The Scourge of Sexism
With the issue of gender equality fast becoming one of the central topics in Silicon Valley (and by extension, the tech and startups industries) at the moment, I can’t say I’m anything but pleased. The problem of gender discrimination and the glass ceiling is long overdue for a solution. While I harbor no fantasies that such a solution will be found overnight, I am nonetheless pleased to see that there is a major effort being made to reform these shortcomings in the tech industry.
As a male, I can confidently say that gender discrimination hits very close to home for me; my parents both practice civil rights litigation, with a focus in employment discrimination and sexual harassment. I grew up seeing cases of blatant discrimination (and unfortunately it makes me angry to say I still do), where the the ugly beasts of intolerance and sexism were clearly visible. The latter, in particular, surprises me again and again because we are taught to believe that we’re moving forward in eradicating sexism—but not fast enough in my opinion. We still have a lot of work to do.
While the tech industry is starting to really spotlight and root out sexism within its ranks (as well it should), other industries are lagging too far behind in my opinion. The music industry, for example, is still too hampered by outright sexism for my taste, even after movements like third-wave feminism and Riot grrrl punk began to shatter the mold. It’s not a foregone conclusion by any means, and there are many within the music trenches who are trying very hard to change it for the better—to level the playing field so that gender becomes irrelevant—so that talent is acknowledged and validated by its inherent existence, regardless of the artist’s gender.
But let me provide two examples of what can be changed, and how people can step in to make the music arena more tolerant and progressive. Neither example makes me happy to share (less happy to have experienced), but perhaps that underscores their importance.
The Sleazy Promoter
The first example happened a couple of years ago, in the spring of 2013, and goes like this: I am good friends with a band whose members included a female element (the singer and drummer). The group was set to work with a promoter to book shows in their home state (which, though eliminated by name, I can say is quite a big market for independent music). The promoter made inappropriate and unwelcome advances towards the female band member(s) and the group cut ties, not wanting to work professionally with someone of such poor character quality. The promoter then retaliated by threatening to call every promoter within the state, seeking to destroy the group’s reputation, thus effectively cutting out their feet from under them. (In this particular state, I can say with confidence that there are at least seven major cities and/or scenes that they most likely split their time between).
I was in Amsterdam at the time, on my study abroad program. I woke up one day to a frantic “what do we do?? we’re going to get totally screwed by this person!” email from the singer. Even through text it wasn’t hard to clearly read her fear and anger over the situation. So her solution? Reach out to me in search of some advice.
The response I sent her was simple: I explained to her that I was behind her, and would throw the entire weight of my blog and radio show behind her and the band (and would bring in other artists I knew for support if need be). I even offered to write a letter as a professional contact (DJ and journalist) attesting to their quality as a band and professionalism as people, which they might use to send to anyone to rebuke the slanderous threats of this sleazy promoter. She seemed calmed by that offer (and most thankful, as you can imagine!) and we decided to see just how events would proceed.
In the end, the promoter never made good on his threats, and the whole situation seemed to blow over. But I never forgot that frantic email (I’m sure she hasn’t either), and to this day I’m still good friends with her and the band. The point is this: such a situation should never have occurred, and it very quickly seemed to spin out of control. But in situations like these, one needs to have the wherewithal to step up for what’s right. I didn’t do anything I didn’t think others wouldn’t do in the same situation. You don’t do it for pats on the back—you do it because it’s right.
The Sexist Tweeter
The second example happened more recently, during the Super Bowl this year. One of the Super Bowl commercials was to promote the hashtag #LikeAGirl to promote gender equality. This is one commercial I loved and supported, and I made so known on Twitter. This was the result:
I was actually staggered by the sheer sexism of the comment that I saw on my post. Someone telling me that I was sure to “get laid” for supporting “those feminists.” I was angry—actually I was seething. Not only had this person insulted the women that my comment was meant to support, but had dragged my name down too by insinuating that my motive was “to get laid.” I work with numerous artists—many of them with a female element—and I was pissed that this person had seen fit to insult not only people I work with, but people who are my friends.
The music industry is like the tech/startup industry in this respect—not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but trying very hard to get better. And here was someone dragging us back to the dark ages. This is exactly the sort of thing that people in both industries (or any industry) need to find and root out. The people who make these comments and hold these views are toxic. It’s not (and won’t be) easy, but it has to be done. And it will be.
I for one will be on the lookout for it in the music industry, and will call anyone on it. I encourage other to take aim at sexism and gender discrimination in their respective industries which they know best. Music is my world, and I will not have it polluted with this sort of poison. Don’t step into my house and disrespect my business contacts and friends, it’s as simple as that.