While Icelandic singer Björk is well-known for her outlandish outfits and rule-breaking music, her outspoken takes on political and social issues are perhaps her most identifying trait as a musical artist. Recently, the singer took aim at industry sexism, a pervasive issue which continually plagues female artists attempting to stand on equal footing with their male counterparts. In a paragraphs long Facebook post, Björk breaks down one particular facet of sexism in the music industry, specifically the unspoken rule concerning acceptable content for female artists.
Within the post, Björk contends that she was not fully accepted by the mainstream media as an artist of worth until she released her live album, Vulnicura, in 2015. She points to the subject matter of her live album as significant as it was supposedly inspired by emotional upheaval, romantic or otherwise:
“Women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends . if they change the subject matter to atoms , galaxies , activism , nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized : journalists feel there is just something missing … as if our only lingo is emo …i made volta and biophilia conscious of the fact that these were not subjects females usually write about . i felt i had earned it . on the activist volta i sang about pregnant suicide bombers and for the independence of faroe islands and greenland . on the pedagogic biophilia i sang about galaxies and atoms but it wasnt until vulnicura where i shared a heartbreak i got full acceptance from the media . men are allowed to go from subject to subject , do sci fi , period pieces , be slapstick and humorous , be music nerds getting lost in sculpting soundscapes but not women . if we dont cut our chest open and bleed about the men and children in our lives we are cheating our audience.” (via Facebook)
It is true that women are, to a larger extent than their male counterparts, identified through their relationship to others. Whether as daughters, girlfriends, mothers, or wives, women operate in a sphere of implied dependence, defined by their assigned roles and by their association with others, specifically with men. As such, it is unsurprising that many female artists feel compelled or pressured to create music which caters to this feminine ideal, that examines mundane and relationship-based subjects such as breathless romance, a deep need for a nameless male someone, or the desire to care and provide. Are these topics themselves inherently sexist in nature? No, absolutely not. The role of a caretaker, the vulnerability implied in needing male companionship or in the beginning stages of a relationship, these are everyday topics that women can and should feel comfortable discussing.
Where Björk and other female musicians see injustice however, is in the more limited range of topics which are deemed as “acceptable” for women as artists to discuss in their music. While there may be no stated regulations regarding what types of albums women can release, there appears to be an implied taboo, at least one sensed by even successful artists like Björk, dictating what subject matter stemming from a female musician will be well-received by audiences and critical circles.
Although Björk’s post is tinged with somewhat bitter undertones as she expresses disappointment at the state of women in music and the pressure she has felt to create music which reflects stereotypical gender roles, she does end her rant on a hopeful note, hinting that her own music will not be confined by such perceived expectations:
“lets make 2017 the year where we fully make the transformation” – Björk
Read the full post on Facebook below: