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Sexism in the music industry: how far have we come?

ByElla Olszowska

Oct 16, 2017

Content warning: sexual harassment mention, sexual assault mention

Last week rapper and hip-hop star Loyle Carner kicked a fan out of his concert at the University of East Anglia for shouting obscene, sexist remarks at his female support artist. Acts like these are not uncommon, especially within the music industry, but rarely do people speak out against them.

According to the Huffington Post, a report from PRS for Music showed that of their 95,000 members (consisting of songwriters, composers and music publishers), a mere 13 per cent were female. The fact that the music industry is such a male dominated field makes issues of sexism all the more common.

Recently however, because of the increased presence of social media and the continued rise of feminism, more musicians have been coming forward to speak out against problems like sexual harassment and misogyny, that previously were often brushed under the carpet, and castigating those who behave inappropriately.

Sam Carter, a singer from the Architects, recently called out a man who sexually assaulted a woman at his gig, telling the crowd, “I saw a…woman, crowdsurfing over here, and I’m not going to f***ing point the piece of s*** out who did it, but I saw you f***ing grab at her boob….there is no place for that s***.”

In July the guitarist from Circa Survive Brendan Ekstrom also intervened in an incidence of sexual assault that was happening in the audience, stopping his show to allow security to confront the people involved.

Men often play a minority role in terms of defending issues such as sexism, because of the belief that they are exclusively ‘female’ topics. As Max Mohenu wrote when investigating sexism in the music industry, “the lack of voice and self-awareness amongst men and their industry peers is what allows predators to go undetected, especially when said dudes are too scared to expose their friends or boss in order to help a woman who might be in a dangerous situation.” But as Carner, Carter and Ekstom have demonstrated, people are beginning to recognise the importance of taking a stand against sexism and assault.

Every day we see more and more online reports of instances of sexism and sexual assault. The lead singer of Chvrches Lauren Mayberry, for example, wrote an article for The Guardian in which she questioned, “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat?”

Similarly, the pop sensation Iggy Azalea has said that when she performs, she has to have barriers between her and the audience because the threat of sexual assault is so high. This just goes to show the extent to which sexism and sexual harassment has become part of the norm, especially in this area, and forces the question of whether more measures need to be taken in order to prevent it.

The problem of sexism in the music industry is not just existent in the UK, but worldwide. In fact, Delhi University have prevented musicians with sexist lyrics from performing at student events. As one of the leaders of their student union stated, “…these artists are using their art form to demean women. The lyrics of their songs are offensive, abusive and completely opposite of what we are taught.”

The LISTEN collective, based in Melbourne, are also aware of gender-based issues in the music world. Led by the DJ Katie Pearson, the group aims to counter sexism in the music industry, and have even introduced measures such as training security guards to help women who are hassled or assaulted at venues.

It is clear that sexism and sexual harassment is now being recognised as a serious problem within the music industry – but it is a complex matter. Although the methods implemented thus far certainly offer lots of potential for continuing to improve the situation, this only represents a small section of the industry. Moving forward, it is likely that awareness will need to further widen and measures continue to be taken in order for sexism and assault to be eliminated completely.

Image: Nikita Jha

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