Why Music Festivals Don't Want Too Many Female Artists
The website Pixable has an article titled "We Photoshopped The All-Male Acts Out Of Music Festival Posters And The Results Are Shocking." And they didn't lie when they said it was shocking. Women make up half of those in the audiences at festivals but are seriously underrepresented on stage.
# of Male Acts
# of Female Acts
% Female Acts
Pitchfork Music Festival 2015
FYF Fest 2014
Skate And Surf Festival 2015
Riot Fest 2014
Reading & Leeds 2015
Male Musicians Aren't Always Skilled on their Instruments
Eddie Van Halen claimed he had to show bassist Michael Anthony how to play his instrument.
"Every note Mike ever played, I had to show him how to play. Before we'd go on tour, he'd come over with a video camera and I'd have to show him how to play all the parts."
Most online comments on articles that have covered this were dismissive. Many insist that it's nothing to do with sexism. An example is this badly worded (and possibly trolling) comment on Pixable:
"There must be no balance. Merit, talent, prowess, is what should be considered, no organizer should take Artic Monkeys out of their list for a half-assed, barely-creative, all-girls band like Paramore (they have boys in that band but I don't see them as males)."
Are male acts really more talented and deserving of a slot? Based on complaints I've heard about many musicians in indie and alt rock bands not knowing how to play their instruments properly, it's hard to say. But there's often a perception that men are better.
"It's a real shame that if a woman goes onstage with an instrument, it's almost a novelty," Jack White told Spin. "Like, 'Oh, isn't that cute.' It's a shame that in 2014 that's a little bit of what's going on."
Unfortunately "merit, talent, prowess" aren't always enough for women to succeed.
"Many orchestras, especially in the US, are now auditioning blind, with participants playing behind screens, and there has been an exponential increase in women being hired as a result – one study shows the likelihood of progressing beyond the preliminary round increases by 50% for women in these kinds of auditions."
-- Sexism is rife in classical music, The Guardian
Thanks partly to blind auditions the percentage of women in orchestras has increased from 5% in the 1970's to approximately 25% now.
So, why might females be underrepresented at music festivals when women are often doing equally well critically and commercially? Surely if many successful albums and singles are being released by women, that means the public is interested in female artists.
One problem may be the focus on looks for women in music. It can be hard for women who aren't conventionally attractive to get record deals even though some like Kesha, Lady Gaga, P!nk and Adele become hugely successful. Record labels will sometimes sign minimally talented but attractive women under the assumption they'll be more popular. But even women who are talented often come under heavy pressure to sell sex appeal. Many people think these women are using their looks and bodies to sell records due to a lack of talent.
While looks can be important for men too, it's far easier for men to make it based on their talent alone. And men also come under far less pressure to be sexually appealing. As a result, women often aren't taken as seriously as men even when they make better music. Men who get lukewarm receptions from critics may be more respected by the general public than women who fare better critically. Organizers booking acts for festivals may be reluctant to include female acts that aren't "taken seriously" fearing it will drive away aficionados of "real music."
Movies and TV shows that mainly revolve around female characters can be a turn off for men. It's possible that too many female artists at music festivals could be a turn off as well. Organizers don't have to worry about losing women by having too many male artists but the opposite is a legitimate concern. A high percentage of female acts could be bad for business. As television writer, director and producer Mike White put it:
"Women are interested in men and women, and men aren’t interested in the woman’s story. They just aren’t. There are exceptions, but by and large … I mean I do think that it’s feminizing for a guy to go see a movie with a female lead unless it’s Angelina Jolie shooting people or Zero Dark Thirty or something that feels like it’s in the male sphere. The devaluation of the traditional female roles or the traditional female approach, it starts to feel like this is what’s wrong with our country."
This concern about having "too many" women is what inspired Sarah McLachlan to start the all female festival Lilith Fair because she:
"would not cave in to concert promoters and radio stations refusing to play two female acts back-to-back."
The website Music Machinery studied gender differences in music taste. The study lists the 40 most popular artists by gender. Ten of the 40 most listened to artists among men were female accounting for 25%. For women, 19 out of 40 artists were men accounting for 47.5%. Men's preference for male artists and women's indifference is likely one reason why music festival organizers prefer to have more male acts.
Sexism in Classical Music
Surprisingly, the focus on looks has extended into classical music according to the Guardian.
Good looks have long helped to compensate for a lack of talent across the entire music industry. But the sexualised marketing of young women, particularly, in classical music has also now become normalised...Some album cover portraits for female artists could double as escort agency profile pics. Publicity for young male artists is increasingly sexualised too, but not to anything like the same degree.
The Guardian also addressed sexism in "Why are there so few women behind the music?"
Even though around 20% of the UK's contemporary classical composers are female, this is not reflected at the Proms or at any other major concert series or festival. Of all the works performed by the LSO between 1997 and 2002, 1.3% were written by women. Of those that were written in the last 50 years, 6.5% were by women.
Many people, especially conservatives, believe we live in a post-racial and post-gender society free from discrimination and prejudice, where people succeed or fail based on merit and merit alone. Any obvious racial or gender disparities get chalked up to lack of ability or interest by underrepresented groups. When it was pointed out that women represent less than 5 percent of music producers and engineers, some suggested women may be less interested in entering these fields rather than addressing the possibility that there may be barriers to entry for women.
Many studies have found that racial and gender preferences do indeed exist, such as the study on blind orchestra auditions. A Yale study determined that men and women with the same qualifications can be treated very differently.
"Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded. As a result, the report found, the professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower. The bias was pervasive, the scientists said, and probably reflected subconscious cultural influences rather than overt or deliberate discrimination."
-- Bias Persists Against Women of Science, a Study Says, NY Times
And men weren't the only ones guilty of discrimination. Female professors were just as likely to discriminate.
"Female professors were just as biased against women students as their male colleagues, and biology professors just as biased as physics professors — even though more than half of biology majors are women, whereas men far outnumber women in physics."
The lower percentage of women performing at music festivals is almost certainly deliberate despite many people's desire to believe something other than sexism is the cause. Gender preferences absolutely do exist and many attendees at festivals prefer male musicians over female musicians. Organizers will take these preferences into account when booking acts, which means things aren't going to change anytime soon.
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