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I asked 5 female artists 5 questions about their experiences in a male dominated genre

10 May 2016 music biz words by Terence Ill
I asked 5 female artists 5 questions about their experiences in a male dominated genre

Some female artists are very vocal about how they are treated by the industry and the men they are surrounded by and often cop a lot of backlash for speaking out. But a lot of women don’t complain, creating the impression that they don’t share the negative experiences that their fellow female artist have. This often downplays how big the gender gap actually is.

I put the same five questions to five Melbourne hip hop artists to find out what they are dealing with as female members of a predominantly male genre and what they think could bring us closer to gender equality.

Much respect to Mistress, MzRizk, Nastaij, Empress and Muma Doesa for volunteering to be part of this article.

1. A recent study highlighted that in school music programs girls account for roughly 80% of participants. This is across choirs, musical theatre, singing, school bands etc. Yet, by the time they hit the workforce, the ratio is the exact opposite, with women only accounting for just over 20% of the music industry. Why do you think this is happening?

Mistress: I feel as though statistics shift because women are so discouraged but that's not music specific. I think we'll find that those kind of stats would shift in other industries as well. Though we've come so far as a society, I feel as though there's a long way to go yet. Maybe it's not even a case of discouragement but rather a lack of credibility toward females. Mind you, I don't believe it's gender specific either. Race and culture are also major issues because while we like to present ourselves as such a new age society with mindfulness towards equality, I think the reality differs drastically.

MzRizk: I think this is happening for many reasons. Not much access to opportunities outside of school, affordability, opportunity, support... The music industry is male dominated, I am not sure of any genres that aren't and most of the time the women are either the "girlfriend" or the "back up vocalist" if not the "lead singer". Confidence and comfortability is also another issue. Some women work really hard in their fields but don't get supported even if they are better than some of the men that do get the gigs...

Nastaij: I was actually saddened to hear that statistic. I can’t put it down to any one thing, but I think it’s a mix of so many life pressures, especially at that age. These include going to uni, trying to find a job etc. I also don't think being a musician is seen as a particularly "good" career move. I also think that self confidence has something to do with it - most major artists (especially in Aussie hip hop) are males. It doesn't send a good message to aspiring girls.

Muma Doesa: To be honest I'm not 100% sure.

2. Have you experienced situations where you feel you were treated as a lesser artist simply because of your gender?

Mistress: As a female rapper, I've found myself in plenty of situations where I've been in a room with other guys who've walked in, shook everyone's hand to introduce themselves and have shaken every hand but mine. I find that in situations like that as a woman you have to step up and be the one to make the first gesture, to stand that ground and be equal rather than act equal. It's less apparent as you progress through the industry but still very much present. Opportunities also differ. As a woman, using snapchat as a social medium to promote my music becomes frustrating, when images of random genitalia still seem like a wise option for male users.

MzRizk: Yes, of course. Happens all the time. Men won't know because they haven't and will never have that experience. Things like being dismissed by other males as a DJ happens often - if I am playing a song and I am talking to a male DJ usually the punter will ask the male "what is this track?" or "who is this by" even though I am clearly behind the wheels... I have been booked for major gigs where a group of men DJing thought I shouldn't play my set because they wanted to play longer... I didn't put up with that and shouldn't have had that experience. Ego is an issue as well... The boys stick with the boys, the exception is if you are a "pretty" girl but that has a set of different issues.

Empress: I guess this happens quite frequently, even when people just refer to me as a "femcee", or a "female" rapper or mc. This in itself really emphasises the divide in gender gap in the industry. I don't think I've ever heard somebody say "Hey, you've got to listen to this new male rapper!" or "I think I want to be a female chef when I grow up". In my opinion, a chef is a chef because they cook professionally, and their quality of work is not jeopardised or enhanced by their gender, so adding the gender before the role is not necessary.

Nastaij: Yes! I’m also a drummer and have played many gigs over the years. I often have people come up to me after the gig and say "Wow, you play really well for a girl". I think they mean well and don't realise how sexist they are being. It's a shame I can’t just be a good musician, not good for a girl.

Muma Doesa: Yes, definitely. I could write a long list. One thing that I've noticed is that even as an established artist, you may not get treated with the same respect, as far as payment, being asked to be the opening act for a less established male artist, or not being booked for supporting international acts, festivals etc. Or just not being spoken to with respect in general. Most people are ok, but it still happens. I don't have time to deal with people like that, though. So I just walk away.

3. Have you ever been in situations where you felt that being a female artist actually worked in your favour? In other words, do you ever get the special treatment simply because women are still a rarity in the genre?

Mistress: I think it's definitely easier to stand out as a female emcee in Australia, because there are only a handful of us - so to speak. However you have to be absolutely ON YOUR GAME to not get drowned out by a male dominated scene, whereas I find majority of males can have basic skills and still get more recognition then a top tier rapper who is a woman. In having said that, I believe that some opportunities I have been given are based more on how hard I work rather then what's in my undies.

MzRizk: No, but I do run female only workshops because there are young women that can only participate in female only activities due to culture and religion.

Empress: The current nature of this music industry is extremely male dominated at this point of time, so i suppose people's ears prick up when a female is doing the job. Although this is so, I still can't say that things have worked in my favour by just being a female. It's sad to say but being a female that's pretty good at a male dominated role comes with a bit of negative around it, all thanks to the human ego! A male listener would automatically separate the artist by gender and say something like, "Yea, she's okay... For a chick" just to protect the male ego a little. And even worse, a female listener would say the exact same thing cause thats how this society is programmed! It's crazy!

Nastaij: This happens at hip hop shows a lot. I often get great compliments about being a female. The funny thing is, it's often from other girls. Perhaps they are just happy to see girls represented in a male dominated genre.

Muma Doesa: Yes, I have. But this is a lot more rare than the previous question. Usually when being booked by other women, they relate to you more and have more respect for your point of view. Being booked to perform at fashion events is a definite advantage. When I started out 12 years ago I didn't know I'd end up rapping on a catwalk, but it's heaps of fun!

4. Do you think the music industry should intervene with measures like quotas to create a more balanced industry? Is there maybe a better way?

Mistress: There is undeniably a massive market in hip hop globally at the moment. Good female rappers especially are hard to come by, but I don't believe the Australian market has been able to tap into that yet because there haven't been a lot of "good enough" female rappers emerging. That said, I don't believe the Australian industry has really begun looking for them as of yet. Untapped markets are always high risk. But someone's gotta be the first to do it - it's just a matter of when.

MzRizk: I think a good way to start is for people to change their attitude about women. The music industry is notorious for misogyny and this needs to change. Quotas are good but the argument has been "it is about QUALITY not GENDER". I think integration would be great. Just yesterday I saw a Hip Hop show line up and it didn't include any women. I thought of about 5 that fit the bill and are better performers than some of the acts on the line up. We can talk/discuss this topic all day, everyday...

Empress: Interesting. I think any industry can change when a demand for something arises, and I suppose that starts with the audience/consumers. I don't know if whether or not implementing quotas would make a difference, but do know the only way we are going to know is by trying. We should always try something.

Nastaij: That's a great concept! There are so many great musicians out there. Could you imagine every second song on the radio by a female... I think it would help normalise the fact that girls can be great musicians too and then maybe we would see a lot more continue their passion after they leave school.

Muma Doesa: I don't believe "the industry" itself will change until individual people change. A better way would be to stop being so obsessed with gender. A lot of people in music don't care what gender you are, as long as you're good at what you do, but we still have a long way to go. The fact that I'm here answering these questions is an example of a need to keep progressing to a more equal treatment of all artists.

5. What would be your number one piece of advice to girls who just started writing rhymes, making beats or spinning records in their bedrooms?

Mistress: My advice to any lady currently trying to crack into the industry: Don't ever allow your individuality as an artist to be discouraged, boxed away or categorised. It is important to forgive society's ignorance and not be bitter about how the scene is structured (some may say rigged) in today's day in age. You'll have to work extra hard to get noticed and staying true to yourself in that process will be hard, but worth it.

MzRizk: There are a number of Hip Hop based programs that I know of in Melbourne that support young women. One of them is called Sisters on the Mic at the Arts Centre, they should definitely sign up to that or contact their local council Youth Department who will have information about programs in their area. I would also suggest that if they really want to write rhymes, make beats, dig for records, they should just start. YouTube has some amazing tutorials. There are free programs online to make beats or to start learning how to DJ.

Empress: My advice to anyone playing around with something they enjoy would be to keep doing what makes you happy. There is not a good enough reason in the universe to not do what makes you happy. And also, don't self sabotage! Remember that!

Nastaij: There’s so much I want to say! The most important thing I learned over the years is that success is what you define it to be. Set a target and reach it, reward yourself, then set the next one. For me, success was recording and releasing an EP, and playing live shows... well guess what... I did it! Also, don't get down when you don't achieve it first go, the only way you get better is if you fail a few times.

Muma Doesa: The one piece of advice: keep going! If you love what you do, there's no reason to stop. You have to be very assertive, but try to only work with people who show you the respect that you've earned. Work hard, promote yourself relentlessly, enjoy the roller coaster!