Questioning Gender Diversity

Column: Features   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 12 July 16   |   Author: Cody Atkinson   |   2 weeks, 1 day ago

     "If women don’t feel safe in music venues, why would they willingly engage in music culture?"

Music Victoria recently introduced their first gender diversity policy, following on from much consideration in this area. But why is gender diversity important, and is it really a problem? More importantly, are there potential solutions?

*NOTE: This article primarily identifies male and female genders without diving deeper. Sex and gender are diverse spectrums and when referring to women and men it includes those who identify as female and male, and those who are gender non-conforming.

Is there a problem with gender equality in the music scene? Given that I’m writing this thing now, there is. And if you don’t think there is, think about how many bands you’ve seen lately, and how many women have been playing on stage. Or the number of non-singing women on your recently played Spotify list (of local artists, natch).

Is it important that there is gender diversity? In my humble (and overwrought) opinion, it absolutely is. And before you jump down my throat about it not being the be-all-and-end-all of all humanity, of course it’s not. No one is saying it is. But if society is progressing (which is the goal of all humanity), areas like this are critical in ensuring cultural diversity and depth.

And that’s important why?  SO WE DON’T KEEP HEARING THE SAME SHOUTY MEDIOCRE WHITE MALE VOICES POURING FROM EVERY FUCKING CORNER OF SOCIETY. I can show you any number of statistics saying that this is an issue too.

Such as? Well in 2015, local muso and writer Sophie Chapman did an informal study of the Canberra music scene and found that just 16.6% of all musicians were female. Chapman also found that only about a third of all Canberra acts had female members, and the majority of those were in acts where they were outnumbered by men in the same band.

Has she done more work with this? She has, and it’s probably better than the dreck I write. She’s got a piece about this on Feminartsy right now, and she’s got a great blog on this issue at Give it a read for a few minutes, and get back to me…

Right, what’s the diversity situation elsewhere? Not great. Generally, females go to shows as much as males do (according to a 2012 Victorian Live Music Census), but they contribute to the other aspects of participation less, from playing to doing sound and recording. Women don’t seem to be any less interested in music, but there appears to be a participatory gap present.

So what’re the numbers nationwide? Well the 2011 Census found that only 36% of those who reported their jobs as being in the performing arts and music industries were women. That means for every woman employed in these fields, two men were employed in similar roles.

So what have other places done to address the gender diversity issue? Recently Music Victoria announced their first gender diversity policy, stating the simple and broad goal of ensuring participation of at least 40% women and 40% men across all of its activities where possible. Music Victoria came up with the policy in response to a discussion paper that considered the issues around gender diversity in the Victorian music industry. Victoria have also addressed the substantial issue of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention at pubs, which has been reported by academics as being endemic.

Yeah, why should you have to put up with objectifying fuckwits? Exactly! In the latest Best Practice Guidelines for Live Music Venues, an entire chapter is devoted to how to deal with sexual harassment from a venue and promoter standpoint. It makes sense to address this, because if women don’t feel safe in music venues, why would they willingly engage in music culture?

What stops women being involved in the scene? THAT IS A GOOD QUESTION. Being someone that hasn’t experienced this first hand, I can only speculate on what I have read and heard over the years. It seems that peer support, harassment-free environments, unconscious bias and fair opportunities play roles in preventing more effective gender diversity. Some of these problems are long-term systemic issues running right through society, others are more concentrated specifically to the culture around music.

So what are some potential solutions to these problems? There are no magic bullet fixes to issues around any kind of fair representation. Documents such as the Victorian Gender Diversity Policy and its preceding report acknowledge this, and state that the end goal must be kept in mind while attempting to progress. Organisations such as LISTEN, Feminartsy and the new Canberra group Launch Pad provide a space for women to share experiences and talk about potential problems, and solutions.

What have other sources suggested? The sources above indicate that strong support networks for females are critical in enabling participation, as well as impartial judgment of talent based on merit. Some people feel that quotas in ensuring participation, such as the Music Victoria one above and also radio play quotas, are key in establishing diversity of voices throughout the community. However, it must be noted that support for this isn’t universal. Perhaps most critically all people must be able to feel safe in music venues, without any fears or doubts.

Absolutely. Programs such as the Girls Rock! camps (like the Canberra one that was held earlier this year) also play an important role in encouraging participation from an early age, and establishing strong role models for diversity. And it would be great if the ACT could create a similar suite of documents to that of the gender diversity policy and the Best Practice Guidelines for Live Music Venues, to place a baseline framework for the industry to attain.



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