Women? What Women?

Google ‘Women In Music’ and see how many genuinely interesting articles you get.  Go on, I dare you.

The likelihood is that it won’t be more than 10.  That’s roughly the number that I found.  Of those, 1 was saying that there are a lot of women in music (hooray (except it’s not quite true)), and at least 5 were half-hearted reports of something a celebrity said once.

There was very little critical analysis to be found.

The questions in my mind – How many women are employed within the music industry? How many of these women are in senior positions?  Why is this?  What is the real influence within the industry of the female artists we consider influential?  Why do we need more women in the industry? What would they bring? How can this be achieved? – were met with a collective shrug.

All is not lost, however!  The article that turned me onto the subject is a BBC piece that I stumbled across last night.

Here are a few quick facts outlined in the article:

The artists quoted in the article mention several factors as hindrances to women’s success in the music industry.

One is the choice many female artists have to make regarding whether or not they use their bodies to sell their music. If they do, they’re judged; if they don’t, they run the risk of being ignored. Music is sexy but… for women, it’s just not that simple.

Another is that female artists are always called ‘female artists‘ – their gender precedes their art.  Semantically, their gender defines them as musicians.  It’s difficult to say what can be done about this without cutting off our collective female nose to spite our collective female face. On the one hand, I am a musician before I am a female but, on the other hand, don’t we want girls to know that not only are there women in music but that there are challenges to be faced as a woman in music?  Personally, I would like there to be a discussion around ‘female artists’ – you can’t begin to tackle an issue until it’s been picked apart.

Another factor is that women, either consciously or subconsciously, believe themselves to be ‘on the back foot‘ or lacking in something.  This relates to something that feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir called ‘Otherness‘ – ie. men are normal and the ideal and women are alien or ‘other’.  This mentality is internalised by women and works against us; perpetuating our oppression. Certain feminists would argue that this is victim-blaming, but they fail to understand that the theory is that the otherness of women is socialised into us by a patriarchal society.  Nobody is saying that we collectively and consciously decided to feel substandard, nor that it would be easy (or even possible) to overcome.

Anyway!  The music industry is built around who you know. If women are less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities because they don’t see themselves as as worthy as men, or they hold themselves to higher standards (that’s not a dig at male artists), they will meet less people and less opportunities will present themselves. Theoretically, they will be less successful.


But performers are only the face of the music industry.  Behind the scenes the gender imbalance is just as striking and even more uncommented on.  This is the area on which I struggled to find the information I sought.

Just as you’d expect, in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top 100 important industry figures for 2014 there are no women. The list is chiefly dominated by white men, most of whom are… well, not young anymore.

Why do I care? (Outside of being a woman in music, that is.)

Because culture has more of an influence on people’s beliefs and attitudes than Ed Miliband, oil prices, or the FTSE 100.  Music is important to us.  It’s personal.

Who knows if women would be just as tyrannical as the very worst male music industry tyrants, given the same positions and power?  But they (we) deserve the chance to prove otherwise. If the music industry were run – or at least shared – by women, the thinking of a whole generation could be revolutionised.

If nothing else, it would change our perceptions of gender.  It could change the entire music industry for the better.  Shouldn’t the music business give women a chance? Just to see?


There is a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour special programme on Women in Music here (I can’t vouch for how in-depth it is as I haven’t finished listening yet, but Woman’s Hour is usually very good), as well as some more links and information from PRS here.