Institutionalised sexism in the music industry: Are we taking the right approach?

Words: Bernadette Galbraith | Subbing: Kiera Chapman

It’s time to start asking questions. Questions like ‘where are all the female sound engineers?’ And ‘why can’t more women dress for themselves, not someone else?’

A recent Guardian analysis revealed that more than two-thirds of live music acts performing in the UK tonight will feature no women on stage. This statistic comes at a time when women continue to fight for gender equality in a range of forms and whilst this is not a shocking revelation, we are still talking about the issue. It begs the question: are the right tactics being implemented to banish the gender gap in music, once and for all?

The music industry holds an extremely prominent and influential place amongst the younger generation, making it vital that both genders are effectively represented. But how do we encourage more young women to get involved in the music industry, in all aspects, if there are few positive role models for them to aspire to?

It seems that not all hope is lost though. A quick scan of the internet and an array of organisations and communities were at my disposal, revealing a significant amount of support in place for struggling ‘creatives’ trying to make it in the coveted industry.

PRS Foundation is the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music and talent development and in 2011, they launched a funding scheme called Women Make Music. Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation explains the importance of the grant scheme: “It recognises the untapped talent of those underrepresented in the industry… and helps more women take their music and career to the next level.”

Despite the music scene appearing to lack women, PRS Foundation revealed that it is not for want of trying. The grant scheme has proved the sheer demand for access to the industry, with it being reported that a total of 1,300 applications were received over the last five years.

Former BRIT School student, Tilly Valentine is a British electronic artist who is working towards the release of her first single. As a young female artist, Valentine recognises that she has worked with mostly male producers but she seems optimistic in her outlook. She said: “I think it’s important that women are positive about making a change to the imbalance, rather than dwelling on its limitations.”

Image: Vicki Bailey

While she remains positive, it is evident that sexism in the music industry runs deeper and Valentine is more than aware of how her image could easily be misconstrued. Can this put female acts at risk of being taken less seriously? Valentine gives her view: “I think the pressure of being overly sexualised in the industry can often result in not being taken seriously. This is why when creating my music, I try not to be overly sexualised in my image to make sure my music is taken for what it’s worth.”

Through talking to Valentine and investigating the work demonstrated by organisations such as PRS Foundation, it is clear that a change is starting to emerge. The emotional and financial support derived from a scheme like Women Make Music is invaluable and provides young female artists like Valentine, the enthusiasm to continue striving forward.

While charitable deeds should not be dismissed, they can appear as an attempt at a quick fix solution to what is realistically a deeply institutionalised issue. Speaking to Jemima Skala, editor of the advocating music blog Girls That Gig, the scale of the issue becomes more apparent. She said: “… the industry has been geared against women due to years of institutionalised misogyny.”

Grant schemes may give female artists the means to reach an equal platform alongside men but they unfortunately neglect to address the issue straight on and this comes with the risk of failing to alter an audience’s mind-set. Skala added: “Even when female artists are successful they are still consistently sexualised, pigeonholed and conditioned in such a way that makes them less of a so-called “credible” musician…”

Despite this, the future seems bright with Skala acknowledging significant events that have occurred, including a recent occasion where hip-hop musician, Loyle Carner kicked out a fan for making sexist comments at one of his gigs. Prior to this, an initiative was also launched called Safe Gigs for Women, and these are all examples of the way more awareness is being spread around the subject.

To find out more about Tilly Valentine’s music, visit her website here!

Featured image: Luke Hopkins

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