History of Blatant Sexism in the Music Industry

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Women are not only widely underrepresented in the music industry, but also widely disregarded in terms of their worth, meaning if they want to get things done they must take matters into their own hands. Female singers and musicians are exploited constantly because of the way society not only sexualizes women as a whole, but also completely disregards them as potential competitors. It seems as though women are held to higher standards than men not only in society, but also in the music industry. They must work harder, work faster, and ultimately work smarter to get to the top.  In order to have total creative freedom over their art many have resorted to starting their own labels, directing their own music videos, and producing their own tours. 

A perfect example of this “Renaissance Woman” is yes, you guessed it, the one and only Beyoncé Knowles. Beyoncé says it best herself when explaining the role women are expected to play in the music industry and the way she overcame those expectations: “The entertainment business is still very sexist. It’s still very male dominated, and as a woman I did not see enough female role models given the opportunity to do what I knew I had to do.” This woman has not only become the role model she wished to see growing up in, let’s face it, a straight white man’s world, but also successfully runs her own label and management companies, all the while producing her own tours and directing her own films (watch Homecoming on Netflix). She, like many other women in the music industry, seems to do the impossible and are seemingly superhuman. Just months after giving birth to twins and an extremely difficult pregnancy, she started rehearsing for her Homecoming performance as one of the headliners of Coachella in 2018, which was the most viewed performance to date and the most live streamed performance of all time, with the entire performance having 41 million total viewers from around the world, 75% more than Coachella’s previous year. Although we see these success stories, don’t let it fool you. Women, and black women specifically are still widely neglected in general, and in the music industry specifically. As Malcom X puts it, “The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” This still rings true today as the disparity between representation on the stage and behind the scenes is stark, to say the least. Only four out of 871 producers were women of color according to a recent study done by Northwestern University. In the same study researchers found that out of 400 songs and 871 producers, only 2 percent were female. “The gender ratio of male producers to female music producers is 47 to 1,” the report said.

Along with being grossly underrepresented, women in the music industry are also seemingly held to higher standards than men, as they are unable to share their political views without being bashed by at least a few dozen media outlets. For example, Lauryn Hill was criticized for calling out the Catholic Church as she used a 2003 concert in Vatican City as an opportunity to read a letter denouncing the Catholic Church for its pedophilia scandal. “I realize some of you may be offended by what I’m saying, but what do you say to the families who were betrayed by the people in whom they believed?” she said. The Catholic League responded by posting a story about it in 2003 with the headline “Lauryn Hill Flips Her Lid.” This is a direct quote taken from the article, to give you an idea what it conveys: “Hill’s personal problems do not justify her rants against the Catholic Church,” the story said, quoting a news release. “After all, Sinead O’Connor isn’t exactly normal, either, and she justifiably paid a price for her stunt on ‘Saturday Night Live’ when she ripped up a picture of the Pope. We expect Hill’s career, already in decline, will continue to head south. Columbia Records should show her the gate.” The article obviously touched on Sinéad O’Connor’s Saturday Night Live skit as well, when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II, ultimately killing two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. 

As if the undeniable underrepresentation and silencing of women isn’t enough, one of the most obvious ways women are disrespected in the music industry is the way their bodies are sexualized and exploited. A study conducted in partnership with MusiCares, “found that female musicians experience sexual harassment at higher rates than the average U.S. woman. Women made up one-third of the musicians polled in the study and 67 percent reported that they had been the victim of sexual harassment.” In an interview with Variety Magazine Alanis Morisette sheds light on sexual harassment in the music industry after the #MeToo movement swept across the film industry, “It hasn’t even begun in the music industry. Almost every woman in the music industry has been assaulted, harassed, raped. It’s ubiquitous — more in music, even, than film,” Morissette said. “What, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll? By definition it’s crass, sweaty and aggressive. But it’s only a matter of time before it has its own explosion of stories.” The sexualization of women’s bodies and the internal misogynistic tendencies engraved into every man and yes, woman’s brain must be addressed not only on the obvious societal and socioeconomic level, but also on the individual and familial level. As the next generation takes charge we must band together and put a stop to the internalized misogyny that is projected onto every woman from a young age.