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On Wednesday 8th March, people of all genders around the globe celebrated International Women’s Day, which aims to openly recognise and validate the global fight for gender equality.

Many musicians got involved in the conversation, namely Beyoncé, Madonna and John Legend, by signing an open letter in support of women’s rights. The letter, posted by Global Citizen (a social action platform co-founded by Beyoncé and Salma Hayek), called the fight for gender equality “the emergency and the opportunity of our time”.

Music platforms like iTunes and Spotify also contributed, by releasing specialised playlists of female acts and musicians.

The drinks brand Smirnoff also launched an initiative on the back of IWD in order to combat gender inequality. The three year campaign ‘Equalising Music’, which has teamed up with Spotify, Live Nation, The Black Madonna and infamous nightclub Fabric, focuses predominantly on the electronic music sector.

St Vincent – Image: wikicommons

The campaign has launched five themed projects, including a documentary film, a top 50 ‘Women Making Noise’ list, in association with publications Thump and Broadly, and is running free workshops with Fabric for women starting their careers in the field of electronic music. The aim is to tackle the problem of female representation from a grass-roots level. Attendees will learn how to make, market and release music, secure bookings, understand contracts, build relationships, and navigate the industry. Leila Fataar, head of culture and entertainment at Diageo, Smirnoff’s parent company, said, “we want to ensure the best talent are headlining, regardless of gender and not influenced by tokenism”.

The aim is to tackle the problem of female representation from a grass-roots level

Historically, the industry has been a very male-dominated environment, and one in which it is difficult for female artists to gain recognition.

‘Equalising Music’ illustrates how the music industry lags behind in terms of its equal opportunities and gender representation with several shocking statistics: the campaign found that fewer than 5% of music producers are female, only 16% of headliners at electronic music festivals in 2016 were women, and in its 22 year history, only 3 solo women have ever won the Mercury Prize.

This issue of female representation is potentially illustrated most clearly by festival line-ups. Coachella’s line-up made headlines this year because Beyoncé is set to perform. Whilst fantastic news for any fan, the publicity was mostly due to the fact that Beyoncé marks the first woman in a decade, and the first woman of colour ever, to headline the festival.

However, the lack of representation at festivals isn’t just confined to America. In 2015, blogger Josh Dalton edited out all male acts out of the Reading and Leeds Festival line-up posters. The glaring gender disparity was shocking: out of almost 100 acts set to play across 3 days, only 9 with at least one female member made it onto the line-up.

Reading and Leeds 2015 line-up, on the right showing only bands with at least one female member – image: crackintheroad

Despite this, half of music festivalgoers are female, so why aren’t they catered to? Is it simply that there is a lack of good female-fronted acts, or is the problem much more nuanced than that?

One argument is that female artists still aren’t taken seriously enough. Female artists are often fetishized or tokenized as a “female singer” or “female guitarist”, rather than a genuine musician.

For many, their gender precedes them; content from female artists is often engineered to orientate around heartbreak and relationships. One only needs to think about the running joke that Taylor Swift’s relationships only act as song inspiration, for example.

Female artists are often fetishized or tokenized

However, that’s not to say some male executive is sat throwing a tantrum every time someone brings up the issue of female representation within the music industry. Rather, as usual, the problem lies within the very complex, systemic and multi-faceted issue of industrial sexism.

Inevitably, in a male-dominated business, it’s going to be harder for women to break through at every stage, and maybe there is a small element of fewer appropriate or available female bands, but this does not excuse the glaringly obvious gender disparity.

Sexism within the music industry is so imbedded it is rarely questioned, and instead passed off as ‘just the way it is’. And while I’m not assuming that one article will resolve the issue of female representation within music, it does highlight why International Women’s Day is so crucial, if only for drawing attention to the naturalised disadvantage female musicians face. In the words of Destiny’s Child, “ladies, it ain’t easy bein’ independent”.


International Women’s Day Playlist:

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