I don’t know if you all have noticed, but I am, in fact, a lady. A woman, if you will. And as a woman, I tend to have strong opinions on things like feminism and sexism. As a music writer, sexism as it manifests itself in the music industry is particularly intriguing, which is why a certain article caught my eye during my usual end-of-week scavenge for news. Digital Music News recently posted said article— regarding the Forbes “Electronic Cash Kings 2016” list of highest paid DJs—in which the author questions the validity of insinuations that the absence of female DJs and producers from the list could be a result of sexism in the industry. The author throws (or attempts to throw) a wrench in the argument that the male-dominated top five—comprised of Calvin Harris, Zedd, Kaskade, David Guetta, and Steve Aoki—highlights ingrained sexism in EDM, asking, “Is it simply possible that women haven’t been that interested in DJing or producing, and so there aren’t any ladies that have built themselves up the way Calvin Harris has, or the other 11 dudes on the list who routinely work with female talent, like Diplo, Zedd, Kaskade, and David Guetta have?” *Cracks knuckles* So let’s get started.
First of all, let me just state that my views align with the author’s in at least one sense—e.g. that gender equality and assured female professional success do not necessarily go hand in hand. In other words, I believe that the goal of gender equality is absolutely not to elevate women over men, nor is its intention to ensure that regardless of aptitude or intelligence, women be habitually elevated to positions over their male peers. Gender equality is exactly what it sounds like—the goal of evening the proverbial playing field to ensure that women and men have equivalent opportunities in the professional and private sphere.
So, that being said, is it possible that the top five highest grossing DJs in the world are also the most talented, frequent performing, and marketing savvy figures in the industry, legitimately surpassing their female counterparts in all the aforementioned areas? Sure. Unfortunately, we live in a less than perfect world and the significant—one might even say systemic—hurdles women in the music industry face in comparison to their male colleagues have to be acknowledged. Even more unfortunately, the kind of thinking that leads to such gendered barriers in music and in everyday life is more than evident in this particular article. And no, I’m not just saying that to “be derisive” or to “spin a story for a few extra views.” I’m playing the hated sexist card because minimizing, or just plain ignoring, one iteration of a widespread societal issue as it presents itself in a genre of music almost universally dominated by men is insulting to female DJs, producers, and electronic artists who do, in fact, exist, work, and struggle to be acknowledged in the music industry as a whole.
Presenting that the top five highest grossing DJs in the world are all male because half of said world’s population simply “haven’t been interested” in electronic music as a profession is more than a little obtuse. Stating that, “there also aren’t any prominent women DJs” is just incorrect. DJs like TOKiMONSTA, NERVO, and Alison Wonderland, as well as electronic artists like Niki and the Dove, Ellie Goulding, and Grimes, have fans and followers in the tens of thousands, rack up millions of views on YouTube, and even headline festivals right beside the Forbes top five.
Whether their compensation for such performances or the available opportunities to break into festival lineups that feel like a Boy Scout troop roster are equitable in comparison to their male counterparts is a topic of some debate. Female artists within EDM and without (Grimes, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and numerous others included) claim pay and opportunities to perform are not always equal between genders, and that the music industry can feel like an impenetrable boys club even to the most successful women in music. The author does allow that a similarly male dominated Forbes list of highest grossing global celebrities is worth looking into beneath a critical feminist lens, but somehow the same female scarcity within a specific musical genre is suddenly and decisively dubbed inflammatory nonsense?
The problem is not that DJing is perceived as an inherently male profession. The problem is not that women “are not being encouraged at a young enough age to be DJs.” The problem is that talented female artists struggle to be taken seriously and compensated fairly. Women in the industry often have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts just to be given the same opportunities, even as they struggle with sexual harassment from managers and peers, as well as the usual patronizing BS most of us deal with on a daily basis.
In short, the mere fact that there are no female DJs on the Forbes list is not in and of itself the issue. Rather, the issue lies within the apparent difficulties that female artists face in their efforts to “make it” in the industry and to make it anywhere near the top five highest grossing DJs in the world. Or the top ten. Who are also all male. But everything’s probably fine. Just ignore it.
See? Me being determined in my female malcontent doesn’t just get me extra views.