7 Anecdotes From Female Artists Show How Deep Sexism Runs in the Music Industry


Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus. 

These women may be grabbing all the headlines in music these days, but behind the scenes, they admit to commanding little of the same power. Even for the biggest names in music, sexism in the music industry is real. It transcends genre and fame. 

First, the problem is representation. Pop artist Charlotte Church, who described her fight against sexism in a 2013 speech, said that "only 15% of label members are majority-owned by women. [Performing Rights Society] claims only 13% of writers registered are female. The music producers guild: less than 4%."

Second, the problem is judgment. "Women in the industry are judged more," Nicki Minaj told Time back in February. "If you speak up for yourself, you're a bitch. If you party too much, you're a whore. Men don't get called these things."

Third, the problem is exploitation. Music executives encourage women to show skin, change their content and style to push their products to consumers. Numerous women artists have shared stories of the pressures they've experienced.

Here are seven such tales. 

1. Alicia Keys: "Why don't you unbutton the shirt a little lower?" 

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Alicia Keys was not known as a sexualized pop starlet, but not for the industry's lack of trying. "I trusted people and then I would see things back and feel embarrassed and uncomfortable," she described to the Telegraph in recounting the industry's attempts to sexualize her image. "That kind of set me on my path to be stronger about not letting people tell you anything." 

She has since managed to carve a space where she can use her sexuality strategically and advocate for whatever causes she wants. She achieved this by "demanding respect," as she told the Telegraph, "saying 'Here's what I want,' and pushing people as opposed to being pushed around."

2. Taylor Swift: "They may have to deal with their own sexist issues."

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When Taylor Swift's 1989 smashed almost every record in the books, it was difficult for some in the industry to believe that Swift masterminded the whole project. Publications like Forbes wrote about her new music on the assumption the men behind were directing her sounds. Even other artists like Imogen Heap "assumed she didn't write much of her music." 

"If someone has studied my catalog and still doesn't think I'm behind it, there's nothing I can do for that person," Taylor Swift told Billboard. "They may have to deal with their own sexist issues, because if I were a guy and you were to look at my catalog and my lyrics, you would not wonder if I was the person behind it." Numerous female artists have struggled with this same problem. M.I.A. and Solange Knowles have both spoken out against reviews that highlight the contributions of male collaborators over their own.

3. Grimes: "I don't want to be molested at shows or on the street." 

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Indie singer-songwriter and producer Grimes wrote an epic manifesto on Tumblr in April 2013. It described the many types of misogyny she's seen and experienced over the years. Grimes described being molested at shows, and having to resist not only sexualization but infantilization in the pop music machine. 

"I'm tired of men who aren't professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to 'help me out' (without being asked), as if I did this by accident and I'm gonna flounder without them," she wrote. "Or as if the fact that I'm a woman makes me incapable of using technology. I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers."

4. Taylor Jardine of We Are the In Crowd: "I'm not stupid." 

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Sexism in the punk and rock world differs from the misogyny that runs rampant through the pop world. 

There's less emphasis on sexuality, but women like Taylor Jardine of the pop punk band We Are the In Crowd has had just as much difficulty being taken seriously. "Before we had our own crew, we'd use the house monitors and we're checking all the instruments and the sound guy would ignore me," she told Fuse. "I'd have to say 'Excuse me, I need the bass up.' And he'd say, 'Honey... Honey, we already did the bass.' I'm like, 'I know, but I can't hear it now.' I'm not stupid! We just played a song and now I can't hear it. ... It used to happen all the time. I used to also not get let into the venue." It seems that the idea of a woman rocking a stage is just too much to believe for some venues.

5. Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy: "You're never considered real." 

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"Women are called upon every day to prove our right to participate in music on the basis of our authenticity — or perceived lack thereof," Meredith Graves wrote in a piece discussing sexism in the industry and the idea of creating an artist. She tells stories about being tested by those who consider themselves serious music fans. 

"Our credentials are constantly being checked — you say you like a band you've only heard a couple of times? Prepare to answer which guitarist played on a specific record and what year he left the band. But don't admit you haven't heard them, either, because they'll accuse you of only saying you like that genre to look cool. ... This happens so often that it feels like dudes meet in secret to work on a regimented series of tests they can use to determine whether or not we deserve to be here."

6. Amy Kirkpatrick of Data Romance: "I've turned down sex and lost opportunities." 

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"The amount of times I've turned down sex and had opportunities taken away from me, that would get your attention as well. Or at least it should," Amy Kirkpatrick, half of the EMD duo Data Romance, wrote on her website, according to Beautiful magazine. "If it doesn't, then you'd fit right in in the entertainment business." She describes numerous occasions when she was inappropriately pressured into sex while involved in a business meeting. The worst part is, turning down sex can turn out to be a bad business decision.

"[W]hen you turn down sex to stick up for your own morals, or simply for the fact you don't want to sleep your way to the top, you feel... awkward about it? So you just ruined a relationship with a potential band you were going to work with because you turned down sex with someone whose ego can't handle it. They cut you out. That happens. That happened to me. And having to explain that to your record label, or band members, is not a conversation you want to have."

7. Bjork: "To get my ideas through, I had to pretend men had the ideas. "

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That women don't write their own music follows established avant garde legends like Bjork. 

This misogyny was strikingly apparent during the press circuit of her 2015 album Vespertine. "I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats — it was like doing a huge embroidery piece," she told Pitchfork. "Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn't do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos'] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don't even listen to him. It really is strange."