Recently, Australian publication The Sydney Morning Herald published an article titled ‘Triple J listeners snub women again – but who is to blame?’, and focused on the “glaring underappreciation of women in music” after no female-fronted acts were revealed in the radio station’s annual audience-voted Top 10 poll.
The article goes on to stress that over the past decade, only 14 out of 80 voted acts have been fronted by women.
Firstly, I feel it’s necessary to introduce those who are otherwise unaware to the reality of free choice (and free speech) within a democracy such as Australia. The ability for an individual to choose based on their own personal preferences is something we ought to be glad about – not criticise and demean.
The article, penned by Somayra Ismailjee, takes aim at the apparently “oppressive” successes of white, male artists, and how their permeation of creative spaces essentially breeds similar “hierarchies of power [to] be reproduced within them”.
Let us pause for a moment and consider the term: audience-voted. The word “audience” implies a large majority of separate individuals (read: separate individuals capable of their own thoughts, opinions, and personal music preferences) have attended an event as assembled spectators or participants. What they all have in common, in this instance, is they each voted in a poll. The word “vote” is of particular importance as well. To be able to vote is to be able to choose. To be able to choose is a matter owed entirely to the individual(s) at hand. Their choice is theirs alone. The depth of the individual’s personal preferences will never be known, as we do not know the mind of any other individual but our own. To assume an audience (therefore, a large mass of free-thinking individuals) purposefully selected Caucasian male artists over female artists and artists of colour is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Ismailjee went on to mention triple j’s other, larger audience-orientated voting poll, The Hottest 100. She points out that women “routinely” only make up one-fifth of the final list, and five percent of the top 20, and claims the numbers may feel “frustrating”, but reflect the “broader trends in our culture”. What she seems to forget, however, is that today’s culture is already a lot more accepting and socially inclusive than what it was even ten years ago. The fact that this same argument is brought up time and time again, year after year, does not demonstrate progression towards the goal of equality, but rather regression in the name of finding “diversity”.
Music is a matter of sound and what people find audibly pleasing, not genitalia or ethnic backgrounds. As a creative outlet, music is open to be utilised however a musician sees fit. They don’t have to write certain songs about certain issues or feelings, they can honestly write about whatever they damn well please. That being said, any person of any gender and any nationality can create music. There’s honestly nothing to stop them. If their content doesn’t appeal to the masses, however, then it doesn’t appeal to the masses. That’s it. You can’t argue this stuff. It’s a fact proven through public vote in this case, and to fight it seems rather foolish.
Ismailjee’s focus centres on diversity within Australian music. She acknowledges there are plenty of female artists and people of colour within the industry, but “little space exists for them”. This is incorrect. Plenty of space exists for them, their music simply doesn’t make the cut. That’s it. There’s nothing further. The fact that the audience-voted Top 10 poll resulted in all white, all male-fronted acts wasn’t deliberate – it’s just how it happened. Another truth might be that a lot of females never take a serious interest in music in the first place – who knows? Usually those who do are very aware of the fact that the music industry is predominantly male-dominated – the ones who don’t are the ones who complain about it when they don’t get the recognition they think they deserve.
This ever-growing sense of self-entitlement amongst young, professional women is toxic and, as a young woman, repulses me. I am one of a few female writers at IPHYB, and yet I never claim to be any better than my male counterparts. I see no need to. It’s about acknowledging your own strengths and other people’s strengths – not attacking a fellow human being purely because you might feel intimidated or you notice that they’re better than you at something. That’s not progression. That’s not equality. That’s pettiness, and shouldn’t be tolerated.
The final claim made by Ismailjee I’d like to address is her belief that “Artists with diverse identities are tokenised, patronised, and frequently treated as though their work, however remarkable, is secondary to the fact that their identity is atypical” – that essentially, “as long as the entire industry remains dominated by white men, ensuring women and POC artists are ‘included’ will only ever be a tokenistic gesture”.
Oh yes, because it isn’t like a number of female artists already dominate the mainstream music charts. How convenient it is for Ismailjee to forget about those artists, too. Ariana Grande won Artist Of The Year at the AMAs, girl group Fifth Harmony won Collaboration Of The Year, and Beyonce won Tour Of The Year. Selena Gomez took out Female Pop/Rock Artist Of The Year, and Carrie Underwood won Female Country Artist Of The Year. The list goes on, and there’s no lack of Australian female artists currently sitting at the top either. Sia took home three GRAMMY awards, Courtney Barnett, Jessica Mauboy, Sarah Blasko, Kimbra, Missy Higgins — all have won numerous awards for their musical talents. But those wins don’t matter, apparently. According to Ismailjee, their victories weren’t based on talent, but were merely “tokenistic” gestures made by white males. Okay.
The focus on the “fronted” members of the bands is something to note, too. Do the other members not matter? Are their talents made redundant, purely because they’re not standing closest to the audience when they perform? The list of equally talented female instrumentalists is long — Anika Nilles (drummer), Meytal Cohen (drummer), Jennifer Batten (guitarist), Orianthi (guitarist), Nik West (bassist), Sierra Hull (mandolinist), Sarah Longfield (guitarist), and Tina S (guitarist), just to name a few. But again, they apparently don’t matter.
When you listen to music, how often do you contemplate the artist’s ethnicity? How much do you consider their gender, apart from sub-consciously acknowledging whether a male or a female is singing? Do you actively judge them on these factors? Or do you instead focus on the beat? The melodies? The lyrics? The harmonies? The instruments? Again, people will like music according to whether or not they personally find it audibly pleasing.
And, let us not forget that if I were a man, this article would be dismissed immediately. It would be ridiculed, torn apart, devoured. Even as a female writer, I expect my views to be met with a good deal of criticism. The only reason I’m writing this response today is because as a former journalism student, articles such as Ismailjee’s is the reason the profession has developed such a negative reputation, and it irks me. She is allowed her opinion — I acknowledge that wholeheartedly — but at the same time, I am allowed mine, just as any man or fellow female is allowed theirs.
If equality within the music industry is truly the ultimate goal, then propose the abolishment of gendered categorisation within awards ceremonies. That would be the first step. Complaining via The Sydney Morning Herald, or any publication, for that matter, will get you nowhere. Adopting a skewered sense of self-entitlement, based purely on the grounds that you’re female, too, is nothing but regressive. If better representation of females in music awards lists and the like is what you are after too, then I suggest you go out, pick up an instrument, spend the next decade or so becoming proficient at it, and then make some good music. It’s a no-brainer, really.