Splendour in the Grass is back... and so is the notorious gender imbalance in music festival line-ups, writes Charlotte Vieira.
NOTHING CAN INCITE bubbles of joy like the release of a major festival lineup.
Whether local or international, ignoring the likelihood of getting the time off, the opportunity that comes with a new line up, the prospect of a day or two frolicking in the sunshine with friends, dancing and great music that makes you cry, the lineup is what makes or break hearts.
The thought of so much great talent in one place is like slurping down a mojito that someone else paid for, in the pool on a public holiday… even for those who hate gumboots and drink tickets.
And they’re mostly male.
Of course, there are many great female acts (defined by acts including at least one female), but they are concentrated in the bottom half of the billing. There's only one all-female act – Lorde, the spokesperson of our generation – in the top 20 acts. This isn't a new story.
Misogyny in music is a tale that has been told before, from sexual harassment of female staff to sexist remarks backstage. The only area where there is equality in music is in festival attendees... with females making up half the crowd.
So if females are making festivals money through their attendance, why aren't they represented on stage?
Is it because female artists won’t sell tickets? Put on as good a show? Or simply because there aren’t enough female artists available?
The female form can clearly sell – and is used to sell – by corporations. So much so that the UK has banned ads featuring stereotypical gender roles, as they are no longer relevant with the modern woman being able to do whatever she wants and the modern man being capable of basic tasks like cooking and cleaning.
In Australia, we’re lagging behind to implement change that reduces this objectification and devaluing of women through these narrow lenses. As such, we are failing to see them as viable agents of creativity and commercial value beyond how they were sold in the 1950s.
Advertising's phenomenon of stereotyping and objectifying women is supposed to appeal to men and women insofar as it shows men their "ideal" woman and tells women what they're supposed to be. This bias against women in the music industry is as irrational as the idea that only women can prepare a nutritious dinner.
One gender cannot be empirically more good or bad at music than the other. In 2017, 54% of year 12 students studying music were female but in the time between school and entering the industry, the representation of women drops to 29%. This isn’t an issue of talent. At the time of writing, there were more songs with a female artist in the top songs played on mainstream radio than only male artists. They manage to succeed even with the daily struggles they face in their workplace.
The issue is not endemic to music either, female art more broadly is seen as “chick art” and discredited as not having value beyond what it contributes to women. Of U.S. broadcast TV shows, 43% of speaking characters were female — a proportion which hasn’t increased since 2008. But alas, big execs persist in their ignorance in the fact that the female audience makes up half of movie-goers and have made no sweeping steps in creating more representative content.
When Wonder Woman was released, there was so much chatter about it being a chick superhero movie… not just a superhero movie. Male dominated art is the norm.
Anything that strays from the norm is questioned and must be tested. This also applies to the ideas that we categorise as "women". We can’t seem to shake the nagging stereotype of "women as madonnas" that linger over our heads like the halos as a gender we should wear. Rapper Cardi B organically grew her mass audience through her transparency of her struggle and hustle, but has struggled to be taken seriously as a rap artist and secure sponsorships.
With her background as a stripper, Cardi B was – until recently – rejected by big brands for fear of being tainted by associating with her. To still see women as a binary, as good or bad, pure or dirty, is dated and needs to retire. It’s irrelevant, at least according to the majority of music listeners, with Cardi B having five songs in the top ten simultaneously.
Personally, I know that I face a battle when trying to get my male friends to watch female TV shows and have had to sneak the fabulous Mindy Kaling’s show The Mindy Project into conversations like a trojan horse. I consume a lot of content and my taste is generally appreciated (to my face at least). But because The Mindy Project is made by and stars a chick, it’s assumed the humour won’t apply to them. I want to scream: “Mindy is universal! Why are you fighting me!”
I feel it in my bones that when I suggest a show with a male protagonist, one that doesn't ooze “chickness”, my suggestion is taken up without complaint. They’re always keen to give it a go, without me having to bite at their ankles like a needy puppy.
Even amongst my fairly “woke” friends, male and non-male, there is a constant kickback to any female content. Female content has to work 2.5 times harder before it’s even trialled. The “idea” of it is more important than the content. It's as though the Great Wall of China sits between getting that person to the screen/Spotify link/gig — an issue that has nothing to do with the talent, or message of the artist.
There’s more excavation needed to expose the history of this assumed misogyny. I think it’s the last battle in the war on women and female-centred content.
When women can become the default and not the “oooh okay I’ll give it a try” maybe we’ll really start to view them as equal.
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