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Opinion March 8, 2019

An open letter from a woman in the Australian music industry

An open letter from a woman in the Australian music industry
Image: Stewart Munro

“A woman is always accompanied, except when quite alone, and perhaps even then, by her own image of herself.

“While she is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she cannot avoid envisioning herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.

“She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.”

This comment was made by a man. Art critic and writer John Berger said the aforementioned in an interview for BBC series Ways of SeeingWhile he was referring to the female figure in art and advertising, this is often what being a woman in the music industry is like.

Today I even feel a sense of shame that it took me until now, the actual afternoon of International Women’s Day, to sit down and write this. At first, perhaps in a cloud of personal defeat at the work which must be done to reach gender parity, I recalled comments from some of my favourite industry women:

In 2015 during her time as Executive Officer at MusicNSW, Kirsty Brown told oneofone: “Many times I heard the comment that only two types of women worked in the industry – starfuckers or dykes.”

In 2017, as we readied our first The Industry Observer Awards, a nominee who is as beloved in the industry as she is respected told me (actually, whispered) that she was concerned the accolade would make her a target. She feared that being seen to be successfully climbing the ranks could result in some people wanting to actively pull her down.

TIO AWards winners 2018 stage

TIO Awards

In 2018, Vicki Gordon’s Australian Women In Music Awards was met with claims it was tokenistic, and that Australia should do away with gendered awards.

In her interview with TIO, she said: “Gendered awards can’t be a thing of the past when we don’t have equality. If we really believe in a world where men and women are equal, in the home, in the workforce and in a country, then we need to acknowledge their contributions.”

Even now, in 2019, women from non-white backgrounds and non-cis women are heavily marginalised.

I slumped over my laptop. These aren’t the stories we want defining Australia’s International Women’s Day this year. How can we inspire young women and those from marginalised groups to enter this industry if we portray it as a vile place pregnant with glass ceilings?

Instead of tapping away aggressively about how far we have to go, would it not be more progressive to use this day to look at how far we’ve come? And more simply, celebrate our favourite music from our beautifully talented artists?

Yes, women and marginalised communities are still being left out of lineups, conversations, recording studios, and the rooms where decisions are made about them… but should we not also use this day to celebrate our wins?

In the last 12 months:

  • ARIA welcomed four female directors to its board
  • Sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is being tackled through a AHRC investigation
  • Australia hosted its inaugural Women In Music Awards
  • Michelle Grace Hunder and Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore’s Her Sound, Her Story gave a powerful commentary on gender in the Australian music industry
  • Missy Higgins became an ambassador of Tracey Spicer’s NOW Australia movement
  • The 2018 APRA Music Awards saw female acts (or acts with at least one female) take 53% of the nominations
  • Hell – it may not be music-related – but even the first female pilot in Australia to be licensed to carry passengers, Nancy-Bird Walton, is about to have an airport named after her!

We need more positivity and recognition for the people who have punched through walls, who have laughed at the glass ceiling, and who have let their successes speak for themselves.

People like Chugg Entertainment’s Susan Heymann, who at the last Women in Music event inspired those in the room to strive for leadership roles.

“It’s not your job as a manager to have all the answers. You just need to know where to find them,” she said.

People like Mardi Caught; a woman who left her role as General Manager Frontline Marketing at Warner Music to start her own company in The Annex. Even Caught has admitted she suffers from industry endemic Imposter Syndrome.

And people like Millie Millgate and Esti Zilber from SOUNDS AUSTRALIA, who selflessly and tirelessly advocate for Australian artists here and overseas in ways that we often take for granted.

While today is undeniably about the women, the men in our industry have the largest role to play. Personally, I wouldn’t be where I am without the male ‘teachers’ in my life; the negative and positive experiences prepared me for the path I’m currently on.

Right now I have a CEO (Luke Girgis) who offers space for fuck ups (of which there are many), celebrates small wins, and challenges the status quo in everything he does; inspiring me to do the same.

To the men who have grown us, supported us, let us be feminine, let us be masculine, let us be other… Thank You. To the men who haven’t, it’s not too late.

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.


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