You’d have thought, by now, really, that it didn’t matter what tackle you were or weren’t born with – if you’re feeling it, you can rock as hard as anyone, cock out or never there in the first place. Boy or girl, however you define yourself: it should be no obstacle to playing music to people, to enjoying music with people, to forging a career in this industry of ours.
And yet, there is merchandise like this on sale, by the (deathcore) bands Attila and I Declare War, which rather suggests: women, you’re not welcome (via Sexism And The Second City).
Those shirts mightn’t be fresh to each act’s store, and perhaps they regret them. (That doesn’t exonerate them from being beyond heinous, mind.) But the advert below from sE Electronics, as seen in Sound On Sound magazine earlier this month (July 2014), stirred Hookworms (whose MJ put the image on their Facebook page) into posting a passionate message:
“This is really important – companies need to be challenged on their sexism. The image in this advert of a woman without a head propagates the position of the female as an object in a man's world to be written on and used to sell a product (a microphone?!).
“I (MJ) am lucky enough to make my living from recording and I want women and girls to also feel comfortable in what is currently a highly male-dominated industry. Images like this advert show we still have a long way to go.”
“A long way to go.” How very depressing. sE countered the various messages of displeasure they inevitably received with a little background on the offending advert for their Magneto microphone, as well as something a bit like an apology, sort of just another advert, but more further fuel for the fire. James Young, MD of sE, wrote: “We believed that by creating a piece of art, we were doing something different, something beautiful, that empowered woman and celebrated the beauty of the female form.”
The “art” that Young refers to, presumably, is the CGI that the image is made of. That’s not a real woman, see. If it was, just imagine! How very sexist that would be. It’s a 3D model – not a de-robed lady with Photoshop tats. Which, obviously, makes it okay. Hmm.
Most people did not agree.
And some wrote even more words on the topic, like here and here. I popped the ad onto my Facebook wall to see if any of my friends agreed that it was, indeed, an “empowering” image. Said one comment, from someone born without a penis:
“It’s just exploiting the female form and ideals of feminine beauty to sell a microphone. They think they are being clever by trying to appeal to the alternative subculture by having the woman tattooed… but actually it’s blatant exploitation. This kind of stuff just pisses me off.”
Nutshell, pretty much. Others remarked on its exploitative nature, and how it’s just “low standards ad”. “How is it anything other than an arse to get people to look at the ad?” asked one friend who works in PR for major-label, A-listed artists. I find it hard to believe, after the widely publicized article penned last year by Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry – “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not…” – and leading female artists like London Grammar’s Hannah Reid, Grimes and Janelle Monáe speaking out about how they’ve each experienced sexism in their workplace, this industry of ours, that we are still finding fresh examples of discrimination where there’s no legitimate reason for there to be any – like there ever could be.
Of course, it’s one thing to be a brand selling microphones for the professional musician community, quite another for a musician themselves to promote the idea that women should be perceived as inferior, secondary, as nothing more than window dressing for the product that is their uniquely crafted brand of contemporary pop music.
Then again, there was this.
In the March issue of Hunger, Jake Bugg (the happy-go-lucky, chipper chap that he so effortlessly implies he is in every photo shoot he’s a part of) participated in a session with renowned snapper Rankin. The concept? Well, you can see for yourself. This shit is so next-level I can’t even begin to process it, it’s that far beyond me. I mean, on the surface, it looks like the team’s just gone, “Boob, yep, boobs… boobs,” and maybe mumbled something about Robert Palmer. But, surely, there is a greater meaning to it. Surely?
In the Hunger interview, beside the typos, Bugg is asked if the shoot was his idea. “Yeah, I’ve been listening to a bit of (Jimi) Hendrix, and it’s a reference to the ‘Electric Ladyland’ cover.” Now, I’m very aware that Bugg’s music is archaic in the extreme, and that in the 1960s, when ‘Electric Ladyland’ was released (in 1968), some guys had problems with women enjoying every right that they did themselves. The Women’s Liberation Movement had taken tremendous strides towards equality – feminism was taking root, and today it’s rightly embedded in a great many individual ideologies. But just because his music’s old, his snickering sexism could do with a boot into the present day.
And besides, Hendrix didn’t even like the ‘Electric Ladyland’ cover. He expressed great embarrassment about it. He found it disrespectful. Guess Bugg missed that part of the album’s story. And even if he didn’t have creative control on the Hunger shoot, which I have been told by other press types, surely he could have said something? Is he that much of a braindead puppet for people who we don’t see fronting these godawful songs? Almost makes you feel sorry for him. Nah.
What was amazing, to me, was that the Hunger shoot passed me (and others) by entirely at the time. It was not until just a few weeks ago that it appeared on my radar, shared by peers on social media. I tweeted about it, that was picked up by Dorian Lynskey and soon enough many more journalists were expressing no little justified outrage about the whole thing.
Why bring this up now, at all, though, given the internet moves so fast that even images shared and collectively abhorred just a few weeks ago feel terrifically old? Mainly because I read this over the weekend just gone, and it turned my stomach. Writing for The Daily Dot, Samantha Allen mentioned the recent VidCon event, held for those who create YouTube content, both for a living and just for fun. She says that many female creators post one video and then never return as they are appalled, and understandably turned off, by the comments they see under their work.
This is nothing new. Look at this two-year-old post by Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian revealing the awful harassment she endured for daring to be a girl who had an opinion on videogames. “She needs a good dicking.” “LESBIANS: THE GAME is all this bitch wants.” “Back to the kitchen, c*nt.” Can you begin to imagine being called a c*nt for doing your work? And as Allen illustrates, this kind of cancerous hate persists into the present – it is no easier for women now. And this isn’t “just the internet”, is it? “Just the internet” implies that what you’re looking at right now is some sort of niche attraction in everyone’s everyday lives.
This internet being what 36 million Brits alone access every single day. That figure representing over half of the UK’s total population. Small, this internet. Tiny. Never going to take off.
I actually thought that the music industry was a better place for women than the games industry, or that which has established itself around free-publishing platforms like YouTube. I thought its longer history, its right now richer culture in the perceptions of a mainstream that sees games as the preserve of the geek, would separate it from newer forms of expression. Totally wrong, of course, as sE and Jake Bugg make wholly evident. And when Mayberry is reading comments about herself like, “I have your address and I will come round to your house and give u anal and you will love it you tw*t lol”, what kind of levelheaded, professional response can anyone have?
You are an artist and you make music and some people love it and others don’t (apply to other media as it fits): that’s the system as it’s pretty much always been. Any musician is okay with reading that someone on the internet isn’t enamored with their latest single. But to read that someone will come to your house to rape you?
sE Electronics have called their advert art. All it does, though, just like Bugg’s ill-advised Hunger shoot, is tell the prick minority out there that it’s just fine to treat women – and I don’t care if they’re flesh and bone or dreamed up in a computer, the effect is the same – like hunks of meat to slaver and drool over. Some weirdoes might even want to stick their dicks in meat. I doubt they’d put that on the internet, though. (Please, please, do not link me to anything that says I’m wrong about that.)
Sexism in the music industry goes deeper than a printed page and a few breasts in a shoot. It’s just that the further into the minefield you go, so the less visible these factors are to the public. I could write here about the males at the top of radio stations worldwide, or how so few music magazines and websites have female editors. But we would be here all day. Lily Allen talks a lot of shit, usually solely to get a reaction, but when she bemoans the shortage of female executives at record labels, she makes a pertinent point: a lot of the attitude expressed by those working at the bottom of the pyramid could be affected by different decisions taken at the top.
I’m sure there will be a more even spread of top-level music industry players in the near future, between male and female executives and the like. There has to be, or we’re failing to progress an industry based on evolution, on the thrill to be found in the new. In the meantime, we can all benefit – artists and promoters, journalists and managers, fans and funders – from highlighting the completely needless sexist shit when we see it. Follow Hookworms’ example here with sE – let’s not ever confuse art with exploitation, creativity with misogyny. Call that shit out. I’ve spent the last decade and more seeing great female professionals in the music industry, people in PR and this side of the press, artist management and radio, rise up the ranks – not to the very top, yet, but knocking on the door. And should anyone, decaying old dinosaurs and barely-shaving commenters alike, stand in the way of the brightest and best, because of gender?
Well, perhaps I’ll show up at their house. With a copy of The Bell Jar and some canned ham, just in case.
- - -
Related: watch this video with Charli XCX discussing the sexism she has witnessed, and continues to experience...