing. As I said; the statistics are clear and men and women alike know the realities and how much work needs to be done. Whether it is a radio show dedicated to female music or a symposium that gets some heated debate underway; creating a more gender-balanced discussion and dynamic is needed. I do as much as I can with my writing but I feel like I am a bit excluded because I genuinely want to assist. Some female artists have struck out against male musicians who have talked about sexism and feel they (women) do not need to be spoken for; they are capable of speaking for themselves. Maybe some men are jumping on a bandwagon and have other motives but I disagree there is that need, in men, to boost their profile and there are nefarious objectives. It is not taking anything away from feminism or a female voice if a man speaks out. If a male actor argued against the wage gaps in the film industry or tirade against men accused of sexual abuse then that would be applauded.
They (the men) will not have experienced that horror first-hand but the fact they are putting their voices out there shows there is a genuine shock and disgust – that most men do not condone what is happening and are supportive. The same needs to happen in music. A lot of men are arrogant and do not want things to change; those who are well-off and not affected have that apathy and do not feel motivated to get up. There are men in the industry – from journalists and artists to D.J.s – who know how crap things are. I am not suggesting replacing shows and discussions that are female-led: I would like to see more where men and women are debating and there is that visible and audible conversation. I do not think it is true that a man lacks understanding and sympathy and, whilst they do not have direct experience regarding sexism; does that mean they are cold to the problem or do not want to see improvement?! From my perspective; it is frustrating having ideas ignored or not being answered because of my gender or I might not have the same gravitas as a woman. These issues I am experiencing are a minority – most female artists and D.J.s share my work and do not see gender divisions or problems when it comes to calling for equality – but we need to see more men and women talking with one another; those in high positions being interviewed and high-profile men in the industry rallying and speaking out. There are many out there who feel outraged and want to fight sexism and inequality but I am aware there is an invisible barrier that divides genders.
I do not agree with the assumption you are making the issue of sexism worse by inviting men into the conversation and it takes away some of the potency. One of the ways to show there are plenty of men who want to see change is by inviting them in and creating a more gender-balanced debate. I love the fact women in music are standing up and will not be silenced but I have seen some worrying posts where women have turned their noses against men who have spoken out – assuming they are being patronising and being condescending. Perhaps there is an impure motive in some cases but there is genuine compassion and support to be found. If we want to create a more stark and bonded discussion then both genders need to get involved and harmonise. Male journalists and musicians need to contribute and those in positions of power need to be brought in and explain themselves. It would not be an integration and attack but an opportunity for them to think about the realities and answer some pressing questions. I would like to produce and front a documentary regarding women and sexism in music but I feel, most of the time, I will be overlooked in favour of a woman. Maybe it is my lacking name and cache but there is a feeling women are more knowledgeable and people would not want to hear a man do a show like this – like it would add to the situation in a negative way. I do not abide by this and feel, although it is alien and strange; we need to get men and women talking otherwise there will only be that one side and one impression. Men, in general, need to do more but there are plenty who want to speak and show their support and should not be overlooked because they do not have direct experience or are not affected. If we can get a more balanced discussion happening and get both sides talking and fighting hard it lead to some changes. I applaud anyone who speaks against sexism and calls for improvement but I feel there is a division. I might not have the same viewpoint and experiences as many women in music but there are many people like me who desperately want to be…
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PART of the debate.