Today is International Women’s Day, a day that is a focal point in the year where we honour the struggle for women’s equality and pause to really understand how deep that inequality goes and how much still needs to be achieved. At a time when this struggle and women’s rights in general are denied or under threat in many parts of the world, a few reminders are in order. It’s a day when we’re reminded that throughout 100,000 years of human history, there has not been a day where a woman has awoken and not lived in an unequal and discriminatory world or had her full worth unrecognised, devalued, and under-utilised. Nor has there been a day where the potential power that deep femininity has to change the world not been either disparaged or ignored as incapable, weak and superfluous. This is still the default position in a world which values narrow notions of masculinity and male power. Despite stereotyping, patronising and devaluing femininity, parts of it are calculatingly cherry picked and manipulated for the financial gain of male dominated and owned corporations. The negative and limiting implications this has for the self-concept, self-confidence and self-esteem of many women is profound, not to mention in a future context young women and girls in particular. And this has implications for how women and girls see themselves and where they see their future in regard to areas of life and society, especially in endeavours and vocations from which they have been traditionally excluded culturally and socially. And it has implications for how they are seen and valued by men, which at best produces misogynist forms of denigration and dismissal and at worst harassment and violence.
For those of us involved with independent music, International Women’s Day is also a day to pause and remember the struggles women face to be on an equal footing with men on all levels in music. Male ownership and dominance over the vast majority of the music industry in all its aspects, financially and culturally continues. It’s also a day to face and fight the ongoing issue of female access and participation behind the scenes in the technical parts of the industry too. And the lack of equality is far from just a mainstream problem, there are issues in the independent music world too. As Australia’s Golden Plains Festival just outside Meredith in Victoria gets underway, it’s worth remembering as one of the few truly independent festivals without corporate sponsorship, just 13 of the 60 or so artists in the line up are women. That in itself should make us take pause and remember the importance as to why independent music exists in the first place. And that despite our attempts to ignore or fight the mainstream, we do not exist in vacuum and have the same issues.
Based on ideas of freedom and opportunity and cultural expression for all, the first independent music labels were spawned by a desire to free themselves of the inequality and constraint of the music system built around the interests of major labels and the powerful men who ran and still run them. And the term “indie” was first coined in 1980 for that reason. However, as we all know too well, we are reminded that like the mainstream system it sought to break free from, the independent music world is far from averse to the pervasive cultural mores of discrimination and exclusion in its own sphere. As the figures below this article and the gender inequality on display at Golden Plains and many other independently owned and operated festivals suggest, we are reminded that the independent music space also has a long way to go to ensure women can access all areas and are valued as full and equal participants in every aspect of it. See below.*
It’s also worth remembering where we have come from and how infinitesimally small the period of progress for women’s rights have been in comparison with the totality of human history. It is only in the last 100 that rights for women have become increasingly become part of the conversation and some progress has been made in valuing the contribution made outside the home in some parts of the world. Despite small gains, the world’s economic, political, social and cultural systems are still firmly in the hands of men and destructively binary and alpha male ideas of identity and power still persist. Notwithstanding the toxic masculinity this enables and emboldens and the psychological and physical injury done to women as a result of such attitudes, the deck of power and access is systemically still stacked against women in terms of inequality of access and opportunity. Notwithstanding the crippling double standards and daily discrimination.
On a day where Rosie Carney’s excellent clarion call for justice and equality, Beware Of The Dogs is released, it’s also worth remembering that the hard won gains that have been achieved are under threat and being eroded in some parts of the world. They are under threat after three long decades of economic neo-liberalism where life has become more insecure and transient. Currently the world faces a growing threat from right wing nationalist and fascist political movements who are openly sexist and anti-women and a growing conservative backlash in defence of traditional male power, a continuing denial of history and a snide and dishonest interpretation of the term “family values”. This phenomenon is tied to the ugly growth of religious movements of all hues which seek to attack the rights and freedoms of women through attempting to control their bodies and limiting women’s economic, political and social choices. These ideas are based on archaic and false, yet convenient fit for purpose notions of morality. Ironically, it is the inequality, insecurity and growing concentration of power produced by neo-liberalism, the central premise of which is to limit the power of government to represent and redistribute that is being capitalised on by these groups but instead of addressing the elite system that produced it, they focus on feminism and multiculturalism as the enemy. Their fake notions of morality are a threat to us all, especially those of us who seek to live our lives in a free, open, inclusive and permissive society.
A stark choice stands before humanity in the next few years. A choice exists between either increasing the power of reactionary forces who seek to not only undermine the hard won gains made in the fight for gender equality but also to delay, disrupt and ultimately stop the many reforms that are still needed. Or the world can continue to move forward towards inclusivity and intrinsically respecting, valuing, empowering and harnessing the intelligence and skills possessed by half the world’s population who have always been largely excluded from decision making. Given this, and the cry from the dissatisfied that equally blames the political left as much as the right, it is further salient to understand how International Women’s Day came about. In 1910, it was from the left of politics and a call from the unheralded head of the women’s committee of the Socialist Party of America Theresa Malkiel, who first proposed a national day to mark the fundamental value and importance of women to society and fight for their equal political, social and economic rights. The idea to highlight these fundamental issues on a particular day internationally was first proposed at the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen in 1911 by German Socialist leader Luise Zietz and seconded by her deputy Clara Zetkin along with fellow socialists like Kate Düncker. And so International Women’s Day was born thanks to the work of left wing women in left wing organisations.
At a time when leftist ideas are under attack and the historical struggles by women in history still go largely unheralded or are unknown it is crucially important to acknowledge and put front and centre the names and struggle of these women. along with the struggles of many other women around the world. Due to historical bias, our histories still focuses on the deeds of “great men” (look at the gender imbalance of statues in any city). It is also crucially important to acknowledge that on the left these women found a natural home – a home that naturally agitated for equality and their full rights and achievements as human beings to be won, valued and respected. In a downright hostile climate, where virtually no woman had a say in the direction of their society anywhere but behind the scenes in the home, their role in the political arena as fully fledged intellectuals, activists and organisers was a crucial foundation stone and gave rise to women’s political voices and representation. They and their leftist ideas and the role they played in subsequently improving the rights and lives of women everywhere must never be forgotten. It is just but one example that it has always been the left of politics that has always been the home of and pushed forward ideas of justice, inclusion and equality for the marginalised in society and the reason why women and men have much of the voice and benefits we have today.
It is also the reason why the left must prevail over the right in the future for those gains to be extended and not curtailed As how International Women’s Day began reminds us, the struggle for rights and equality for women can only come from a defence and promulgation of those very left wing ideas themselves. It is the only way forward towards a more inclusive and fairer world and to ensure humanity does face premature extinction. Left wing ideas like democratic socialism are wrapped up in a balance between the sanctity of freedom for the individual within a greater framework of fundamental regard and respect for the health of the collective. Ideas based on lateral thinking that are focused on the needs and aspirations of all humanity regardless of gender, race and class. It’s also worth remembering that ideas of the right and the unfair and inhumane societies they lauded over and still do was actually responsible for producing the birth of the modern left in the nineteenth century. And it was from within these ideas of fairness, equality and welfare for all and the struggle of courageous women throughout the ages that the modern movement for women’s political and economic rights began.
It’s also crucial to recognise the work and struggle of many women across all spheres today. And in music, there are a stack of organisations and thousands of women leading the charge for fair access and representation, The vital work of the PRS Foundation and its initiatives Women Make Music & Keychange, The U.K.’s Association for Independent Music (AIM) initiative Woman In Music and Discwoman, She Said So and Girls Against along with many more must be supported and acknowledged.
On International Women’s Day and every other day, Indie30 joins the call for a world where the women of today and the women of the future experience and live a full and gender equal economic, political, social and culturally participatory life completely free of discrimination and restraint. We also call for a full use of the gender spectrum in the exercise of political and economic power in all spheres of life. We call for all aspects of femininity to be recognised, respected, valued and utilised as strengths fundamental to the survival of humanity. Women deserve an infinitesimally better deal than what they have always received and endured. And for this to happen it will need more than the struggle of women.
We call on all men to join the struggle for a radical change in how power is exercised and by whom. Men must revolutionise their beliefs, perspectives and behaviour about gender, power and themselves. When men let go of their exclusive hold on power and begin to realise that holding on to it in this way and the ascendant forms of masculinity are actually a burden to and on them, change can occur. We all stand to benefit from women’s equality but it always worth remembering that it is the rights of women that are missing and selflessly, men must change to honour this point alone.
And as the struggle for equality in music continues, through our determination to promote and expose the limitless capabilities and talents of female and non-binary artists, Indie30 stands with full weight and voice on the side of social justice and inclusion and the struggle for women’s equality in all aspects of music and in all aspects of life.
James Stocker – Editor, Indie30.
Some statistics on inequality in the music industry.
“A recent USC Annenberg study showed that “2017 marked a six-year low for female artists in popular content”, “out of the study’s 651 producers, 98% were male and only 2% female” and “of 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.” In addition, “a total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. 90.7% of those were male and 9.3% were female.”
In 2018, Women In Music reported that the gender pay gap at some of the biggest music-focused companies was a staggering 30 per cent. Of the world’s 600 most popular songs in 2018 only 2 per cent were produced by women. Across the three creative roles highlighted in the study, women make up 21.7 percent of artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters and 2.1 percent of producers.
For more stats go here.