Victoria Hesketh | Contributing Writer | Friday, 21 August 2015

Little Boots

Little Boots: 'Why I'm Still Talking About Sexism And The Music Industry'

The Debrief: Much of the creative, dynamic and frankly more glamorous stuff still seems to be mens’ only territory, despite the presence of many women who are more than capable. So why are women not getting these opportunities?

I nearly gave up trying to find a fresh angle for this piece before I’d even started. Yet another opinion piece on ‘what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry’ written by some semi-popstar-slash-frontwoman. We live in fertile times for flimsy-feminist think-piece fodder: Anacondas, Wrecking Balls, whatever this week’s Rhianna debate happens to be, Taylor Swift’s ‘Doh! Errr, actually, I like, totally am a feminist now!’, awakening…

Artists like Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry and Grimes are just a couple giving some great insights. Amidst the current ‘hashtag feminism’ phase and deluge of en vogue articles these issues are no longer being skated around, but tackled head on.

It’s not just women in music but women in general seem to be trending. Being a feminist is a quick-fix name-drop, in between Nutribullet recipes and which festivals you’re hitting up this summer. Move over Patti Smith and Kathleen Hanna, I’m sure every woman can agree that all our historic struggles were finally crystallised once-and-for-all in visceral form when Paloma Faith recently saw fit to sport a gaudy gold necklace simply emblazoned with the word ‘Feminist’ in a recent magazine shoot. Powerful stuff.

Groups and talks supporting and debating these issues are popping up quicker than you can say Mary Wollstencroft, and working around women in the music industry on a daily basis, the group consensus seems to be the same. Obviously, the music industry is not an equal opportunities paradise just yet, but things are improving: we’re helping each other, standing up for ourselves and ultimately just proving ourselves by doing the best job possible regardless of our sex. We’re, y’know, getting on with it.

That was until I read this article.

To sum up, a male artist manager responded to an email from a female manager, who was informing him thatan artist she represented could not take part in a collaboration, telling her ‘to leave the industry because she’s a woman’ and that ‘he’d let her know if he needed a cleaner’, signing off ‘thank you, you piece of shit’.

WTF. Even if this is very much a one-off isolated event, the fact this can exist in any shape or form makes me feel like I might as well dust off my corset and chain myself to some railings. In an industry that now has amazing support networks like SheSaid.So and Female Pressure , specific PRS funding for female projects, artists speaking out about sexism in original ways and specific panels and debates at most major music conferences, how has a man in this business even been able to think this sentence, let alone write it, read it back to himself and then click send?

The response from the recipient Emma Jay March is everything you’d expect: ‘We do have some wonderful guys in the industry. I take this stuff on the chin, because it doesn’t ever effect what I’m doing.’ In other words, she’s getting on with it.

‘Getting on with it’ seems to be the response from most women I speak to. Of course, there are many ‘wonderful guys’ in this industry and this extreme incident appears to be more a freakish blip. But if you dig a little deeper into a business that on the face of things is meant to be modern and forward thinking and becoming more diverse, things aren’t as encouraging as you may assume.

The cold hard statistics tells us only 30% of jobs in the music industry are held by women, who still get paid consistently less then men and only a fraction of women are CEOs, hold upper management positions or even work in A&R. PRS has only 13% female songwriters in their membership, and AIM reports only 15% of independent labels are majority owned by women. This amusing alternative Reading and Leeds Festival line up flyer  that was circulating highlights the issues of representation of female artists in the live sphere, with British music festival bills this year reportedly made up of almost 90% males.

When I ask if they have experienced sexism in the industry, the majority of women would say no… not really. Then if I ask them to think for a minute if they’ve ever been asked to do anything or treated in a way a man wouldn’t be, the answer usually quickly turns to a ‘yes’. Gender roles are still ridiculously divided; A&R continues to be a very literal old boys club with regular back-slapping cricket team matches set-up between the major players’ ex public school rosters, while many girls pick up what is essentially the music industry’s house keeping and domestic chores –logistics and label management.

Much of the creative, dynamic and frankly more glamorous stuff still seems to be men-only territory, despite the presence of many women who are more than capable. So why are women not getting these opportunities?

Looking on stage, it’s a Pandora’s box too epic to open here, assessing whether the hyper-sexualised females at the front are ultimately objectified or empowered, but from the moody-faced noodling session guitarist to the inanely grinning DJ pressing and twisting all those difficult buttons and knobs, technical know-how still seems best left in the boys’ capable hands.

Of course, there are exceptions, but the fact is there are still extraordinarily few female producers – some feel they have to release under a man’s name to be recognised, such as Trance artist Hybrid Factor (real name Aimee Bailey) who used to be pictured as her brother Steve Bailey. The Bronte sisters will be relieved to hear she goes as Aimee B now).

The Female Superstar DJ is one role that I thought had become too checkered to question these days. But just ask Nina Kravitz, often this is a role easily reduced to a lazy ‘girl DJ’ stereotype, sexualised and judged as ‘only getting gigs because she’s female’. Thank goodness for trailblazers like Maya Jane Coles, and legends like Miss Kitten who’ve always forged their own inimitable paths.

I’m currently in Ibiza for a DJ gig, and on my drive from the airport was met by an onslaught of countless ginormous billboards of middle-aged men with their hands in the air promoting their various residencies this summer at super clubs like Pacha and Space. Likely getting paid millions. Not only was there not a single woman DJ on the billboards (unless you count Paris Hilton), but the only images of women represented along this particular stretch of Spanish highway were photos of scantily clad beach body party ready girls advertising drinks deals, interchangeable with the Hed Kandi babes of yesteryear, screaming out generic nondescript sexy fun-times at deafening volume…

I was planning to talk about how when I started out, I was in an all-girl indie band. We drove ourselves to gigs and back in the early hours of the morning, lugged all our gear in and out of packed clubs while being catcalled, got asked by countless sound engineers if we’d ‘turned it off and on again’ or ‘is it plugged in?’ when encountering a technical problem.

Women in live sound engineering and touring crew is also an area where women are especially unrepresented, and most who are full-time touring personnel in my experience, tend to be tough-as-nails and often act like they’ve spent their lives continually having to prove they can play rougher than the boys to compensate.

I wanted to talk about how when I was signed to major label, at times I felt pushed to look and act a certain way but seldom said so, and how much of this stemmed from my fear of the power of the big suits at the top (all men) and their ability to make or break my career. I’ve talked publicly before about how images of myself were often airbrushed and retouched without my knowledge, and how I felt expected to be able to do a certain kind of ‘performance’ filming music videos, walking the fine line between whore and girl next door.

I wanted to say that yes we’re not there yet, but slowly things are changing, for this article to tread a line of cautious hopefulness. There are more and more ambitious women in the industry not just going down the predictable routes. They’re multitasking across various roles, making up their own rules, starting things, changing the game, surpassing stereotypes, aiming big. Looking around, I want to say it feels like an exciting time to help one another and make things happen. And all this is true.

But when I actually get the microscope out, I can’t help but feel disappointed.

I just released my third album Working Girl on my own label, which I run with one of my best friends, and with the help of my manager, both female. The album is inspired partially by my own journey in this industry and partially by the late 80s and early 90s power-dressing girl bosses I grew up fantasising about. Its the same disappointment I feel when I watch Melanie Griffith in the film of the same name the record nods to, and realise that was 1989. Over 25 years ago.

Watching it as a teenager, I thought by the time I grew up all the bosses would probably be women and we would rule the world. But the statistics show not only is that not true, but we still have a long way to go. I have no desire for women to totally rule the world (well, only privately in my Bodecia-like dreams) but if I’m totally honest I did hope we’d have come further by now.

For all this trendy chatter and hashtagging of feminism I still feel like a lot of women are just ‘getting on with it’ and things aren’t actually changing, or if they are, at a painfully slow rate.

Awareness of these issues is at an all-time high and I think that’s a great thing, but now we need to act on it. My generation and the women working around me right now are the future bosses, hit producers, next-big-thing finders, tour managing badasses and superstar DJs. The underlying issue when I speak to most seems to be a subtle sense of intrinsic, internalised self-doubt, stemming from constantly feeling they need to not only match but better their male counterparts to even register on the right person’s radar.

Sometimes I think the key could be as simple as bit more self-belief, but that’s sometimes easier said than done when you’re often unconsciously trying to shake off generations of stigma. Certainly, I think collectively we’re getting better at recognising when something happens or we’re treated in a certain way because of our gender, and calling it out.

When I look around me I see so many exciting talented women forging their own paths and most importantly helping each other to achieve bigger things. But until the cold hard facts change I’m not going to stop talking about this, and neither should you.

Working Girl is out now on Little Boots’ own label On Repeat

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Tags: Music