It’s been almost two months since March 8th. International Women’s Day. The annual culmination of weeks of increased press attention for successful women and opinion pieces on the importance of female trailblazers. The one day when the world collectively agrees to shine a light on the important ladies in their lives. This year was no different, and thanks to its many key actors in the public eye, the music industry was a prominent part of the many discussions.
In the build-up to International Women’s Day, we’ve seen concert venues, promotors, labels and brands enthusiastically announcing their initiatives to push for more gender equality. Ancienne Belgique’s programming coordinator was interviewed about their ‘surprisingly female line-up’ to BRDCST Festival (1). Keychange, a UK initiative, released the 45 festivals who pledge to achieve a 50/50 gender balance on their programming by 2022 (2). David Byrne was forced to publicly apologize for the fact that his latest album release includes 25 collaborators, but none of them female (3).
In 2017 women claimed their spots, unapologetically taking up more space than before and bravely standing up to anything from online trolls to institutional injustices. Women called out sexual harassment and assault, sometimes after decades of silence, through the #MeToo campaign. The music industry saw both Ke$ha and Taylor Swift on the forefront of this movement, with different but very personal stories. All of a sudden, thanks to power in numbers, women felt empowered to take a step forward. Girls supporting girls was a strong theme over the past year. We have never gotten as much exposure, understanding, support and responsibility in our industry as right now.
So that poses the question...
Are we, women in music, collectively overreacting? After all, the first International Women’s Day was held in 1914 in Germany - after a few isolated attempts in Austria, the United States and Russia. Back then, women had fundamental problems to focus on; education, representation, employment, voting rights. Nowadays, women have more opportunities, even in a challenging industry as music and entertainment, than they had 104 years ago. How urgent are our needs and wishes, and how fiery should our fight be?
The answer to this question is as nuanced as the shift of the problem. Yes, we have access to music education. We are legally allowed to go to concerts by ourselves. Girl bands are no longer a rarity. We have a ton of strong female role models in all genres, from pop (Beyoncé, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa) to rock (HAIM, Karen O, Björk) and electronic music (TOKiMONSTA, Charlotte de Witte, Nina Kraviz). Rebecca Allen, the managing director of Decca records, even says: “I honestly believe that the door is wide open to women. Young women I’ve come across in the last few years have no fear and quite frankly stand as tall, if not taller, than their male colleagues.” (4) So if we can’t agree on the problem, then what are we fighting for?