When I started making music, I often felt alone because the entire local music scene around me was led by men. At the first festivals I went to, the vast majority of the headliners were male-fronted bands. The few women I did meet were singers or performers, but I very rarely saw female producers, sound engineers or self-confident solo artists on stages. I never felt like I was represented in the music industry and I lacked role models.
Art has never been a field ruled by women. To this day the average successful artist is is a middle-aged, white male. They lead art-movements and dominate the art market. Women are often pushed into the background.
For example, Kandinsky's painting Composition VII, painted in 1935 is often considered to be the very first abstract piece. Therefore, he is considered the founding father of abstraction and abstract art. However, the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint already explored abstraction thirty years earlier. While Kandinsky is broadly known around the globe, Hilma af Klint is rarely mentioned in high-school art class and, like many women in the art industry, remains unseen and not talked about.
There are a number of reasons why women have a harder time in the art world and one of them is patriarchy. Merriam-Webster defines patriarchy as: "control by men of a disproportionately large share of power". This concept goes way back to the Bible where in Genesis 2:22, Eve is already portrayed as the weaker and inferior being, as she was created from Adam’s rib, the male's biproduct.
I'm not implying that the Bible is the origin of sexism or the concept of patriarchy, but I like to use it as an example for how our society perceives women as the weaker and less capable gender.
In the music industry, this (mostly white) male dominance is still very present. Even though women make up about 49% of post-graduate students studying music-related subjects in the UK, a study by Vick Bain finds that only 20% of us are actually signed to a label. This shows that there are not less women making music or working in the industry, but we are less visible, as we are less likely to be signed by labels or publishers that help artists gain visibility. Because the entire music business is dominated by white men, the latter are also considered as the most lucrative and successful subjects to be signed to labels by the majority of the industry.
Talking from experience, I can say that these statistics are not only bare numbers, but they are very perceivable for women navigating through the industry. Not only is it harder to gain visibility, it’s also much harder to be taken seriously when talking to (male) sound engineers, journalists or industry professionals. I have more than once struggled to articulate myself because my abilities have been downplayed or questioned.
Very often, I’m afraid to make mistakes because I’m scared it will be blamed on the fact that I’m a woman. When talking to people I am often referred to as a singer or an artist but not as a musician, because in a lot of people’s minds that job is reserved for men. When I soundcheck before a concert it has often happened to me that the engineer tried to explain my instrument to me.
Recently, a sound guy ran into a problem. After he asked me if the problem was related to my machine and I replied with no, he came and checked because he didn’t trust my qualifications. Turns out the problem was on his side. This is only one of many incidents in which I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously for being a woman.
We now live in the 21st century and I think we urgently need to change our mentality and close the gap. There has certainly been a fair amount of improvement in the past ten years, but we still have a long way to go. I am a strong believer in the power of education, and I think starting from the bottom is the most effective way to change our social attitude. Our educational methods need to have less gender biases, teach more inclusively in order to later have feminist employers and employees that have the will and power to implement change.
But before that, we need more acute solutions. An easy way of closing both the gender gap on stages and the gender pay gap when it comes to invoicing, is to implement a gender balance policy at venues and festivals. This would mean that there are as many women stepping on stages as men. And NO, quotas do not reduce musicians to their gender, they enable people to get into positions they were excluded from before, because of their gender.
And finally, girls: Be vocal when you face sexism, be loud and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.