Last year, I used an online service to scan my Spotify listening habits to determine the ratio of how many women I listen to versus how many men I listen to. The answer was depressing. Only 10% of artists I listened to were women.
I checked again this year. Thankfully, the number had risen to 26%. I wish it were higher still, though it is closer in line to the industry breakdown; the organization Women in Music says women make up less than a third of the music industry. It seems to me that both women and men listen to music equally, so why aren’t women equally represented?
The issue is too complicated to dive into completely. The music industry, like much of the entertainment world, has a long history of harassment, misogyny and mistreatment. Bessie Smith, the early 20th century blues singer, was criticized as being “rough,” and was underpaid by her label. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen stars like Lady Gaga and Kesha speak out about their harassment at the hands of powerful men in the music business.
So what can we, as listeners, do to change a situation which seems out of our control? It’s not enough to simply listen to more women musicians; instead, we should make an effort to uplift women in genres where they are most marginalized. The success story of Cardi B is notable, mostly, because it is an anomaly.
For Cardi to surpass her male counterparts and be one of the most popular women in hip-hop is astonishing. However, of the top 50 Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artists, only six were women. In a genre like hip-hop, which is not only male-dominated but has a history of misogynistic lyrics, it is essential to foster a new culture where women can feel represented and safe.
Only recently has rap become a viable space for queer artists, like Frank Ocean, or gender nonconforming artists, like Young Thug. It is time for us, as consumers, to make it a genre in which women can flourish, too.
The same goes for country – like hip-hop, there are only six female artists in 2018’s top 50. A 2016 Texas Tech University study found that women are objectified in country now more than ever.
“What we found was that country lyrics in the 2010s talk about women’s appearance more, talk about women in tight and revealing clothing more, refer to women using slang more and rarely use their names,” Eric Rasmussen, a Texas Tech professor and co-author of the study, said when the study was released.
Men are objectified in music as well (just listen to any Cardi B song), but it is much less prominent. It’s contextually different, too; when women are the minority of artists, treating men as objects is like a novelty. When men do it, it’s the norm.
The most important way to make music more equal is to support the female artists in your community. Make it possible for the local women in your city – be it in country, rap or pop – to establish themselves as a musical force. Go to local concerts featuring women. Demand your local radio stations play just as much women as they do men. And remember those women who are most marginalized – women of color, trans and queer women. It is a futile effort if it does not include intersectionality.
Art flourishes most when everybody is able to have a voice. It’s up to us, as the consumers, to give that voice an audience.