Old white men still control the airwaves

by Craig Evans

Whilst having a ‘few’ drinks after The Vryll Society / Blossoms show over the weekend, we somehow snowballed onto the subject of the treatment of women in the music business.

This week’s publication of the Billboard Power 100 list highlights the still shockingly vast gender inequality that exists in music. Women made up just 9% of a list that was almost entirely frequented by old white men. This news came in the same week that a verdict was made on Kesha’s very public appeal to leave her record contract following allegations of sexual assault against her former producer.

Purely anecdotally, when this subject gets raised it seems odd to me that this gap still exists given that we meet so many people from so many different backgrounds, work with a huge amount of both male and female artists, managers and label owners within an industry that is accepting of people from all walks of life… but the imbalance is indisputable for a few reasons.

The Performing Rights Society claims that only 13% of credited writers are female and 15% of label members are majority owned by women. This is a big part of the problem, because marketing departments are staffed by a male-majority and the higher up the ladder of power you get, the less women there are around the table.

Audiences also often judge female performers differently from men. As Bethany Cosentino (from Best Coast) put it, “We live in a world where a man can yell at me while I’m onstage, ‘Bethany, I wanna fuck you!’ and I am supposed to not only stand there and take it but also digest it as a compliment to add to my fierce arsenal of sexy confidence.”

Of course it’s a generalisation to assume that most men look at female performers in this way, but it seems that often men are expected to be ‘cool’, women are expected to be ‘sexy’ and may be judged unfairly.

This mind-set often carries through to the marketing of female artists. When you have departments mostly staffed by men who are looking at the most effective means of marketing a female artist, they’re often encouraged to become ultra-sexualised figures to satisfy and provoke that narrative. You only have to look at Miley Cyrus to see that it’s a strategy that unfortunately works.

Charlotte Church gave a fantastic lecture last year on the subject of the portrayal of women in music. “The lines that I had spun at me again and again — generally by middle-aged men — were: ‘You look great, you’ve got a great body, why not show it off?’ she said, “Or: ‘Don’t worry, it will look classy, it will look artistic.’ I felt deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing… I was often reminded by record label executives just whose money was being spent.”

The solution to this problem, as with most of the issues in music, is not a simple one. It demands a complete decimation of the existing top-end of the industry and an audience that demands more from female pop artists than twerking and overtly sexual lyrical content. Getting more women into the music industry (especially into marketing departments) is a good starting point to achieving this.

Ultimately this is a subject we thought worthy of debate within our community, so feel free to share your opinion!