Whether dancing in the club, producing at home or DJing almost anywhere, I have spent very little of that time being forced to notice my gender in the music world. This is my privilege as a cis man. This is not a luxury afforded to most other identities but it is a bubble that is relatively easy to live inside, without ever having to really notice what is going on outside. However this bubble is not a zone of neutrality that does not affect everyone else, we live in an affected world and everything has a consequence.
You don’t need to look at statistics in dance music to have heard that there is a problem with sexism in dance music. In fact just look down the list of Facebook invites for club nights and compare the ratios of men to other gender identities on the line-up and it will be most-likely very unbalanced. For those who do want to look at the statistics here is just one example. It is not just a matter of numbers however; the numbers are just symptoms of the wider cultural and societal discourses.
Why – “because of” or “in light” of international woman’s day do you wanna talk about these things? Why can’t we talk about the label I run?
— Madam X (@DJmadamX) March 1, 2016
Or the music I’m into? Or the artists I see going places this year? – why do press wanna hit me up ‘in light of’ international woman’s day??
— Madam X (@DJmadamX) March 1, 2016
Current structures are not working effectively enough and are in fact part of the problem, International Women’s Day is a great idea but like with Notting Hill Carnival or Record Store Day, it leads to the issues getting attention for one day in a year, commercialised horribly and then largely ignored for the other 364 days. In fact, as written about here, many acts with women’s names are in fact often straight cis white men trying to be ironic, anonymous, or different (SOPHIE being just one notable example) and in a world where there is chronic underrepresentation, being misled to believe there has been improvement surely does not help.
The issue is definitely there but as a person not deeply involved in the music industry, it is very easy to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do and that this is a problem for label bosses, journalists and promoters. Even if you are one of the above, because it is part of a wider problem it can sometimes feel totally out of your control. In fact this was a trap as a small promoter I must confess I fell into recently; the first night I put on did not have a single woman on the billing. I reasoned with myself that this was because dubstep is arguably one of the most imbalanced genres of the lot. Looking at influential label Deep Medi, you have to go back to medi026 in order to find the last solo release from someone who isn’t a man (we are on 092 now). Out of those still making dubstep who are coming up, Eva808 is arguably the only woman who has gained serious notoriety in recent times. Yet despite this, it would be sexist and false to assume dubstep or in fact any other genre was ‘too masculine’ for women. As anyone who has attended a dubstep event in Bristol recently would testify, there is a relatively even balance and in fact much of dance music stems from black origin queer, non-binary and feminist communities (house music). Dance music is not just for men. Unfortunately however, there are other factors at play.
So what is behind the problem in the first place and how can it be solved? All-woman/non-binary Dj crew SIREN said that one of the issues seems to be the positioning of women as consumers rather than producers through societal pressures. A scene full of cis white heterosexual men that feels and is intimidating to women, ‘disenfranchises everyone else then trickles down into the widespread harassment’. From personal experience, I have noticed similarly that DJing and producing can at times seem like an all-boys club. So often at house parties, there is a group of LadbrosTM surrounding the decks and for some people, it is so normalised that nobody really pays attention to it. However, if you are a woman or non-binary and wanted to ask questions, I can imagine this isn’t a welcoming atmosphere. Such groups can often be relatively dismissive, especially if you are an outsider. The very way I got into producing and DJing was partly aided by the subconscious encouragement from friendship groups and male Dj peers, who made me realise this wasn’t a hobby or skill totally beyond me and that I could still learn. In comparison, there seems to be a lack of similar networks for gender identities beyond that of cis men.
However, it is likely that in terms of solutions to such problem, there are many different methods and none individually will fully tackle the issue, but there are at least some things that can be done to challenge such institutions and this is surely better than doing nothing. In fact doing nothing really is likely to actually have a net-negative effect and should be seen as such. Multiple studies have shown that we perceive competence to be higher in men for completing a task with the same aptitude and this is caused by systematic bias that is subconsciously drilled into us. Therefore I would say the first important thing is to recognise, is that everyone has bias and that it is important to recognise when it may be affecting judgement. If you look at the recent Boiler Room comments section where people were overly critical of female djs (as well as being horribly sexist), it is possible to see the negative effect that not noticing personal bias can cause. This is why we should also take notice that there is also a racial element at play here, POC women will often be treated more harshly than white women because of systematic bias as well.
In terms of actual actions that can be done other than noticing bias, respecting safe spaces and listening to woman/non-binary djs; helping them get involved is the biggest step you can take. I have several friends who have wanted to get into music production as of late and the encouragement network that was there for me as a cis man simply isn’t there and that is something that is worth making a special effort to change. Encourage your friends if they love music to get involved, not just as consumers but also as producers and djs as well. We as a society need to instil confidence into women and non-binary people. Ask any label boss and it is likely they will bemoan the amount of entitled men who send them demos with the attitude that the label would be completely mad not to sign them, despite it being unoriginal and sounding like it was mixed down in a sieve. While there is nothing wrong with having confidence in your own work (although arguably not to the point you get angry at labels for not signing you), I also have one friend who while she wants to send a demo, is too scared to do so. Arguably there is a happy medium of confidence to be found and encouragement needs to be offered to women and non-binary djs and producers.
While I don’t think that these things are enough on their own and nor do I think that a change will be overnight, I do think we have a duty not to stand by and do nothing. I hope I have also shown in this article that it is possible to contribute positively, even as an individual who does not have much influence.