An Unsound Industry: Women’s Continuous Fight For Equality in the Music Industry
Women artists are responsible for 23.3% in record sales, 29.8% in streams and 13.6 % of Grammys won over the last decade, yet many female artists are belittled or easily criticized. Megan Thee Stallion was mocked by the media after being shot with a firearm. She was accused of lying to the internet and had well-known male celebrities, such as 50 Cent and Drake, contributing to the hate towards her. Taylor Swift, another female singer, is continuously criticized for writing songs about her past relationships, while male artists, such as Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and many more, get praised for writing songs about romantic situations and exes.
Billboard did a study on “women of the mix” which showed that 84% of women feel discriminated against in the music industry. Billboard created the Women of the Year in 2007, which brought more representation to female music artists, but the more famous they get, the more criticism comes their way. Not only do women face criticism in the media, but they also contend harassment in the workplace and dangers while performing.
In more recent times, a lot has changed in the music industry. More women are being represented and acknowledged for their musical talents but progress on being more inclusive is still growing.
Lana Del Rey, a woman who has impacted and inspired many through her creativity, mentions the positive changes in the industry for female artists in the latest Women of the Year 2023 awards
“When I released my first album 14 years ago, the waters were not quite as warm. So I’m really happy for everyone who feels like it’s a wonderful time in the culture to be themselves and to express themselves,” said Lana Del Rey.
Although Del Rey is now a well-known artist, the Ocean Boulevard singer had many struggles at the start of her career. In 2014 when releasing her new album, Ultraviolence, critics in the news media were not fond of the lyrics, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss,” and became a controversy on glamorizing abuse. During her writing process for this song, Lana Del Rey included personal relationship challenges she had faced. In 2017 she no longer decided to sing that specific line during her concerts as Lana Del Rey now recognizes how triggering it can be after being criticized by the media.
Although the music industry is slowly changing, women still have a higher chance of being exploited in the music industry. Nashville Scene Magazine did a survey on the sexual harassment rates of female musicians and found that 67% of the respondents had experienced this type of harassment and had been victims.
Male producers and managers have been exposed for harassment allegations and taking advantage of female artists. Famous music producer, Dr.Luke, is an example of a producer that abused his power in the music industry by taking advantage of female singers signed to his record label.
Kesha spoke up in 2014 about her abuse from Dr. Luke. As mentioned in the Rolling Stones article, she was “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused to the point where she nearly lost her life.” After she spoke out about this, more women began to come forward and speak up about their experiences.
In addition to dealing with toxic masculinity in the industry, the nature of performing live music adds additional risks for women. Women are often criticized for their looks and outfit choices. The male gaze in an industry that is very male-dominated can be difficult for a woman as they become objectified in person and through the media.
Jeni Jones known as Jeni from the Beach, is an entertainer who writes and produces her own music and has worked in film and the music industry for over 25 years. Her knowledge of producing is very beneficial to know, especially in a field where the behind the scenes of the music industry is male-dominated. Jeni expresses her thoughts very strongly about safety issues regarding female performers.
“If I’m going to do a show tonight and I have to be there at 8 p.m. because I go on at 8:30 p.m., the first thought in my head as a woman is that I better get there at 7:30 p.m. to make sure I park in front of the theater so that I can safely get to my car after the show,” says Jones.
Jones is used to performing in front of an audience and has no problem being up on stage. She’s cautious about keeping her drink safe by not leaving it alone in case of a roofie incident. “I have to worry about my drink the entire night.” This is a way Jones keeps herself safe during a show.
Spiking situations are more common to happen to women with their drinks or food. A study by the American Addiction Center gave insight that 56% of women have been unknowingly roofied.
Being under the male-gaze, women are exposed to more unnecessary comments upon their looks. Starting off as a new artist canbe intimidating in the sense of gaining more of a following. Elena Olszak is a band member of an all girl-band Doll Riot and she expresses her thoughts on the pressure women may feel when wanting to start off in the music industry.
“I feel like a lot of women feel pressured to sexualize themselves to get started and like, gain a following. And, you know, it was more about music more about the image.”
Oversexualization in the music field is commonly seen with popular artists, especially in the hip-hop genre. When women wear provocative clothes they are misjudged by character or sexualized. Artists like Cardi B and Citygirls get backlash for the minimal clothes they wear. They continue to ignore the criticism and exude their confidence.
Jones had a situation before performing at a halloween event where she had been wearing a costume. Jeni had been wearing a t-shirt that was lowered and was revealing her arms but as soon as she pulled her sleeves up, an inappropriate and unnecessary comment was made towards her.
“I gave the DJ my tracks and he saw me in this costume,” says Jones. “And they looked at me and said, oh you don’t look hot anymore.”
In the music industry women are constantly criticized on whether their body meets the beauty standards. The popularity of the “BBL Look” has risen in popularity since famous celebrities began to undergo cosmetic surgeries to get the hourglass body type.
Jenie Gonzalez is the lead singer of the band BluJay, she is the only woman in the band. Gonzalez mentions how it can be easier for an all male band to gain attention as they receive more streams and followers. She expresses her feelings on being the female lead for her band and her discomforts of being perceived on stage.
“I hate being perceived by men. Putting myself on stage where people perceive me, especially men where I don’t know their intentions, makes me hold back on wearing things that I want. But at the same time I feel guilty because then I’m like, oh, well, maybe it will be easier for my band to get recognized if i was the hot female lead”
The pressure social media holds for women can be stressful in a sense that they feel obligated to have a certain image. Female artists struggle with not only harassment but also not being acknowledged for their creations and art.
Female artists are underrepresented in an industry that is male-dominated with only 32% of producers and artists being women. Although the music industry is becoming more innovative with diversity the behind the scenes still needs proper inclusivity.