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Men who want to boost equality in dance music should get on with it

Less using wokeness for self-promotion, please

  • Words: Samantha Warren | Illustration: William Davey
  • 30 October 2019

Yep, its official: dance music has more sausage than Oktoberfest. According to Dutch newspaper Het Parool, of the 1501 DJs who played in Amsterdam last year, only 17 per cent were women. Stats from the University of Southern California show just 2 per cent of the US’s 700 most popular songs between 2012 and 2018 were made by women, and Female:Pressure’s research shows 85 per cent of labels are owned by men. Today, there are six tracks by women in the Beatport Top 100. Yep. Six. We all know it takes balls to succeed in this industry, but it seems to be literally true.

Well, pardon me, but bollocks to that: there are loads of women out there making and playing amazing music, many of whom have come together in all-female collectives like SIREN, Working Women, 6 Figure Gang, Discwoman, SISU, WXMB2, and Psysisters. They provide training, business savvy and community support for women and non-binary artists and put on top-quality events.

Hmm. Women jamming with, and talking to other women about women. Come on girls, we’re told, be more confident! Put yourself out there! Build your own platforms, call out sexual harassment and misogynist attitudes! But why must minority groups to do the hard work of fighting their own marginalisation? Surely it’s the men we should be getting on board if we want more gender diversity in electronic music? ‘The Future of Feminism is Men’ proclaimed Andreea Magdalina, founder of global women’s music organisation SheSaid.So at this year’s IMS Ibiza keynote. So you’d think we’d be glad to hear male DJs and artists selling us their feminist agenda and wanting to publicise all they’re doing to equalise the industry, right? Well, I can’t be the only one detecting subtle notes of bullshit now and again when it comes to many public, grandiose displays of solidarity.

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You may think it’s a cynical assumption that Pro-Feminist Man has dubious motives, but it’s understandable in an industry with such a blatant boys’ club, one where self-promotion is everything. High-profile cases of sexual harassment at gigs by DJs who claim to be pro-feminist don’t help, and decades of academic research show how ‘socially responsible’ business practices are more likely to be spin. But even if it is for gain, shouldn’t guys embracing feminist agendas be seen as a win? Women artists get supported by someone people might take notice of, and the guys get the glory of Doing Good Things. But the point of spin is that nothing really changes. Too many of these bros only do what’s necessary to keep themselves in the spotlight until the next bandwagon hoves into view; they’re unlikely to actually act in ways that truly support and promote women. Call it ‘fem-washing’.

Research by Karren Knowlton at Wharton School of Business shows how even the best-intentioned allies can do more harm than good. First, there’s the pressure to say ‘How lovely, thank you!’ when a guy offers advice – as obviously only an angry, man-hating feminist would say no to such gracious help. But it smacks of mansplaining when a knight in shining armour rides in to rescue damsels in distress, leaving millennia of enforced female dependence on men to continue (un)happily ever after. No matter how well-meant the actions, they still shout, ‘You can’t do this by yourselves!’, while appointing Pro-Feminist Man as the woke doorman to the golden (club)land of equal opportunities: “Your name’s not down, sweetheart, but I’ll let you in.”

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No-one wants to alienate the decent men out there who are genuinely doing their best to support diversity, and I know we don’t often hear much about them. But that’s exactly how it should be: platforming women without all the ego. On this, Knowlton’s research is clear: if you truly want to help minorities, work quietly behind the scenes and let your actions whisper for themselves. Book more than one female artist on your line-up without making a fuss about it – like London underground parties Fox&Badge do. Same for next year’s Tribal Gathering festival, who get close to a 50/50 gender split across their workforce but don’t bang on about it. Use women playing with tech gear in your promo pics, as Native Instruments does; feature them as experts on your blog to talk about their work, not what it’s like to be a ‘female DJ’. Comment on a woman’s skills, not her body, on her socials, and ffs, stop deck-hanging, giving patronising thumbs-up to the DJ before you try to pick her up. Dig deeper for your tracks, broaden your crate, follow Toolroom’s ‘We Are Listening’ example and actively seek out female and minority artists for your label – it’ll diversify your sound as well as equalise the industry. If you can do even some of that, you’ll be a (pro-feminist) man, my son. Not by signalling, but by doing.

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