Just a few days ago, Nathaniel Khaleel wrote in an article on Policymag “Women are by and large the most victimized by the music industry, on multiple fronts. The label would lose its mind if a female artist did anything to shatter her image as a femme-fatale or appear anything other than ultra-sexual and provocative. The ubiquitous double standard in regards to sexual behavior is the most obvious example — where men can speak about women in sultry ways and aggrandize their own ego, women must be perceived as powerless and abject victims or risk being labelled as promiscuous or overbearing. The objectification of women has always been around, but it seems to have intensified in recent years.” The truth of that statement struck me. Women are treated much differently than men in the music and entertainment industry, from every behind-the-scenes level straight up to the public eye. We’re lucky that a few well-known female artists refuse to take sexism quietly and are making it clear that they are the ones who will be calling the shots on their careers and image. Janelle Monae recently told Essence:
People don’t ask Jay-Z to take his shirt off when he rhymes…redefine what it means to be sexy and what it means to be a woman. Showing my skin is not what makes me sexy…It was up to me to show people and young girls there was another way.
Janelle, who is as well-known for her onstage attire as her music, says she refuses to have others define how she should look and act in a recent interview with NME.
Absolutely I’ve encountered sexism in the music industry. I don’t look at myself as a victim. I think that some people just are not taught any better and certain behavior has been passed down and it’s been accepted and I think that it’s up to us as women not to accept it and lead by example and that’s what I’ve always tried to do with music and from the way that I dress. I won’t allow myself to be oppressed or I won’t allow myself to be a slave or controlled by anybody’s own belief system.
I think that it’s just important that we set up a better future, a better world for the next generation especially of young women. We are the matriarchs we are great communicators we have intuition, we are people of peace and we are to be respected. By owning my own recording label and being the lead creative on everything that you see, I have to make sure that that’s preserved and that that message is out there, that I will peacefully remain in control of my body.
I think the biggest misconception of me…I love dresses, I love heels, you’ll see me in a dress, you’ll see me in heels…but I think I had a bigger message and that was to redefine and almost in a sense rebel against sexism. When I’m ready to do those things I’ll do them it won’t be because its law that women have to look this way or you’re an RnB singer or a black girl singing you need to dress this way and sing about these things. People have definitely, early on in my career, suggested those things but I think it’s because they didn’t know any better.
Janelle is not the only female artist that is bothered by the sexism women are encountering in their musical careers. Indie singer/songwriter Solange Knowles has publicly voiced her disapproval about the lack of credit female artists receive for their own work. In April, she tweeted:
I find it very disappointing when I am presented as the “face” of my music, or a “vocal muse” when I write or co-write every fucking song. How can one be a “vocal muse” to their own melodies, storytelling, and words they wrote?
Solange’s remark was in response to a Pitchfork review of her “True” album, where the onus of songwriting was put on male collaborator Dev Hynes instead of Solange, although it was a joint effort. Solange was described as Hynes’ “ideal female vocal muse.” No wonder she’s pissed off. Solange also tweeted, “Sexism in the music industry ain’t nothing new.” Sad but true. Sexism, embedded into our general culture, has been in the entertainment industry since the beginning. In 2007, M.I.A spoke out in an interview about what seemed to be an obsession with crediting male DJ Diplo for the creation of her first two albums.
I just find it a bit upsetting and kind of insulting that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female or that people from undeveloped countries can’t have ideas of their own unless it’s backed up by someone who’s blond-haired and blue-eyed. After the first time it’s cool, the second time it’s cool, but after like the third, fourth, fifth time, maybe it’s an issue that we need to talk about, maybe that’s something important, you know. There is an issue especially with what male journalists write about me and say “this MUST have come from a guy.” I can understand that, I can follow that, that’s fine. But when female journalists as well put your work and things down to it being all coming from a man, that really fucks me up.
Echoing M.I.A.’s dissatisfaction with the lack of recognition and respect she gets in the industry, Grimes (Claire Boucher), a Canadian pop singer, posted on her Tumblr blog:
I’m tired of men who aren’t professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to ‘help me out’ (without being asked), as if I did this by accident and I’m gonna flounder without them. Or as if the fact that I’m a woman makes me incapable of using technology. I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers. I’m tired of being considered vapid for liking pop music or caring about fashion, as if these things inherently lack substance or as if the things I enjoy somehow make me a lesser person.
Women encounter sexism in the workplace all the time, and this is just in regards to performing their actual jobs. Another ugly thing that these women are bringing to the spotlight is the sexual harassment, double standards and expectations that go on behind the scenes (or sometimes in plain sight). Grimes continues:
I don’t want to have to compromise my morals in order to make a living. I don’t want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction.
Amy Kirkpatrick, who is one half of the electronic band Data Romance, wrote a post on her website titled “Sex in Hollywood” and revealed some disturbing details:
The amount of times I’ve turned down sex and had opportunities taken away from me, that would get your attention as well. Or at least it should. If it doesn’t, then you’d fit right in in the entertainment business. The coverings of wine, or late night one on one meetings, or when something is prefaced by the words “It won’t be weird.” It’ll be weird. It’ll be very weird. The extremes of it I believe exist in the entertainment business because, well, sex sells. The fact is women are sexualized far more than men. And I think certain times sexuality is the first emotion that comes across when meeting people in the industry. A large percentage of them have main goals of being ‘successful’, ‘attractive’, ‘rich’, all high up on the chart of what gets someone laid. So how come when you turn down sex to stick up for your own morals, or simply for the fact you don’t want to sleep your way to the top, you feel.. awkward about it? So you just ruined a relationship with a potential band you were going to work with because you turned down sex with someone who’s ego can’t handle it. They cut you out. That happens. That happened to me. And having to explain that to your record label, or band members, is not a conversation you want to have. Nor is it one that could ever be 100% empathized with because they didn’t have to go through that. You did. Or how a studio hangout man to man, is nothing but business. Woman to man, the idea of sex immediately comes into play. It’s unfair, and sadly just something women still have to deal with, because I feel like no matter how far equal rights go, some men’s primal instincts will always outweigh any moral grounds of what isn’t appropriate to say or act on. In the words of Lauryn Hill, ‘Respect is just the minimum’, and honestly, sometimes it’s hard to get even that. Like how a sound man said to me the other day “Oh, women are like that, always jumping the gun”, when I simply went to adjust my own mic stand. In Seth Meyers voice… “Really? Reaalllyyy????” It seems like such a small thing, but these small things add up, and add weight to how you act as a woman in the business. They add weight to whether you even want to be in the business or not.
Amy refuses to put up with sexism. She encourages other women to do the same – to keep pushing and fighting for respectful treatment, and demand a more equal world:
Use your words when someone is cleverly hinting at sex, but won’t come right out and say it. Call them on it. Make that conversation even more uncomfortable. Stick up for yourself, and other women. Because next time, maybe they won’t be so coy. Maybe they won’t tell you to come over to their house for wine, instead of meeting at the studio. Lose the job. Keep your self-respect. No amount of money could ever buy that back.
Amy also takes the opportunity in “Sex in Hollywood” to speak about feminism, and the misinterpretation of the “F” word:
As all the men and women I respect state themselves as feminists, I am one as well. To some, this word has a certain connotation of man-hating. Or you picture the women’s bookshop owners from Portlandia. If you can’t even say the word, feminist, you are working against what you say you believe in. And I’m sorry but you are in fact not one. The actual definition of the word is this: The Theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. In short, equal rights. And no, these equal rights very much still don’t exist. It’s sort of a broad term, ‘equal rights’, but for me it’s how women are treated that isn’t equal.
Grimes, in her own Tumblr post, also expressed similar disappointment that her feminist stance is being misunderstood as anti-male, when she just wants to be respected.
I’m sad that my desire to be treated as an equal and as a human being is interpreted as hatred of men, rather than a request to be included and respected. I promise I do not hate men at all, nor do I believe that all men are sexist or that all men behave in the ways described above. I’m done with being passive about any kind of status quo that allows anyone to suffer or to be disrespected.
It’s crazy to think that a human being has to struggle to be treated as such…but sexism is de-humanizing and has deep roots in our society – so deep, that it is often overlooked. Because women are not being rightfully credited or respected in the music industry (and elsewhere), they have to try much harder and be more careful with their choices than their male peers. The majority of women in any field and industry would agree. Acknowledging sexism and keeping it in the public’s mind can help facilitate a discussion about society’s attitudes toward women. The more sexism is talked about, pointed out and fought against, the harder it is to cover it up and avoid doing something about it. It becomes easier to recognize and harder to excuse or dismiss. When women in large numbers refuse to be defined by anyone’s ideals but their own, a cultural shift is inevitable. It may take some time, but this conversation is an important one.