On Sunday, 9th December, a small group of some of the brightest minds in the country will gather at Brisbane’s Foundry in the form of a panel to tackle a loaded question: How can men challenge sexism in the music industry?
If some of the recent revelations to have emerged within the music industry over the past 18 months haven’t highlighted the systemic inequality between genders, then, well, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. From accusations of sexual assault, harassment and rape to wage gaps and the more subtle (but equally as damaging) manifestations of sexism, the past 18 months have shown us a disequilibrium within the music industry that isn’t going away. No matter how hard it’s ignored.
In many ways over the decades, the music industry has proven it is capable of being ahead of the bellcurve in terms of social cohesion. This is an industry that has progressed before, it can progress again. It’s here that we meet our team of aforementioned bright minds. One of which is Dr. Bianca Fileborn, a PhD in criminology and a respected authority on culture, gender, sexuality, law and justice.
Ahead of the panel, we spoke with Dr. Fileborn.
Music Feeds: Having worked in the music industry for several years now I understand the industry seems to be a bit of a flashpoint for these big social issues. I can’t work out why, though. And so I kind of wanted to throw that one to you. Why do you think it is that the music industry seems to experience the problems that society experiences but more intensely?
Dr. Bianca Fileborn: God, that’s a good question. It’s a tough one. I think when we’re talking about sexism, and I mean my own work relates more specifically to sexual violence. Those are interrelated issues. I think the music industry, particularly within Australia but also internationally has been a male dominated industry. So, it does tend to mean that issues around gender inequality and sexism are coming into play within that industry, perhaps more acutely than in other industries that are less male dominated.
I think, I don’t know if the music industry necessarily has a bigger issue than other analogous industries that are also male dominated, I suspect that part of the issue is also because of the broader public interest in the music industry, so we do what the media are interested in reporting on, particularly celebrity musicians are doing is kind of more noteworthy. People involved in industry have more social and cultural capital, so I think it’s perhaps more what happens in the industry is a bit more visible perhaps than other industries that aren’t as sexy, and aren’t getting reported on in the media as much. I can’t see, I don’t know, the accountancy industry or something being reported on in the same way. It just doesn’t have the same public appeal. So I think that’s part of it as well. I think it’s a combination of the actual structure and make up of the music industry, but also that kind of greater public visibility.
MF: With that greater public visibility, do you think that that could mean that the music industry could be a leading force if it were to change? Do you think that society would reflect what it sees in the music industry?
Dr. B: Absolutely. I think it puts the industry in a really powerful and significant position, particularly for artists. Because, people do look up to musicians and see them as, I guess, kind of role models, as much as I hate that term. But you know, we’re influenced by what our favourite musicians do and what the industry does, it is seen as influential and cool. And there’s people in that industry who I think a lot of us want to be like, so I think that does mean that the industry can have a lot of influence. And of course the fact that it is a more publicly visible and spoken about industry does mean that it’s in a better position to automatically influence other people’s behaviour. And to be in a position where they can lead broader cultural and social conversations, because they have that influence and that reach, I guess, to the general population.
MF: From your perspective, do you think that there’s any unique characteristics about the kind of sexism that happens in the music industry?
Dr. B: It’s not unique in the sense that we see sexism everywhere in our society. You know it is a broad, widespread issue. That said, I think it plays out in unique ways within the music industry so we might see, particular cultural norms within the music industry that are more unique to the industry. So I’m thinking, for example of the kind of stereotype of the male rock god who, all the women want to hook up with. Or, they’ve got groupies who are just dying to sleep with them or whatever, and women and fans within that kind of stereotype are really devalued as just being, groupies. And people who are just there ’cause they think the lead singer’s hot. As opposed to being genuine fans of the music. So I think those types of sexist stereotypes are more… unique to the music industry I guess, just because of the nature of the industry.
Although we see analogous things happening say, in football and sporting clubs where the women are just there because they think the players are hot. There’s analogous things happening elsewhere, but arguably that’s still fairly unique to the music industry. So I think that’s where we see more differences, is in the way that sexism and gender inequality manifests but not necessarily the underlying beliefs and power structures.
MF: I was going to ask for your thoughts on that, as we saw in the past 18 months with the Me Too movement, a lot of artists were called out for inappropriate behaviour. There was a big discussion with people arguing how in decades past there was more of a social contract between artists and their fans, and whereas now it’s being described as a kind of power play between artists and their fans. Do you think there’s any credibility to saying that it was a social contract back in the day, or do you think it was always a power play that was just misconstrued?
Dr. B: I think it was always a power play, yeah absolutely. And I, you know I think people were critical back in the day as well, certainly with feminist circles for example. I think that type of, inappropriate sexual behaviour has always been critiqued. I think it’s just that no one was really paying a lot of attention or that critique didn’t have as much sway, or kind of public visibility as it does now. But yeah, I think it’s always been… I think power is a fundamental part of all of this, so I think it has to have been always about power. I think that that kind of social contract thing is an excuse and it’s a way of minimising inappropriate behaviour.
MF: I’d like to know what you would hope to see from the upcoming Brisbane event. What’s the schematic for success for this one?
Dr. B: I think just starting a broader conversation about gender based inequality, sexism and power in the music industry. I think that would be fantastic. I mean from my perspective, I’d like to, I would hope that people will walk away with an understanding of how those factors relate to sexual violence, because gender based power, imbalances, inequality, sexism, gender stereotypes that I was talking about before… those are all things that underpin sexual violence and allow it to occur. And of course we are seeing more discussion about sexual harassment and violence in the music industry, as well as across society more broadly.
So, I think understanding how these issues are entangled. And if we want to do something about preventing sexual harassment and violence within the music industry, and I hope that we do, then we also need to be looking at addressing those broader issues of sexism and gender inequality. Hopefully people will walk away with an understanding of what the bigger picture implications of sexism are. That would be fantastic.
MF: I don’t want to give away too much for the event. But for someone like me who has been drawn to this sort of world only recently, I have to be very careful. I’ve got 28 years of life where I may have mad mistakes and acted inappropriately, I may have done the things which I’m now trying to stop. What are some tips that you have for guys, like me, that genuinely do want to do better, and are going to move heaven and earth to try and make a safe industry. Is there a quick tip that you have?
Dr. B: Oh, gosh. I don’t know if I’ve got a quick tip but-
MF: Or a long one.
Dr. B: There’s a few things that I would say to guys. The first is to be open to listening to what people are saying without getting defensive. Because I think there is, you know and understandable, tendency for people to get defensive. I think a willingness to reflect on your own attitudes and your own behaviours, and a willingness to recognise where you might’ve gone wrong in the past. And a lot of us have. None of us are perfect.
I’m sure that I have done sexist things for example, particularly when I was younger. I mean that’s the way that as a society and the culture that we’re brought up in. But being willing to acknowledge where we might’ve gotten things wrong or where we might’ve adhered to some problematic attitudes and beliefs. Recognising that and thinking about how we can change for the future, so how do we make sure that we don’t engage in those problematic behaviours or keep adhering to these problematic attitudes and beliefs. I think that’s really important.
I think also, thinking about how you can challenge the people around you to do the same thing. So, are you in a position where you can have some conversations with your other male friends or people in the industry? Can you call people out if they say or do something that you think is sexist or inappropriate? If you’re someone who is in the industry and is in a position where you can actually make a difference to the involvement of women in the industry, start using that power for good, you know. So if you’re someone who is booking acts, or a festival or whatever, trying to make sure that you have a gender balanced lineup would be fantastic. Making sure that you’re booking women to play in your venues.
All those kind of things can make a huge difference.
BAND TOGETHER: How can men challenge sexism in the music industry?
Sunday, 9th December
The Foundry, Brisbane
Facilitator – Leanne DeSouza
Dr Bianca Fileborn