All the Ladies in the House, Let Us Hear You …
A visual antidote to the underrepresentation of women in electronic music
Look closely at the lineup at any upcoming electronic music festival, and you may come back with a question: What’s with all the dudes? Surely the real gender ratios involved in the electronic arts can’t be as skewed toward the Y-chromosome as the event listings suggest. Turns out that impression is just an impression, and a false one — there are a lot more women in electronic music than appearances would have you believe.
At the end of the ‘90s, a network of around 1,500 artists, producers, and promoters formed an online forum called female:pressure in an effort to change that impression. Concerned about the misrepresentation of female contributions to electronic music, they’ve made a mission of widening the spotlight that’s currently centered mostly on male artists in electronic music to include the many underrepresented women among their peers.
Recently they began hosting a fast-growing Tumblr feed called Visibility. Dedicated solely to women at work in the studio, it does what its name implies, offering a rare and concentrated glimpse at the many female forces behind the mixer who are often heard but rarely seen.
“I often felt really alone as a female musician,” says veteran DJ and producer Antye Greie-Ripatti, who established and runs Visibility. After years of working and touring among the numerous European electronic music scenes, Greie-Ripatti (who goes by AGF or Poemproducer) came to recognize the gender gap in public perceptions about women in electronic music, and the media tendencies that perpetuate it.
“I started to notice that all the festivals —even like big time ones with huge government funding, like tax money, tax money from women and men — were still headlining 90 percent men, and then there were a few women in there, like one or two,” Greie-Ripatti says. “I was sure it would get better — I knew so many women whose work was amazing stuff, I worked with them myself all the time. I made lots of records with women, I produced with women, and I didn’t understand how there were still such bad lineups.”
Since joining female:pressure about 12 years ago, Greie-Ripatti has become increasingly active in the cause, contributing to the group’s informal (but quite shocking) annual survey of the gender balance as represented in album credits, festival lineups, and other forms of publicity. She also put together the decades-spanning playlist of female artists posted above, part of a 100-entry “herstory” of women in the field of electronic music, assembled for Women’s Day 2014.
Of course, this is a phenomenon not limited to electronic music. Nor are those at the top of the artistic food chain immune. In fact, it was Björk’s Pitchfork interview around her latest album Vulnicura that provided inspiration for Visibility. In it, the Icelandic titan of art music reveals details of her own frustrating experiences as a female in the recording studio. It may be surprising for some to read that an artist of Björk’s stature and reputation, in order for a creative idea to get traction in the studio, finds it necessary to propose it so that the men in the room think it was theirs.
Dispatches about discrimination like this from the very top of a field are rare, and this one resonated with Greie-Ripatti’s own experiences, which include being insufficiently credited in collaborations with male colleagues (a contributing factor to her eventually becoming a strictly self-produced artist). But it was Bjork’s specific mention of how rarely we ever see any published photos from the studio — photos showing women doing the real work of music-making at the computer or mixing board — that sparked the idea to create a place for just those images.
“I immediately thought, ‘Oh, it would be so awesome to have all these pictures of women in the studio,’” Greie-Ripatti says. “I posted it on the list, and everybody flipped out and said ‘Yeah let’s do that! That’s so wicked! That’s how we do it! I wanna do it!’ So lots of women said yeah but then nothing happened, nobody took it on. I was busy for a while, and then like a week before Women’s Day I remembered it, and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to do it.’”
Trawling her contacts (and Google), Greie-Ripatti was able to put up some 100 images in about three days. At the same time, word got around the community about her project and she was inundated with image submissions, a flood that’s settled into a more manageable 10 or so per day. After about a month of operation, the feed now stands at well over 300 entries.
The feed is comprised of photos, videos, documentaries, vines — anything goes as long as it depicts women actually engaging with the technology they use. Each includes a description of the image’s subject, along with a link to sounds they make. “I really want to see the work,” says Greie-Ripatti, “Some women of course still send me their ‘pretty shots,’ you know, press photos and stuff, and I’m asking them kindly to look for something else, and send something more work-related.”
By creating a never-ending wall of visual testaments to the actual hands-on work that women do in the studio, Greie-Ripatti hopes to offset the imbalance of gender visibility. It’s just such visibility — or its absence — that contributes to what the public ends up understanding about a topic or industry. If the vast majority of the women seen in music promotion and media are shown as little more than decorations for a male-dominated playbill, it will inform the way casual observers think the field really looks. It’s not true, of course, so presenting a concentrated counterexample can serve to break the misunderstanding.
“It’s so simple, it’s one glance, and you don’t even have to read to understand,” she says. “My plan was to basically ‘spam the imagination.’ I was thinking, in times of Instagram, and no time ever for anything, maybe it’s really quite necessary to have a visual, short, quite superficial ‘common denominator’ type of collection, and put this out there.”
It’s not news that we push boys toward the technical or technological fields with greater emphasis than girls. That might explain why, despite making up about half of the US workforce, women only represent about a quarter of STEM-related jobs. It’s common to hear that this reflects a gendered difference in the interest women have in these fields. But again, the numbers just don’t bear this out. It’s far more likely that fields like engineering, electronic music, computer sciences, etc., are generally presented and perceived as boys clubs and therefore seem less inviting to girls, who are given the impression that those worlds “aren’t for them.”
In a realm as defined by image as music, and with gender roles divided so clearly in visual media generally, many of us may be forgiven for the sense that women just don’t “do” music as often as guys. For those engaged in these fields, it’s much clearer that the gender gap is one of perception and not reality.
“I love tech, I love computers, and I always have, I have always made computer music, and it’s just as essential to me as to any other guy I know,” Greie-Ripatti says. “I’m working with children [aged] between six and 14 — I’m working with them in a media lab, and I see no difference between boy and girl in terms of technical capabilities. I see differences in the products that are [aimed at them] and how they react, but I don’t see a difference in their smartness or interest in digital technology at all, so it doesn’t make any sense.”
Of course these misapprehensions go much deeper than any single field. The media echo chamber often reinforces notions that women play a secondary role almost everywhere. This impression is so powerful that even women (maybe especially women) begin to have their own perceptions and, therefore, their ambitions, shifted to the margins. It takes effort to counter that narrative. The impact of showing the counter-example can be profound even to those who’ve already got the message.
“What surprised me most, actually, was this impact on me,” says Greie-Ripatti. “I know these women, I know almost all of them because of my work, and still I was so surprised to see them all together. I realized how much women are isolated also in these male dominated fields, whatever, if it’s coding or science or business, architecture, you can go in any other field, it doesn’t matter.”
“I hope that curators, label owners, festival owners, cultural producers, really use it as a database and use it as a source and feel inspired to just get to engage with more women in this [field], that’s my big hope,” Greie-Ripatti says. “I’m not saying I want to have 100 percent female lineups anywhere, that’s really boring, I’m not into that. I don’t want gender separation or ‘ghettoization’ — I want 50/50, I want us to be equal people, you know? That’s it.”
All images and captions courtesy of the Visibility Tumblr
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