5 Ways to Finally End Gender Inequality in the Music Industry

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While many female artists become idolized by the public, there is still a great deal of gender inequality behind the scenes. Here is how the music industry can close the gap.

The impact of gender inequality in the music industry is often discussed but solutions are rarely covered. Here is how we can finally close the gap.

In an interview with Paper magazine, Ariana Grande sat and discussed the pervasive issue of gender inequality within the music industry as a whole. She highlighted how, as a woman with a very small stature, she has been underestimated time and time again by studio executives and producers. Ariana Grande also noted that there were times she simply walked out of the studio and produced a session by herself to everyone’s amazement. People assumed that her talents only went so far as having a nice voice and pretty face. 

Gender inequality has been a subject of concern for the last couple of decades in all facets of society. Once upon a time, the measure of a woman’s worth was how well she kept a home and conducted herself with others. Today, women are still battling harmful stereotypes and outdated gender roles in the domestic sphere as well as the professional sphere. In terms of the music industry, there is incessant sexualization of female artists, an enormous pay-gap, and not enough of female representation in the charts and music companies. In the last year alone, the issue has been thrust into the spotlight due to the developments of the #MeToo movement. Many female celebrities and performers have started to come out and discuss their own experiences with inequality, lending their voices to the greater movement of women’s rights.

There are ways to improve the working environment for female artists.

Even in the face of the rampant negativity that is currently present, there are steps that female musicians and the music industry as a whole can take to eliminate inequality. Unfortunately, there is not one magic solution that will change the way the music industry views and treats women. Instead, it is going to take sustained effort on everyone’s part to bring the change so desperately needed.

1. Female artists must use their platform to speak out against gender bias.

The first step to any kind of transformation is to raise awareness of the issue. In this case, women need to step up and speak out against any and all forms of gender inequality that they experience in their careers. 

Thankfully we do see some of today’s female artists taking a stand. The pop star, Lizzo, is noted for representing not only women of color, but plus size women as well. She is very vocal about her size and how it does not take away from her music in the slightest. We also see Billie Eilish making statements about body image. She is notorious for wearing loose-fitting clothing, refusing to be sexualized in any way. Ariana Grande on the other hand is known to take to social media, vocalizing her issues with the double standards present in the industry. 

The successful female artists of today are in a unique position of power. By using their status and reach, they have the means to bring awareness and effect change not only for themselves, but for other female artists around the world. 

2. The music industry needs to eliminate the pay gap.

Like many other professions in our society, there is an enormous pay-gap between female artists and their male counterparts. On average, there is a 20% pay disparity in favor of men. In the music industry however, that difference in earnings is significantly greater, sitting at 34%.

There are many factors that contribute to the gender-pay gap, but it ultimately boils down to sexism. Unfortunately, Sexism is not something that can be switched off at any moment. Sexist thoughts and actions are something deeply rooted in our culture as a whole. In the music industry, there is a long-held sentiment that female artists either do not know what they are doing or are not as capable as their male counterparts. The Fair Pay Act was signed into law in 2009, but there is obviously still more that needs to be done. It seems that even though equal pay has been codified into law, sexism prevails and bosses still take advantage and pay female and male artists at different rates for the same amount of work. This is an archaic practice, simply sexist, and definitely illegal. 

In one possible solution, music executives should come out with public statements about how they treat their female and male clients equally, especially in terms of salary. This will not only give credence to the movement, but it will also serve as a dare to other music executives to do the same. Another solution is that artists must speak out when something like this happens. Thankfully artists like Haim are doing just that. The Los Angeles-based band recently announced they cut ties with their agent when the band learned they were paid one-tenth of the amount a male artist was paid at the same music festival. 

3. Take the emphasis off of female artists’ appearances and put it on their music.

There is also a great deal of pressure placed on a female artist’s appearance in the public eye. There is a general trend in the music industry that women’s appearances are valued higher than their actual work. In today’s world of Instagram culture, image is important if you want to maintain a certain level of fame and attention. 

The idea that the music industry values the way a female artist looks more than her work also falls into the category of sexism. And again, there is not an instant solution to this. One major cause of this behavior is that sex sells, and record labels are in the business of making money. We see artists with incredibly altered bodies promoted and shining bright in the spotlight, while more average-looking artists are not given as large a platform. Likewise, as consumers of pop culture and entertainment, we are also to blame for propagating the idea that sexualizing women is okay.  

As long as we keep accepting what we are given, nothing is going to change. We as a society need to re-evaluate our priorities and start respecting women for the work they create more than the way they appear. To break this culture of sexual objectification, female artists must also have confidence in themselves and speak up when they believe they are being victimized. With moral checks and balances, and public outcry, record labels will stop sexualizing female artists and start signing artists based on their musical talent. When the pressure of having to look a certain way is removed from the equation, female artists are able to create their music more freely. Likewise, it is important to remember that people look up to musicians as role models. So seeing female artists that look like the rest of society has the potential of giving the fan base a moral boost and help people realize creative potential has nothing to do with appearance. The solutions become cyclical.

4. Make stricter ethics policies to protect female artists from harassment and abuse.

Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are some of the worst things that someone can do to another human being. In the last couple of years, a string of abuse allegations have made their way to the public, sparking debate over what can actually be done about it. There are cases like that of Kesha vs. Dr. Luke in which she sued her producer over allegations of civil and sexual harassment as well as rape.

This is one of, if not the single, most difficult challenge to overcome. It involves people holding each other accountable for their actions, which is not always an easy thing to do, especially if it includes speaking out against someone in a position of authority. For as much as we would like the say that women have the proper channels to report abuse, it does not always work out so simply. Every business is required to uphold anti-discrimination and anti-abuse policies, but in reality, there are many factors that would dissuade women from reporting abuse. The victim might be afraid of the repercussions such as stigmatization, retaliation from the abuser, even the loss of their financial stability. The #MeToo movement has made great strides in bringing light to this issue, giving women the ability to use their voice and condemn the perpetrators. While the movement is a great start, it is simply a concept without much in terms of practical recourse.

The resolution to this is tricky because it involves many moving parts working in tandem. Victims of abuse need to come forward with their allegations, and at the same time, there must be an enforceable legislative infrastructure to protect victims from retaliation. Treating abuse victims that come forward like we treat whistleblowers in other industries might be the key here.  But it is also up to us to show support for victims of abuse. When we stop treating victims like “they were asking for it”, it fosters an environment where the victim can freely express themselves and bring the perpetrator to justice. When female musicians feel safe among their peers, they have the ability to explore their creativity and have a more fulfilling career.

5. Enable more women to enter positions of power within the industry.

The music industry has been a boys club in all facets of its structure: musicians, producers, and executives at the record labels. In a recent study, statistics show that out of the top 700 songs since 2012, only 21% of those artists were female. For every one female artist, she has to compete with five male artists. And according to Forbes, a dismal 2% of the music industry comprises of female producers.

Like many of these points, there are overt sexist undertones. The lack of female authority figures traces back to the outdated belief that a woman’s place was in the home. Even with all of the strides that have been made through women’s rights movements, there is still an obvious void in the industry. From the study we can see that music labels tend to promote males artists more than female artists, giving them more opportunities to further their career. Women essentially have to work harder to get the same level of attention as their male colleagues. This lack of authority figures becomes a trickle down effect that impacts women negatively. When women do not have the right kind of representation in terms of authority figures, there will always be a sense of inequality.

We need to see women rise up and pursue leadership roles like we have seen from their male counterparts over the years. Including women sounds easy enough, but in practice it becomes a little more difficult. Creating programs specifically designed to help female entrepreneurs will begin to level the playing field and empower women who strive for leadership roles. Likewise it is up to female artists and producers to speak out and demand change. If there is no sort of platform and no verbal call to action, nothing will change. Female producers and female-led music labels would also have the opportunity to include other female artists that might have been deterred from pursuing a career in music.

We need to hold each other accountable.  

The root cause that underlies and number of these issues is sexism. That is not something that can be easily fixed. That is something that will take years of re-education, and we might not even see the results until generations to come. But staying silent will only perpetuate more unfair treatment of women. It is the steady march of reform and call to action that triumphs in the end. The music industry has the necessary tools to implement fairer treatment and a safer environment for female musicians, and it is up to us to hold each other accountable.

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