Perusing local and national music journalism is one of my pastimes. I ran across an article a couple months ago that raised my feminist hackles. Musically speaking, the publication’s selection of bands and DJs worth noticing was pretty solid—if a bit vanilla—but something was wrong. I did the math and discovered that female band member representation was a paltry 12.5 percent, alongside zero percent female DJs. The male-dominated roundup probably wasn't intentionally sexist, but the very act of falling short of embracing an egalitarian editorial stance is problematic.
And it's not an issue that's exclusive to any one newspaper or magazine. Looking back over my brief sectional residence, I'm less than pleased with my own coverage of female musicians, particularly in terms of live performance previews. In addition to resolving to up my editorial game, I chatted with some local DJs and musicians to get a sense of the sexism experienced by Burqueña music makers and aural curators.
They agreed it's not uncommon for a drunk, male straggler to stumble up to the decks. But then there's the more insidious sort of paternalism. Tahnee Udero, a.k.a. DJ Tahnee, recalled an incident where some male DJs rolled up ready to perform at one of her gigs. They showed up on the wrong night, reeking of unprofessionalism and booze. A compromise was reached. The organizationally challenged crew would spin in the back of the venue. One of them approached her later in the evening and started to reach for the controls on her turntable. A verbal altercation ensued, with Udero defending her possessions from unwanted groping by an intoxicated stranger. In closing, the offending patron suggested she go hear what the guys were playing. “What gives them the idea that's cool?” Udero asks. “They totally would not touch or talk to a male DJ like that.”
That sort of sexist mentality isn't confined to wayward strangers, though. Even comments intended as compliments can mask misogyny. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jenny Wren notes that she's often introduced as a “beautiful” and “young” artist while male performers she shares bills with are introduced using words like “talented” and “musician.” While some scenes and venues are more women-friendly than others, the level of respect afforded to women in the music business hasn’t even caught up with society’s slowly evolving efforts toward gender equality. Wren related a story about seeing two salesmen at a music equipment store playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who had to assist her.
Jessica Stone, a.k.a. DJ Bea, mentioned she's observed men feeling more at ease handing a female DJ a CD and saying “play track four.” It's these sort of subtle differences that make modern misogyny so difficult to identify and thus combat. Stone says she tries to avoid conflict over these mostly unintentional gaffes because rifts in such a small scene can leave long-term scars.
These women’s proposed solutions to the specter of sonic sexism involve respect. Udero, Stone and Wren all speak hopefully about building a scene where respecting and supporting other artists’ work and intentions is the norm.
Sexism is not hip. If you choose to embrace American nostalgia, there are more productive and forward-thinking ways of doing so: Collect vintage vinyl rather than reviving anachronistic paternalism. While a lot of the thought processes that lead to sexist behavior are deeply—and even subconsciously—ingrained and thus manifested, it’s our cultural responsibility to try harder to break free from the shackles of weaker-sex thinking.