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Sexism in the music industry – how far have we really come?

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

How does the narrative between male and female artists differ, and have we seen this change over time?

 

Over the last few decades, we have seen a growing conversation around the gender inequality and sexism that exists in most workplaces. While various improvements have been made, such as the reduction in the gender pay gap between men and women worldwide, women still earn 84 cents for every dollar earned by men. Clearly, this inequality and gender discrimination still exists.

The gender pay gap is only one example out of many that highlight the sexism which most women endure daily in their workplace. A common issue is that much illegal discrimination due to gender still occurs privately and goes without being reported. For example, in 2018 a Young Women’s Trust poll reported that 23% of young females have been sexually harassed at work, yet only 8% have reported it. With a common lack of transparency towards salaries, women are also often unaware that they are being paid less than their male counterparts.

Although this type of sexism often goes under the radar, artists within the music industry receive immense attention due to being under the public eye – meaning sexist attitudes or gender discrimination is arguably more evident. Within such an industry, female artists experience a harsh level of sexism in almost all aspects of their careers. While there have been some improvements regarding gender inequality in similar industries, like the #MeToo movement in the film industry we must ask: to what extent have we removed sexism within the music industry?

Primarily, the majority of female artists suffer from vast levels of objectification – perpetuated by the media and platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. With their talent and achievements overlooked, they are often reduced down to solely their appearances – such as how ‘attractive’ they are or their body image. There is a complete disparity between comments made towards male and female artists’ appearances, thus reinforcing misogynistic and sexist attitudes towards successful women. Headlines and articles such as ‘15 ugly singers that get by with their hot bodies’ by The Richest immediately objectify female artists and encourage the notion that their success is only due to their societally-determined “hot body”, despite their faces being “ugly”. Whilst we see countless instances of this attitude towards female artists, it is much rarer to find such sexist attitudes and language being used about male artists in the industry.

Moreover, it is well-known that many artists, of all genders, experience forms of online bullying or trolling to some degree – meaning that social media sites become another platform in which sexist attitudes towards female artists are expressed, often occurring through comments regarded as ‘fat-shaming’. There are numerous cases of this type of online abuse specifically towards female artists – photos of Selena Gomez in Los Angeles in 2021 received horrific comments such as ‘help she’s BIG big.’ Not only is this further degradation encouraging the objectification of talented and successful women in the music industry, but it also has severe and damaging effects on the young users of social media that should not be overlooked.

There has also long been the idea that successful women in any industry have to work against each other rather than together. This is indirectly encouraged through the constant ranking of female artists’ appearances at award shows and red carpets, arguably perpetuating this sexist narrative. Articles such as Daily Mail’s AMA’s worst dressed! demonstrate the competition that is created between successful women – and though the rankings also include male artists, there was a disproportionate amount of comments towards the female ones. This in itself is evidence of the obsession that we have with appearances within the music industry and pop culture – and when combined with the diminishing notion that female artists are only successful due to their looks, an extremely sexist environment is created.

Nonetheless, we are also seeing a positive conversation being created surrounding body image and confidence, reducing the objectification of female artists.''Lizzo, as an example, speaks about the scrutiny female artists are under to look a certain way, and receives many positive comments on her Instagram posts due to her body confidence – a testament to changing sexist attitudes." That said, even praising the confidence of an artist such as Lizzo may have indirect and inadvertent negative implications – as often artists’ body positivity is seen as courageous if they do not fit with societal standards. She herself doesn’t want to be seen as ‘brave’, and rather wants to be celebrated for her music, reinforcing the fact that female artists are often reduced down to solely their looks. There is still improvement needed within the music industry and general conversations towards female artists and their bodies, to ensure that they are viewed and treated equally to their male counterparts.

In spite of the level of social progress being made in today’s society and the music industry, there is still a specific tone used to talk about female artists that perpetuates sexist and discriminatory attitudes. In an interview with CBS Sunday morning, Taylor Swift speaks about the difference in vocabulary between male and female artists, explaining how men are often deemed to be ‘strategic’, yet a woman can only ever be ‘calculated.’ This difference in dialogue proves there to be a deep-rooted misogynistic approach towards women’s success, as they are unequally critiqued and described negatively. This links to the narrative that female artists only write about relationships, love, and ex-boyfriends – diminishing their skills and talent compared to that of male artists. In another interview, Swift mentions how artists such as Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran aren’t given the reputation for ‘only writing about their ex-partners’, yet this is often assumed to be the topic of many female artists’ work. While this label may sometimes be accurate for both female and male artists, the latter are not labelled as boring or dramatic – emphasising the sexist attitudes still present.


Despite the level of sexist critiques that most female artists face, this is not to say they are not incredibly successful. During the last year, many records were broken by female artists – such as Beyonce who now holds the record for most Grammy awards won by a vocalist, and Ariana Grande, who set the new record for the most songs to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it is this success and their talent that they should be respected for, rather than the focus landing on their love lives or what they look like. Unfortunately, sexism within the music industry is still expressed through the devaluing of female artists’ success – as they are arguably yet to be recognised solely for their talent. Moreover, looking briefly at wider roles within the music industry, a study by Amplify Her Voice found that alongside only 22% of top artists being women, a mere 3% are producers or sound engineers. There is still far to go to increase gender equality within the music industry, and having more women in powerful or managerial roles would help to eliminate the sexism still present.


Overall, despite our generations’ general progress and awareness regarding sexism and gender inequality, discriminatory attitudes are still very much present throughout the music industry. Indeed, female artists are able to reach high levels of success, yet sexist critiques and comments frequently accompany the fame they receive.

 

Written by Lauren Walker.


The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Lauren Walker — not TEDxWarwick.


If you have any questions concerning the article, its research, and opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email lauren@tedxwarwick.com.





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