Over the Christmas holidays I spent most of my time catching up with folks in my hometown. After the “how’s school?” spiel, most of these conversations eventually curved toward the subject of my radio show on CiTR.
To provide detail as well as to propagate ourselves, myself and long time pal and CiTR Student Executive President, Eleanor Wearing, do a weekly radio show on CiTR 101.9 FM on Fridays from 1-2. Our show is called Femconcept, and we play entirely female content. Each week we search the caverns of the Internet to fulfill this requirement. At CiTR, “FemCon” is one of the designations used to organize and promote music at the station: it’s a way to make sure that under-represented voices (female, in this case) are heard. Two of four categories must be fulfilled in order for it to be considered FemCon: the lyrics must be written by a female, composed by a female, produced by a female, or a female performs in the band. Note: In this article, “female” refers to those who identify as woman-identified females. From this excavation it has come to our attention that female content is not as readily available as male content.
Femconcept’s mission is spearheaded by feminism. I would like to borrow bell hooks’ definition of feminism from feminism is for everybody: “[it] is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” The intersectionality of race, class, and gender and the lived experiences and challenges derived from this analysis are important to recognize.
A woman’s experience in the music industry is not universal but dependent on subject position and on racist, classicist, heteronormative structures of dominance. Through the medium of our show, we seek to give a one-hour time-slot of inclusive recognition of women’s underrepresented voice in music, radio and media in general.
When I explain the concept of the show to people back home, respondents seemed to make this weird, uncomfortable face like maybe they just smelled something unpleasant or perhaps that they’d like to refill their glass. Maybe they had heard their phone and needed to jet, or they didn’t hear me or are genuinely confused as to why we’d play only female content.
Shortly thereafter they ask, “why?” or jump to their own conclusion that I am a lesbian feminist (which presumably are symbiotic identities undoubtedly bound together) and wow, that must be a lot for my parents to swallow.
Now, I am not saying I grew up in a town of completely misogynistic people, but it is evident that there is a stigma surrounding the fact that I have a radio show, with my female friend, focused on playing solely female content.
What surprises me quite a bit was that it seems that among my parent’s friends, whom are educated individuals gearing up for their retirement, that there is an assumption that this is the twenty-first century and that it isn’t really necessary to have a show with entirely female content. I offer two reasons that could explain this: 1) they suppose that gender equality has been “solved” and that playing female content is just some granola-wannabe-hippie-1960s self-actualizing dream or 2) we’re seeking to fulfill our unconsciously-lesbian-feminist prophecies by way of an all FemCon show.
While this was assumption was prevalent in my hometown discussions, they also resonate in the music industry more generally.
If one listens to big-hit radio, which is nearly impossible not to as it’s ubiquitous as heck, the presence of women is evident. Many lead vocalists of pop hits are females. This is absolutely fantastic, but the way these women are represented by the media is problematic. Often female pop stars are sexualized to the point that to a young and vulnerable audience, their agency may get lost in the makeup and glitter. This creates a challenge for women and girls who do not fulfill this image. It disseminates an altered perception of beauty which in turn, poisons the minds of women and girls of all ages.
Another generality made about women in the music industry is that their experience is treated as “unique.” This is especially true for all-girl bands: because their experience is treated as out of the ordinary, the exclusion of female musicians in the industry is reinforced. This manifests itself in that tired line of questioning used by music journalists: “What is it like being in an all-girl band?” and “How does it feel to be a woman on tour?” as well as the general tendency to label any all-female rock bands “girl bands.”
And if the situation was reversed? All-male bands are not asked what it’s like to be in an all-male band, because this is the framework in which the music industry is built upon; it is the supremacist, patriarchal standard.
Female musicians are often judged in relation to male talent and do not receive credit for her own talent in of itself. Even if the words are not said aloud, it is common for a listener, regardless of gender, to evaluate the female musician through the lens of, “she’s really good… for a girl.” If you have somehow evaded this lens and instead approach your evaluation of music and art without an institutionalized gender bias, please let me know where/when/how I can get one.
It’s challenging for a woman to exist as an entity within the ‘musical realm,’ even before you factor in the disproportionate tendency of women to act as primary caregivers to children. This would potentially further inhibit the flourishment of a woman’s creative endeavours.
It is important to acknowledge that playing and having access to musical instruments and training is primarily available to those whom are privileged. This includes those that are in an economic position which allows them for leisure time to explore creative avenues such as messing around on a guitar for hours and/or recording themselves on Garageband and the like.
Women and humans everywhere regardless of class, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, and age it can be agreed upon that when a good beat drops, a folk song strikes a chord in your heart, a punk song provides camaraderie in the struggles of life, you hear that song you fell in love to, that song you fell out of love to, music that you grew up with, music that provides religious solidarity and faith or the feeling you get after you’ve created a song, depending on what speaks to you, music is an art that holds no biases and connects us all. Whatever it may be, as Ruth Saxelby writes in the Fader magazine, “beats aren’t gendered. We don’t listen with our genitals. So why are we still in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality in the music studio?”
I hope you all ask yourself the same question the next time you’re tapping your toe. And for those women out there who are interested in learning an instrument and creating music, let this question resonate in your mind and use it to propel you.
Femconcept airs from 1-2pm every Friday. To support Femconcept you can donate to CiTR’s annual Fundrive (taking place from February 26-March 6) by coming into the station, calling in, or donating here.