During the last 30 years, there’s been quite some progress in the music scene in terms of gender diversity. So, do we still need feminism? The short answer: Hell, yes. For a more comprehensive answer, keep reading this article written by ITTA FRANCESCA IVELLIO-VELLIN. She also tries to answer the following questions: Where do we need to start in order to make the music scene more feminist – in a sustainable way? What is already being done? What do FLINTAs from the Austrian music scene have to say?
First things first: Why do we call it “International Fight for Feminism Day”?
It’s called International Fight for Feminism Day because this term, in contrast to “International Women’s Day”, does not only include women. After all, it is not only women who are affected by sexism, are discriminated against and oppressed. Our crazy world has found bases for discrimination everywhere: gender, sexuality, race, social class, disability, age – the list is endless (see intersectional feminism). Especially people who do not only fall under one of these characteristics, but several, experience oppression on a daily basis in their lives. Sure, unlike old white men in CEO positions, white upper-middle-class women are less privileged. Still, as a white cis-hetero woman, you tend to forget how privileged you are – and I don’t exclude myself from that. Please do not misunderstand: It’s not a competition in the sense of “who’s worse off” – but things need to be put in perspective. In short: check your privilege.
Or, in the words of musician, performer and composer Golnar Shahyar: “For years, ‘white feminism’ has been the dominant feminist movement in various professional spaces in the Austrian music scene. Especially in the last decade, white feminism has been successful in many cases to bring awareness and change to some white-male-dominated professional spaces. However, the lack of an intersectional approach to diversity, the sociocultural disconnection to working class and non-white communities and the lack of musical knowledge about various non-European musical practices focused most of the advocacies on the middle and upper-class white female bodies and their type of music making. Feminism in Austria needs to re-evaluate its understanding of diversity.”
Corporate Feminism & March 8
For many companies, agencies and corporations, March 8 serves as an opportunity to present themselves as feminist – at least superficially. They advertise with supposed equal pay rules, that one woman in a leading position or even on the board, or an event by and for women. In some cases, male CEOs hand out roses to the female employees and are pleased with getting some quality insta content. Frequently, there are also discounts for women or on “women’s items” – similar to Mother’s Day with the only difference that around Mother’s Day, there are additional ads for discounted household products (what more could a woman want?).
March 8 gets hijacked by capitalism and thus becomes worthless. FLINTA musicians are also often asked (usually last minute) to perform at an event or write/compose a song. Preferably, of course, for free – artists must be grateful for the “experience” and the gained “exposure”.
To truly invoke change, everyone needs to take a hard look at themselves and evaluate their current ways of working. How diverse is my team, my bubble, my general environment? Which steps can I/my team/my company take to promote diversity in music and in general? It might be easier to book the 100th white male musician, especially since there are so many featured in the media and at events, but is this really simply because there aren’t enough FLINTA musicians?
Are there more men in the music scene?
Yes and no.
You’d think that women are well represented in music, especially with names like Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Taylor Swift and Nicky Minaj being known everywhere and often featured in global charts. However, studies like the one carried out by USC Anneberg on inclusion in music, published in March 2021, prove otherwise. The percentage of women in areas such as production, song writing and performance in or of commercially successful projects is much lower than that of men.
The study examined the annual charts of the Billboard Hot 100 from 2012 to 2020, a total of 900 songs. Over the nine years, on average, only 20% of the artists on the Billboard Hot 100 were female. When it comes to song writing, it’s even worse: women were mentioned in the credits just under 13% of the time. However, things are worst in the field of music production: here, less than 3% are female.
Still underrepresented: BIPOC & non-binary musicians
While at least the percentage of BIPOC (=Black/Indigenous/People of Colour) artists is slowly but steadily increasing, its’s still nowhere near to what we could call equal and people who are not represented in a binary gender system are almost invisible. Unsurprisingly, there are also differences in the respective genres. According to USC Anneberg, the most women are in pop, the least in hip-hop.
Female:pressure publishes a study at irregular intervals that examines the gender distribution of performing musicians at electronic festivals around the world. The last update was in 2020 and showed that the overwhelming majority of acts, over 70%, are male. The percentage of female acts only amounts to 20% and non-binary people are represented by less than 1%.
There are hardly any quantitative studies on the situation in the music sector in Austria. However, experience shows that it is not different than in the rest of the global North. Men, especially white men, dominate at festivals and in the media. Festival and event organisers as well as bookers often find various excuses for this unequal ratio. Most of them would love to book more FLINTA musicians, but they just can’t find any! There are simply no good FLINTA musicians! And the quality of the music shouldn’t have to suffer due to some quota…!
Talking about quotas
Fun fact: There are enough excellent FLINTA musicians in every genre to put on a great festival. The problem is that they often get much less attention from the media, which is why they are less known, and less booked. It’s a classic vicious circle that’s hard to break out of.
Anne Eck, musician and founder of the label Silvertree Records, demands, “Equality and visibility!” She continues, “In the music business, visibility works mainly through the big areas: Booking, label signing, radio airplay and now playlist placement. All areas are mutually dependent. All areas serve visibility, and all areas are still male-dominated.”
Therefore, it’s up to festival directors, organizers, media editors and bookers to book and showcase FLINTAs. Yes, there is extra work involved. You have to take the time to dig deeper and do research, you have to break your own bubbles and expand your horizons. One day, hopefully, this extra work will become obsolete, because once the practice of a balanced line-up is established, it can become automatic.
Top down: policies & practices
However, not all of the burden rests on the shoulders of organizers. In order for these practices to change, a shift in thinking must happen on all levels. Panels and juries must not be made up of only white males – they also need to be diversified. Funding bodies must make diversity a condition for financial support. In Germany, there are already approaches to this. Since 2018, for example, the German Federal Cultural Foundation has been supporting 39 cultural institutions in developing a long-term approach to diversity in the areas of programming, personnel, and audience. The Diversity Arts Culture Berlin project office is also working on additional projects and programmes to promote diversity in the German cultural sector.
In 2021, Austria has also gained such a project office for diversity in the cultural sector: D/Arts. When asked what needs to be changed most urgently in the Austrian cultural landscape, Sheri Avraham, curator of D/Arts, responds by referring to cultural expert Dr. Anke Schad: “At the D/Arts panel discussion in February 2022, Dr. Schad basically said that in order for us to be able to generate a change in real politics – our everyday reality – we have to translate the basic understanding that the problem is so deep in all of us, in the way we look at the world and the way we choose to present ourselves. In order to for us to come closer to what we can call an unlearning process, we must be ready for a long-distance journey. This must always consist of representatives from the art and culture institutions – artists and art educators – political institutions.”
From the process of unlearning to the process of learning
At the same time that this “unlearning process” is taking place, a new “learning process” must also take place – mainly in the field of education. Perhaps there are more men than FLINTAs in the music field – however, this is by no means a natural occurrence, but a learned one, one that is reproduced again and again due to upheld gender roles.
Christina Bauer, sound engineer and sound designer, sees the lack of FLINTAs in her field on a daily basis: “It’s about the question of why still so few women choose technical professions. I’m constantly dealing with women who are far too quick to say, ‘Oh, I’m completely untalented in technical things!’ Whereas men tend to be completely convinced that they have everything technical under control, even though this is often not the case. Starting at a young age, boys and men are often credited with an innate understanding of technology.
Of course, one must have a certain talent for this field of work. I don’t think this is a gender-specific issue, but rather that an understanding of technical processes can and must be acquired and learned, first and foremost. So, it’s about encouraging young FLINTAs to be interested in and study technology from a young age.”
There’s also a lot to work through in terms of teaching content. “I come from musicology, and am outraged – if Hessel can be, why not me? – that the history of women composers is taught so little, both in repertoire and in lectures,” says music editor, scholar and educator Irene Suchy.
Doris Weberberger, expert and mica – music austria & Austrian Music Export specialist for contemporary music, however, also sees positive aspects: “Music universities are now headed by women, and professorships are also increasingly being filled by women. This is especially important because FLINTAs are also role models for other FLINTAs, and they focus on making it more ‘natural’ for men to work with FLINTAs in a wide variety of positions and power relations.”
Bottom Up: Networks in Austria…
Karin Tonsern, master of event technology, however, lives in the here and now: “I neither want to wait for nor rely on political change and guidelines. In this respect, my personal approach is to draw attention to the imbalance, to question it and to offer solutions. Always with the hope that the discourse or any change, no matter how small, will bring improvement in the future.” That’s why she founded the Sisters of Music network, which gives FLINTAs in the music field who work primarily backstage a way to network. There is also a database where organizers looking for FLINTA backstage staff can quickly find what they are looking for.
Musician Christina Kerschner aka Nnoa also didn’t want to wait for better times and founded the international network ClickCollective in early 2021, which is open to all FLINTAs in the music field and offers regular events for networking, education and development.
Relatively new is also PUSH Network, which advocates for FLINTA DJs, especially in hard techno. On their Instagram account, the operators also do educational work on topics like sexism in clubbing and why the term “DJane” actually only reinforces sexism.
… and international
One organization that operates across Europe and is supported by the EU’s Creative Europe programme is Keychange. Keychange not only advocates for underrepresented musicians but is also active in the areas of education, mentoring and networking. It also organizes showcases at partner festivals such as the Reeperbahn Festival. As a music organization, you can also take a “pledge”, i.e. an oath, with which you commit yourself to contribute to more diversity. In Austria, only three festivals have done this so far: Snowbombing, Waves Vienna and Strand Gut Festival. In Germany, by comparison, 47 organizations have made the commitment.
The EU’s Creative Europe program also supports a programme specifically focused on mentoring FLINTAs in music: MEWEM Europe. In six countries, including Austria, mentees and mentors were matched and supported in the form of workshops and seminars.
The European version of Austria’s Sisters of Music network is called Women in Live Music and also features a database of FLINTAs working behind the scenes in the live music industry.
With Helvetia Rockt, Switzerland has gained a dedicated network that acts as a coordination point and networking platform for musicians in jazz, pop and rock. Helvetia Rockt has already launched a Diversity Roadmap in 2019, which provides information on topics such as communication, structures and infrastructure in relation to diversity – in German, French, English and Italian.
shesaid.so is a network that was originally founded in the UK but has since spread to many countries. Here, too, the thinking is intersectional and inclusive: shesaid.so curates and organizes events, such as conferences, creates mentoring programs, and does educational work.
Even more organizations, communities, and networks that advocate for FLINTAs can be found in the index by the Music Cities Network.
All of these networks and databases make it clear: the excuse of not being able to find enough qualified FLINTAs to book is simply a lie.
International Fight for Feminism Day 2022 on Spotify
Can’t get enough of great music from Austrian FLINTA musicians? Then listen to this playlist – curated by Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin. It starts with feminist hip-hop by Yasmo, Gazal and Nenda, before it gets a bit softer in mood, though probably not in lyrics – especially when ÄNN sings about her experiences with racism in “Mother”. Powerful rock sounds follow with My Ugly Clementine and Pippa, until earthy tunes from Marie Spaemann, Rojin Sharafi & Golnar Shahyar and Farce dominate at the end. Enjoy!
Itta Francesca Ivellio-Vellin