It’s a man’s world: meet the individuals challenging music’s gender split

Picture of Nina Kraviz from Greg Wilson blog

These female-centred networks are standing up to misogyny in the electronic music industry in the best way and are calling out its gendered bullshit once and for all.

Misogyny, oppression and marginalisation may not always be black and white, but sexism is real and it is happening right now. It’s no secret that that there is huge amount of ignorance facing female DJs, just because they are female. Now where is the logic in that?

Sexism has been proven to be a world-wide issue, and isn’t even excluded from a scene that so many of us see as open-minded and accepting. Even these apparent liberal music-lovers that we grind up against in sweaty messes on the dancefloor can sadly be instigators of sexism. Misogyny can rear its head in the most unlikely places. The dancefloor being one of them, but even truly exceptional female DJs like Nina Kraviz are not immune to the odd chauvinistic comment here and there. Outrageous? I think so.

Many people have tapped into the sexist fallout, and have seen that the need for diversity-fostering groups which offer a platform, voice for women and ultimately grapple with the musical status-quo are more necessary than ever. With this male-centric hierarchy saturating itself throughout the DJ industry, female-championing networks such as female:pressure, Discwoman, Apeiron Crew, Support Female DJs and Female DJ Network have become shining beacons of equality, offering empowerment and encouragement to women all across the globe. In a sphere that’s so male-dominated, we spoke to these stalwart individuals who are calling out old-fashioned patriarchal values and are actively taking a crack at challenging the electronic music industry’s diversity problem.

The global network fighting for fairness

Susanne Kirchmayr, aka techno DJ Electric Indigo, was one of the first women to recognise gender inequality in the DJ industry. Fed up with the ignorance she and other female DJs constantly had to face, she found change and a movement towards diversity was paramount. In 1998, universally-recognised network female:pressure was born. Now boasting a membership of almost 1,800 members from 66 different countries and over 14,000 likes on Facebook, female:pressure is a database consisting of female artists and like-minded individuals which showcases female talent and pushes for gender equality.

“The need for a resource of information about female artists in electronic music was as obvious in the 1990’s as it is today,” explains Susanne. “I was not aware, when I started to DJ in 1989, that it might be an unusual thing to do.” Performing under DJ moniker Electric Indigo, Susanne has experienced first-hand the troubles the electronic music industry poses to women as she reveals that when setting out on tours, people have been astonished just because she is a female. Surely this tells us that dance music culture can get it so so wrong and that misogyny has no place in the 21st century?

“I was just too often confronted with ignorance about women in electronic music and club culture and I decided to create a knowledge base that can be accessed at any time and wherever you can go online,” says Susanne. “Still, too many people suppose that this is a field where women are an exotic exception.”

Sexism is so inherent throughout our culture, Susanne admits finding it difficult to discern between sexism in the electronic music industry and sexism in society. They have become so inextricably intertwined that women all over the world have had to learn to deal with discrimination, as if it’s almost become a normal part of everyday life. Attitudes towards women, not just in the DJ industry, but in society in general means that they face being undermined on a regular basis. It’s not just women who are on the receiving of marginalisation either.

“General assumptions about race, gender, ability, sexual orientation etc. are extremely persistent and translate directly to club culture,” Susanne says. “The result is a structurally discouraging or inhibiting environment for anybody off norm/off “archetype”.

Anyone who doesn’t fit in with society’s expectations, or any minority group can be subject to discrimination. Cultural behaviour and repetitive norms instilled into our brains as children stick with us as we grow up. People who are taught that minority groups are on the underhand will end up treating them differently. People who are taught that women should not take on certain jobs will subconsciously/consciously treat them with condescension.

Susanne says women are faced with harassment whether they fit in with these expectations or not. Yes, it is and unfair and yes, we should be doing something about it.

“There are many people who apply different rules and expectations to me than they would a man because of my gender,” says Susanne. “I guess I became quite efficient in filtering out sexist incidents that are somewhere between an inoffensive flirt and a definite transgression.”

The collective changing the record of electronic music

Discwoman, a New York-based DJ collective and booking agency representing a diverse selection of women, agree that misogyny is rampant all across the globe. Ever since 2014, when founders Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olsen and Christine Tran decided to put on a two-day festival at Bossa Nova Civic Clu, platforming female-identified talent in the electronic music sphere, Discwoman has exploded and become one of the most famed frontiers striving for equality. Why do they think there has been such a sexist fallout in the dance music trade?

Discwoman say, “The music industry is just a product of the society we live in. Everyone including women are taught to hate women and femininity.”

Even passing comments disguised as compliments can be damaging to a woman just trying to make her way in the industry. Ignorance-fuelled praise such as women being deemed “pretty good for a girl,” is more harmful than anything as female DJs just aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Susanne explains it upsets her when women are confronted with doubts in their abilities. They are constantly under pressure to be on top form, and even when they are, men and even some women can be dismissive of their talents. Even the fact that female DJs are always referred to as ‘female DJs’ attests to the fact that this industry is overrun by men. Susanne’s female:pressure is tackling the gender split head-on and despite having received a lot of positive feedback, it faced emotionally charged negative comments from both men and women, with the refusal to acknowledge the fact that women can be just as good, and in some cases better than male DJs.

Female:pressure’s main aim is to foster diversity and with that we must recognise that there are so many divergent types of artists, who are challenging the norm and mainstream. In order to make systemic changes to the way the industry runs, Susanne believes that we all need to apply ourselves to encouraging diversity and open-mindedness and this will lead to a better and more accepting environment for everyone.

“In the far future, when we will have achieved an equitable, just society, female:pressure will be obsolete and maybe still continue as a loose network of like-minded people,” Susanne explains. “But until then its potential of empowerment, action and support will be very useful.”

With female:pressure and Discwoman taking an anti-sexism stance in the industry, this has caused many others to follow suit. ‘Female DJs London’ act as a platform for women in the industry advocating ‘Love, Peace, Tunes’ and aiming to inspire universal change not just within the dance music scene, but in the wider community. Their inclusive club nights, showcasing 51 women a week to correlate with the global population of women, are putting forward a healthy feminist agenda to readdress the gender imbalance of the electronic music industry. Week-by-week, they are proving that all-female line-ups are not something of a novelty – they are essential to acknowledging the hard work and talent of female DJs. Discwoman also recognise the need for all-female line-ups, stating that issues will always remain rife on the scene if males are constantly placed at the centre. To Discwoman the answer is simple – stop being a misogynist.

DJ Mag have caused quite the controversy in recent years for not including women in their top DJ lists. Constantly dubbed a ‘sausage fest’, their lists, for example their ‘Top 100 DJs’, do not include one single female DJ. Not one. This is what we call harmful to the status of female DJs. They picked David Guetta over DJs like Nina Kraviz or The Black Madonna... Really? If you enjoy a bit of sausage, fair enough. Each to their own we guess. But it’s another thing to completely ignore and forget about the talents of women. It’s just absolute insipid ignorance. They even had the stupidity to claim including women on their almighty male lists would have been ‘tokenism’. Jesus Christ, what fools. Now THIS is why feminism exists...

“DJ Mag is trash,” say Discwoman. “They’ve never cared about women, so hardly surprising they wouldn’t include one. They’re an embarrassment.” Ouch.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Adopting the right attitude and showing some love to all the females out there is how we can truly subscribe to a world where equality thrives. But how can we achieve a hedonistic, diverse environment?

Discwoman say, “Create platforms and spaces that women can work, produce and perform in.” They also believe connecting women across the globe, through groups which facilitate safe environments and back the abilities of women are sure-fire routes to combating industry-induced sexism.

Discwoman from ID Magazine

Discwoman from ID Magazine

That seems easy enough doesn’t it? So why is there still a crisis when it comes to the treatment of women in dance music culture? DJ and producer Leah King believes that years of being confined to patriarchal values has warped has warped our perceptions of female DJs.

“There's a systemic gender inequality in tech industries which results in women being discouraged from pursuing careers in music production and DJing,” Leah says. “It's normalized to a degree that it's seen as 'special' and 'exotic' when women DJ.” Sexism is something that Leah has personally experienced many times. She explains how at gigs when she has already set up her equipment, men offer to help as if she is incapable of setting up on her own.

“The reason I see this as sexism is because not a single woman has ever checked to see what I am gigging with or asked why I use something,” Leah says. “Women always ask me about my music first, and don't question my intelligence or capacity or skill level.”

To overcome this male-dominated landscape, Leah explains that women must be seen as capable of possessing the same skills as men in the industry.

“We must support them as good DJs, not as good lady DJs. We also can build more networks like female:pressure to normalize this career path. Sharing resources, stories, and opportunities among each other - including where not to go and who does not support us well - is vital!

“The more women that are promoted and promote themselves as heavy-hitters in the game, the more other women will be encouraged to join the ranks,” she says. “What we seek is equality.”

The dynamic duo celebrating the power of femininity

Equality is also the ultimate endgame for Facebook group ‘Support Female DJs’. A self-professed ‘family’, created off the back of admin Jesska Locke’s old project Diva DJ and run together with her partner Bob Locke, Support Female DJs has become a female-empowered think-space for both men and women alike to champion and encourage female DJs. It is a place where women can proudly share their mixes and where they can feel appreciated, a feeling so many women are devoid of throughout their DJing careers. Support Female DJs want to change this.

Bob Locke says, “Our aim was to generate following and support for female DJs and artists with a passion for music, no matter what their background.

“In the past 10 years at Nu-perception and Support Female DJs, I have seen just as many female DJs break into the south east of England’s Old Skool music scene as males,” he adds.

At the start of this year, ‘Support Female DJs’ received more coverage than usual in the media due to Florida-based DJ and booking agent Justin James (not to be confused with techno DJ Justin James who is great) posting a seriously ridiculous list of requirements for a female DJ in the Facebook group. According to James, he only works with “attractive DJs” who “do not suck” and required a DJ weighing 105-120lbs and a height between 5’2-5’7. Wow, aren’t we glad we have James – the poster boy of gender equality fighting in the women’s corner? Naturally, he pissed a lot of people off and even went as far in his so-called ‘apology’ to say that he actually wasn’t sorry he offended anyone and said if venues wanted talented DJs, “they would just hire men.” How empowering!

Could he be any more of an asshole? Whether the sarcasm was intended or not, he’s an excellent example of why the sexism debate will need to be had over and over again until we drum it into idiots like James that women are just as good as men and they shouldn’t be judged on looks, but merit alone. It just goes to show how the electronic music scene will continue to be blighted by misogyny and marginalisation as long as this kind of ignorance exists. Sometimes you think, “yes great, we’re making progress!” and then you get toads like James who come along and ruin it all. It’s this kind of crap that is ultimately holding women back from getting the opportunities they deserve.

The Black Madonna from Mixmag

Bob Locke believes that even though these days it may be easier for a woman to break into the industry compared to 20 years ago, highlighting the gender split is still necessary and crucial in order to nurture female recognition.

DJ Leah King says, “Male DJs bring each other along and assume female DJs can't be a part of things. This is why female networks are vital, they help nurture and cultivate female talent so they can then go and rock stages of all genders.”

Whether the sexism is tangible or surreptitious, in order to take on the regressive and dogmatic old-fashioned views of patriarchy, we must constantly look to and support positive female role models. Until we reach a musical haven where men and women are appreciated and praised equally, female solidarity is cardinal. If we stand together with women and the female talent-cultivating groups offering a glimpse into an equal and just future, we can escape the confines of misogyny, shut down sexism and dismantle music’s inclusive old boys’ club at long last.

Now come on guys, let’s bring back music as a means of self-expression, instead of all this gender fascist bullshit. Peace, love and unity is where it’s at.

#DJ #sexism #feminism

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