Women in popular music are mobilising to close the gender gap

As if anyone needed even more confirmation of the obvious, yes, the Australian popular music profession is dominated by men. And while things are beginning to change, a gap still exists between men and women working in the industry. Something’s got to give.

From festival line-ups and bookings, to award nominations, from radio plays to Australian-wide music grants, from staff in the music world, to those on public boards, male artists, dominated bands and industry professionals make up the overwhelming majority of these industry positions.

First the good news. Information gathered by Triple J’s Hack, ‘By The Numbers’ report, released in March this year, shows there are some improvements in the balance. Women artists are in fact becoming more noticeable in these areas.

But Hack reported women were still underrepresented in most areas and one of these is music festivals.

Festival line-ups with acts including at least one woman ranged from the highest female percentile at 36% (Laneway 2016, down from 38% in 2015) to the lowest at 21% (Groovin’ The Moo in 2016, down from 37% in 2015).

Listen Out, went up from just 9% of female inclusive acts in 2015 to almost matching Laneway, the festival with the most balance between genders, with 35%, the following year.

But female public board members on peak music bodies rose only by 4% and artist managers in Australia dropped by roughly the same amount.

“There’s so many guys in the industry, which is awesome and we love them, but we’re trying to make a special effort to hyper-connect.” – Holly Rankin

It was these troubling figures that prompted Australian singer, songwriter and creative, Holly Rankin (AKA Jack River) to announce an all female show; Electric Lady.

“From an industry perspective that (‘By The Numbers report’) definitely inspired me,” she says.

“Electric Lady was born from a feeling of wanting to make stuff progressive and positive and give something to the women’s movement that we’re seeing from men and women around the globe.”

Rankin created Electric Lady as a show and social media platform to promote and recognise the achievements of women across all walks of life.

The idea just kept on growing through conversations Rankin had with the other leading women in music – Lisa Mitchell, Ali Barter, Montaigne and more – surrounding the idea of ‘connecting’.

“There’s so many guys in the industry, which is awesome and we love them, but we’re trying to make a special effort to hyper-connect.”

The social media platform, Electric Lady World extended the performance to something far greater, aimed to “Profile leading women (working) in different fields”

The project lined up influencers such as Stephanie Gilmore from the surfing world, Katy Mack from the astrophysics world and Isabel Lucas, an Australian actor, activist and model, just to name a few.

“I feel like I have more to prove or I have to work harder than any of them for my voice to be heard in exactly the same scenario.” – Brynn Davies

“Our plan was to start creating videos and interviews with some of the incredible women we’re in touch with.” Says Rankin.

Electric Lady had also raised awareness and begun further discussion around not only female representation, but what ‘equality’ in the music industry looks like.

Electric Lady, received a very positive response from the media when it sold out in June this year.

There were some criticisms that the line-up was discriminatory, but that was to be expected when hosting a completely female-inspired festival. Rankin says it’s legitimate for people to see the movement as discriminating, but she said that is not what the event was about.

She wants to attract as much support as she can for  ‘Electric Lady’ to continue to change the perspective people may have of women in all industries.

Rankin also wants the shows to reach more cities around Australia and ultimately create a worldwide network of “super-women”.

Founder and editor of Australian music feature site, lunchboxtv.com.au, Brynn Davies has been subjected first hand to gender inequality and has witnessed other cases while working in the industry.

“I immediately feel like I have more to prove or I have to work harder than any of them for my voice to be heard in exactly the same scenario”.

Davies says something as simple as setting up stage instruments, can leave her feeling a certain kind of vulnerability, as it often feels the surrounding male professionals look down upon her in such a way they don’t trust she knows what she’s doing.

“If say, my brother walked out on stage, no one really gives him a second glance, so it is very different in different scenarios,” she says.

After attending Brisbane’s annual Bigsound Festival Conference in early September, Davies said the initiative has made a positive step and set an example for future venues and festivals to consider the gender gap.

“The one issue that I did have was that closing the gender gap requires both men and women to have equal part in moving forwards (closing the gap), we as women or non-binary people, we can’t do this and move towards equality if we’re doing it on our own, we need men and male identifying people to help and to be part of that conversation and when we were in there, it was very disappointing to see how few men were represented there,” she says.

“It’s going to open that space for more men to attend because the don’t feel like their being alienated from the conversation or like its not their place to be.”

Davies says diversity training and how education plays a strong role in closing the gender gap in the music industry – from training security guards to bar staff at venues and festivals to influencing the guilty parties themselves and asking why.

“It’s all about education and I think that rather than having this big angry mob that’s like ‘you can’t do these things’ point blank, that doesn’t make the move to educate them, so right now we’ve all got to get behind this bandwagon and start pushing and really make sure we’re opening that dialogue so that we’re generating more understanding about the issue.”

Davies shares additional and alternative ways to close the divide. She suggests that rather than looking at it in the terms of two opposing genders that have to find an equal weighting, we should instead look to one another as human beings.

“A lot of these changes start with the leaders so, the media for example, not gender specifying when they’re talking about musicians.” Davies, does not chooses not to identify a guitarist or drummer by their gender.

“Media is what we read, media creates culture, media leaves change, media influences and educates and I believe it’s a responsibility as writers to change that dialogue so that it becomes normalised and so that we’re also setting the example and moving forward.”

“Although I am a woman working in the industry and I do experience some level of inequality, I do not experience the same inequality as someone who is say non-binary or who is an indigenous woman in Australia. So I have authority from one standpoint as a female, but I don’t have the authority to speak for those people who suffer different issues and I believe they need to be given a voice just as much as a straight white woman as well.”

Ella Barrett is a freelance feature writer and a Journalism student at Griffith University

Image:Bec Sandridge at Electric Lady, Melbourne July 9, 2017. Photo by Liam Pethick via Electric Lady Facebook


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