The persistence of misogyny in music technology

Dom Aversano

DJ Isis photographed by Vera de Kok
DJ Isis photographed by Vera de Kok

Last week the British House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee released their report into misogyny in music. It reached a stark and clear conclusion.

In this Report we have focused on improving protections and reporting mechanisms, and on necessary structural and legislative reforms. The main problem at the heart of the music industry is none of these; it is the behaviour of men—and it is almost always men.

Although the report is specific to the United Kingdom many of its findings could apply to other countries. One universal problem is the tendency for some men to view misogyny as a woman’s problem, even though men have greater power to eliminate it. For those of us working with music technology, this needs to be taken to heart, as the field comes out very badly in the report, especially concerning the gender imbalance for music producers, engineers, and songwriters.

In 2022, just 187 women and non-binary people were credited as either producer or engineer on the top 50 streamed tracks in 14 genres, compared to 3,781 men. Of all songwriters and composers who received a royalty in 2020 from their music being streamed, downloaded, broadcast, or performed, only one in six (16.7%) were women.

Music technology education does not fare better.

Participation rates show that music technology courses still show a stark gender imbalance, reflecting the lack of female representation in the production workforce, despite the technology’s increasing importance to modern musicians.

After reading this I was curious to know how Music Hackspace shaped up in this regard. While far from a comprehensive analysis, I decided to count the number of female and male teachers on the Music Hackspace Website and discovered 32 female teachers (35%) and 58 male teachers (65%). This is far from equal, but at least better than the ‘stark gender imbalance’ mentioned in the report. However, until it is equal, it is not good enough.

On a personal note, when writing this blog I try to keep bias and discrimination at the front of my mind, but I am aware I interview more men than women. This is more complicated than simply my intentions. When invited for an interview men have generally been more forthcoming than women and tend to be easier to locate and contact, especially given they often have more prominence within the musical world. It is not hard to imagine why women might be more reluctant to subject themselves to public attention, as they are criticised more than men and taken less seriously. In the government report, many female artists and managers were regularly mistaken for girlfriends.

The misogyny women experience in the public eye was grotesquely demonstrated recently when X/Twitter was flooded with deepfakes porn images of singer Taylor Swift just a few days before this year’s Grammy Awards. One does not have to be a music superstar to be subjected to such abuse. Last year in the Spanish town of Almendralejo more than 28 girls aged from 11 to 17 had AI-generated naked images created of them, with 11 local boys having been involved in the creation and circulation of the images, demonstrating that such threats now exist across all levels of society.

This is to say nothing of the wider patriarchal socio-political forces at work. This year the world will again be subjected to a presidential run by the convicted sex offender Donald Trump, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and described his daughter as “voluptuous”. He is not alone, with social media-savvy men like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate promoting their misogynistic ideas to mass audiences of boys and men. These misogynistic ideas have been demonstrated to be algorithmically amplified by platforms such as TikTok such that Gen Z boys are more likely than Baby Boomers to believe that feminism is harmful.

Music should set a better example and act as a counter-cultural force against these movements. Historically, music has been a driver of social change, as one can create and share ideas with millions of people across the world rapidly. Women’s participation in this artistic activity should be equal to that of men, and for as long as it is not, it is men’s responsibility to help redress the power imbalance. In this respect, I will finish with the same quote from the House of Commons report, which lays out the root of the problem starkly.

The main problem at the heart of the music industry (…) is the behaviour of men—and it is almost always men.

Click here for the full report Misogyny in Music by the British House of Commons Women and Equaliti