The inherent contractions embedded in efforts to combat sexism

Tonight I attended a panel hosted at the Clive Davis School titled  ‘A Celebration of International Day of the Girl’ – a discussion on music and culture in relation to gender equality. 

Led by a group of females who have diverse roles across the music industry, the panel discussed the current state of the industry and what should change to drive equality.

The Panel:

Allison Zatarain | The Orchard/ General Manager of Instant Love
Coral Foxworth | Producer + Global Director, SISTER
Dana John | Marketing Director, Warner/ADA
Dani Mari | Founder, Female Frequency
Katina Bynum | SVP, Young Money Cash Money
Suzi Analogue | Founder, Never Normal Records

The discussion confirmed that gender and race issues in the music industry are as pervasive (if not more so) as in other lines of business despite the overall “creative” and “accepting” mood of the products the industry may produce. For example, panel member Katina Bynum is an SVP (senior vice president) of the YMCM label, but is the only female of her rank or a higher in the company.

Other panel members discussed sexist and misogynistic environments that have suppressed their voice or inhibited their professional growth. What was interesting is that these environments were facilitated by both men and women who regularly employ divisive and isolationist strategies against females.

But wait! The panel members have all made strides to combat these environments in their own ways. A common theme amongst these efforts is to create women-only groups, records, mixtape, and albums (from recording through engineering and final mixing), as well as other female-focused musical compilations.

To me it seems like the industry is stuck in a self-sustaining cycle of sexism. This is evident to me through:

  1. The lyrics and messaging. Especially in the context of rap and hip-hop, sexist lyrics are pervasive and dominant. New artists see the content that is reaching the top, and it influences their work, sustaining the cycle. Even popular female artists such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B use lyrics that are derogatory towards females. Consider the following lyrics from ‘Lick’ by Cari:

    Got a bag and fixed my teeth
    Hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap
    And I pay my mama bills
    I ain’t got no time to chill
    Think these hoes be mad at me

  2. The lag of institutional change relative to social change. Like laws behind morals, the impact of social change takes an unexpectedly long time to present itself in an institution (i.e. company, organization). Even if members of an institution have a modern view of equality, the time it takes for the overall institution to adopt these changes can be demoralizing and make the modernization falter, or lag even further.
     
  3. The inherent contradictions embedded in efforts to combat sexism. As demonstrated by panel members, one of the best ways to promote inclusion is to exclude the exclusive. Yet tilting the scales so far towards females could be considered its own form of sexism.Does a female-only album add more females to the industry? perhaps, but does it really alter the “target state” of gender as a non-factor?Or does it emphasize the problem without a permanent solution? To me, finding inclusive solutions that avoid excessive exclusion are key to accelerating equality.

Thats just my 2¢. To be clear I’m all for the efforts of the panel members, and thank them! Please check out links to some the media referenced by the panel:

The Sister – “a virtual collective of women and gender non-conforming electronic music”

Bandcamp – “don’t sleep on bandcamp”. Also my friend’s band is here on bandcamp. Insider scoop says new material dropping soon.

UJO – music sharing and ownership concept that uses blockchain (specifically Ethereum) technology. As you know I love blockchain tech 🙂

 

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