misogyny in music

The UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee launched its ‘Misogyny in Music’ inquiry in June 2022. It promises to explore sexism experienced by women in the music industry, as well as the representation of women in music, and harassment at festivals and concerts. We reported on one of its evidence sessions in February this year.

Yesterday saw the latest session with two witnesses: DJ, broadcaster and author Annie Macmanus (aka Annie Mac) and musician and campaigner Rebecca Ferguson. Both laid out the problems they see within the industry, and where they want to see change happening.

“The music industry is a boy’s club. Everybody knows everyone in the top levels. All the people at the very top levels have the money, and thus all the power,” said Macmanus. “The system is kinda rigged against women.”

She cited the example of a young artist who’d been to the pub with the head of her label, then been sexually assaulted by them.

“If you’re her, you can either complain and risk your career that you’ve fought so hard for being compromised, or you can crack on, which is what she did. She’s now in a more powerful position. But still if you speak out as an artist now… you don’t want to be defined by being what is deemed as a ‘difficult’ woman,” said Macmanus.

“You don’t want to be defined, also, by something that happened to you that’s deeply traumatic. You want your artistry to come first. You want that to be how you succeed. So if you come out and speak on behalf of something that happened to you, you’ll forever be defined by that.”

Ferguson addressed the pressures placed on women artists, from being told to go on diets to being pushed towards more sexualised images.

“There seems to be an over-sexualisation of women, especially Black women, actually. I’ve noticed that, and was very conscious of that when I entered the industry. People definitely do want you to become more sexualised, as it were. I noticed it was happening a lot to Black women in music, and I didn’t like it,” she said.

“I was very conscious of it, and I was therefore very conscious of how I dressed: very vintage, very conservative. More so because I didn’t want young Black women to think that that was the only example of how people that look like me have to be. Not that there’s anything wrong with a woman expressing her sexual identity. I just don’t like it when it’s being forced upon them by men.”

Both agreed with that having more women – and particularly women of colour – in senior positions within the industry would be a big leap forward. “More women in the boardroom would make for a more equal industry, definitely,” said Macmanus.

“Just make sure that everyone can see somebody that looks like them, to feel like they’re being represented,” said Ferguson. “And maybe get some younger people [on the boards] actually. The younger generation have a different mindset: they don’t tolerate what we tolerated.”

Macmanus stressed the need for a shift where women can speak out about harms they see or experience, without their careers being compromised.

“I feel like there’s a lot of revelations that have not been exposed… It’s infuriating: the amount of women who just have stories of sexual assault that have just buried them and carried them. It’s just unbelievable,” she said.

“I do think if something were to happen. If one person were to speak that had enough profile where it got media attention, I think there could be a tidal wave of it, definitely.”

This is just a snapshot of the discussion, but you can watch the full evidence session here, and access recordings of previous sessions including major label representatives and government ministers here.

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