“We purposely look out to balance a very distorted formula that has become an unchallenged norm: in a creative industry where the promise of meritocracy works as a glass ceiling to keep the Privileged privileged, we prioritise bodies and identities who have been kept invisible despite outstanding talent and achievements.” – Noise Manifesto
According to a survey of electronic music festivals and labels around the world, an average of 10% of the artists at festivals are or contain women.
Why is this the case?
If you answered “Because there are less women than men working in dance music”, you’re half right.
As in many other fields, women under-participate in the creation and performance of dance music. Put simply, there are less women DJing and making records than men.
But did you ever ask yourself why less women are working in dance music than men?
This is a much more complicated question. Fortunately, due to the research of many people, we actually know a lot about why women generally under-participate in male-dominated fields.
1. Lack of peers and encouragement: Put simply, women don’t benefit from the mentorship and encouragement that come from peer-groups that they can relate to. Learned skills aren’t passed on through female friends and peers. In a field as technical as electronic dance music, this is a particularly challenging barrier.
2. Bias: Women in male-dominated fields face competency bias from male peers. One study noted that when potential employers in a male-dominated field presented with identical resumes from either a John or a Jennifer, John was selected more often as the better candidate, and offered more money for the position. In general, men are statistically seen as more competent, technical, professional and appealing than women, whether they are in reality or not. Such biases exist in virtually every kind of job, including electronic dance music. While we would like believe we work in a meritocracy, study upon study has showed that we don’t. Women are the losers in this bias.
3. Under-representation: Most of us can name someone who looked like us and inspired us by excelling and reflecting our own culture. Seeing someone that looks like us excelling in any given field, be it politics, or business, or education, or in this case, the arts, sends a message. When women see themselves reflected in a profession, they know that these fields are open to them. When we don’t see other women in a particular profession, the signal is clear: this field is for men.
So what does this have to do with a festival lineup?
In spite of all the factors we listed, women are starting record labels, touring, running clubs, and working in dance music at a higher rate than ever before. This is good news, but despite the tremendous gains women are making, that 10% number has stayed essentially the same as it has been for years.
We assert that electronic dance music is no different than other male-dominated fields with respect to the effects women experience due to bias, a lack of peers, a lack of mentorship, and under-representation.
We assert that women in dance music are subject to the same verifiable biases and hindrances that women experience in every other field.
We assert that the low number of women on the lineups of major events is not a natural outgrowth of gender, but is rather due to the same garden variety set of of factors that create an employment and wage gap for women in many other workplaces.
This is why we are speaking out.
It is no longer acceptable for approximately half of the ticket sales of festivals to come from women’s paychecks when women artists comprise only 10% of the lineup.
If festivals want us to attend, they need to become active participants in the movement to achieve equity for women in the dance music industry.
Here’s what that means.
1. If you’re a promoter, ask for recommendations: talk with your trusted peers, both male and female, in the industry and see which women they’d like to see on lineups. Who have your peers booked? You may be surprised by the number of excellent suggestions you get, who are both qualified and who will be appealing to ticket buyers.
2. Do the math: Whether you’re a festival goer or the person organizing the lineup, find out what percentage of your lineup is comprised by women. If that number is small, work for change in your own way. Use social media to speak out. Make suggestions for additions to the lineup early in the selection process. Consciously work to offset disparity where you can. Get creative!
3. Mentor women: If you’re working in the dance music industry, commit to mentoring women. Whether you work in bookings or behind the decks, share your knowledge with as many women as you can.
4. Protect women: Help make sure that your event is a safe place for women to work and dance. Are your security staff trained deal with the particular safety issues that women may face in an environment where intoxicants are common? Is your staff trained to remove men who are harassing women in your club or event? Teach everyone on your team what to do about leering, rude comments, touching and any behavior that women experience. Teach your staff about consent. 90% of women report that they have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. Making your event a safe space for women will encourage them to attend and possibly participate in dance music as an artist.
Women will remain invisible until we demand recognition. We know that the promise of a meritocracy is not only false, but a barrier to our success in dance music.
This is the moment of awareness. This is our call to action. Now it’s time to make it happen. Once we are aware of the problem, inaction is complicity.
What will you do to help?