sexism etc (excerpt from an email to the editor of Mess And Noise)
There was a flare-up on Australian music website Mess And Noise recently about sexism.
It was sparked by an innocuous comment from a female writer bemoaning the fact there weren’t more female artists (or critics) represented in the End Of Year Critics Poll – especially as Mess And Noise is, by and large, a smart and intelligent music magazine. Cue tirade of tired sexist jokes, all made by ‘liberal’ men who (coincidentally) can’t see anything wrong with the way the system works right now, and take umbrage at the suggestion they might be part of the problem.
My take on it all can be neatly summarised by the following to I wrote to Darren Levin, the editor of Mess And Noise, after he got defensive about the male/female bias of music writers on his site (something which, to his credit, he is trying his utmost to change).
I do not believe for one second Mess And Noise are anywhere near the worst offenders here, and I do believe that yes, you personally, and Mess And Noise generally, are trying to change things. But. I do think institutionalised sexism is a major problem facing Australian music criticism – that it cannot hope to thrive and grow and be the equal of its counterpart in the US and UK until this problem has been addressed. And I do not believe that making cheap jokes at the expense of female writers trying to address the issue is not the way forward. Sure, it’s fun to make jokes. I know that. But.
We are both agreed, I hope, that men and women are equally able to write about music in an entertaining and informative manner, and that men and women both love music with equal passion. So where does the problem arise? Why aren’t there more female music critics – there are certainly enough female media students wanting to follow that route.
From where I’m sitting, the problem is simple. 1) Music criticism is seen as a boys club (catch 22, of course – because this won’t change until the gender imbalance is rectified, but the gender imbalance won’t be rectified until music criticism stops being perceived as a boys club). More importantly, 2) Music criticism is a male construct – and hence the ability of someone to write a ‘good’ piece of criticism or not is judged by how well they fit into the dominant male hivemind. (Obviously there can be, and are, exceptions to this rule.) This automatically disadvantages any females trying to break into the boys club – hence the eternal question “what is the standard of the writing like?” actually almost entirely misses the central issue. More, it should be “what is the reader’s conditioning to the writing like?”.
Oh whatever. There’s a fucking 130,000 word thesis to be written round this subject, and it’s the middle of the night here and I’m hyper-tired. I like what you do and what Mess And Noise do, in the main. I particularly appreciate the way you engage with all dialogue, and care about what Mess And Noise does. But I do not think the way to solve problems is to make crap jokes about them.
I am pleased to hear that you positively discriminate.