So when do female artists get news coverage?
That is a question I have been pondering over the past month. I use a news feed reader to syndicate various current music magazines and websites such a Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, Exclaim, NPR Music, BBC Music, Blender, Vibe, Venus, as well as, a few smaller ones, and a local Seattle, WA source or two (75 total feeds, 37 different sources.) I then filter out the women in music news for Jukebox Heroines. But, as I have noticed when I scan the headlines, female artists seem to get press for things that have nothing to do with their musicianship. Shocker! Wanting to actually see how poorly music outlets cover female musicians, I decided to do an informal survey.
So, from December 1, 2010 (midnight) to January 7, 2011 (midnight), I cataloged the women in music headlines from my feed reader. “Women in music” articles where articles that mentioned a female artist, an all-female band, musical group with at least one female member, or something specific relating to women in music, such as gender imbalances, women on the top charts, ect, in the article headline. But what I wanted more specifically to find out is when they are covered, are they talked about as musicians in terms of their musicianship, or other things not related to their profession?
Musicianship here will be defined as: Information about touring, music creation, chart success, new music/albums, music videos, concert footage, personal interviews, collaborations, and/or events. These are the things you expect to read about a musician in a music magazine.
I noted how many article headlines mentioned female artists or bands. Once I had this data, I looked for patterns in news coverage. The patterns fellow into the following categories:
Musicianship, Appearance/Sexuality, Babies!, Relationships, Emotions, and Miscellaneous Non-Music Related Activities
Here are the numbers:
- Total news feeds – 75 (37 different sources)
- Total music articles in my feed – 5,318
- Total “women in music” articles –358
- Total articles on musicianship –224
- Total articles not on musicianship –134
- Total days of the study – 38
- Average “women in music” news article per day – 9.4
- Average “women in music” article relating to musicianship – 5.9
- Average “women in music” article per source per day – .25
- Average musicianship article per source per day – .16
News about female artists accounted for 6.7% of all music articles in the feeds. News that was actually about female artists’ musicianship was 4.2%.
I then broke down the articles that did not have to do with musicianship into the following categories. The number of articles per category are listed below.
- Appearance/Sexuality – 19
- Babies! – 6*
- Relationships – 28
- Emotions – 5
- Health/Death – 21**
- Misc. Non-Music Related Activities – 55
So, to sum. Women were 6.7% of all total music articles from Dec. 1-Jan.7. and 4.2% of all articles actually about their musicianship.
Out of those articles that mentioned women, 62.6% actually discussed news that was about the artist as a musician and not other endeavors personal or professional. The other 37.4% did not mention the artists’ musicianship.
Female artists who were not covered as artists were talked about in relation to their relationship/marital status 20.9% of the time, pregnancy/children 4.5%, their looks 14.2%, their feelings/emotional outbursts 3.7%, Health or Death 15.7%, and general non-music related activities such as social or political actions, legal issues, finances, gossip 41.0% of the time.
* Six articles in this category were about Mariah Carey’s twins.
** Two news topics (Aretha Franklin’s cancer and the death of Teena Marie) accounted for all of the Health category.
Music sources reported on women in music an average of less than 1 article per day over research period.
This post: Push(back) at the Intersections: Sluts, Bores, Attention Whores: How We Talk About Female Creators | Bitch Magazine, originally posted by Bitch Magazine Aug. 19, 2010.
There’s a fascinating double-edged sword that comes out of the sheath when it comes to talking about women creators.
On the one hand, there’s an attitude that we should unreservedly support female artists. That they deserve a pass on some things because they are trying to make it in a difficult industry, and that it’s antifeminist to criticize female creators at all. Consumers should look for the intent, they argue, should consider the context, shouldn’t have such unreasonably high standards.
On the other hand, we have people who take advantage of the veneer of ‘criticism’ to spew misogyny and hatred about women. This includes people in feminist spaces who judge creators for everything from showing too much skin to not being feminist enough. This often feeds people who are not feminist and decide that since feminists said it was OK, they have carte blanche to trash female creators and to use really hateful language when doing so.
The polarization that surrounds discussions about works of pop culture created by women can sometimes make it really hard to fairly and honestly critique female creators. We all internalize misogyny to some extent and I am never surprised, though I am disappointed, when it expresses in pop culture critiques.
We have to be able to strike a balance.
It is necessary to evaluate and critique all pop culture, no matter the gender of the creator. Being a woman does not make you immune from criticism when your work is problematic. At the same time, we need to recognize that there is a history when it comes to talking about art created by women. A history of bringing discussions about personal lives into discussions of art, of picking female creative professionals apart personally, not just professionally, of expressing some internalized tropes in the way we interact with art created by women.
(Britney Spears, popular target for slut shaming and accusations of being an ‘attention whore.’)
There’s a reason that female creators on mixed-gender creative teams get all the blame for the mistakes while the men get a free pass. I’ve seen female creators accused of tainting or ruining the creative teams they work with, and this carries a whiff of some very old ideas about women and their supposed ability to poison and corrupt everything they touch.
There’s a reason that when people talk about music and other work created by female artists, they don’t just talk about the art, but also about the way the artists dress. The way they live their lives. I don’t see the same scrutiny being applied to male creators. Not many people say, for example, that a performance of masculinity by a male rap artist is problematic or offensive, yet people freely shred female artists for the way they present themselves. A woman who likes to wear miniskirts on stage is setting a bad example for the children! Artists who wear outrageous heels are reinforcing a harmful beauty standard! How dare actresses get plastic surgery! Actresses in a bad woman-centered film are treated to misogynist bile in their reviews, while horrible films starring men get a pass.
Should we talk about how things like, for example, the way gender performance in pop culture plays a role in how we perceive gender in real life? Absolutely we should, but the scrutiny applied to female creators of pop culture seems to run much deeper to me. It often seems, quite frankly, like an excuse to bring on the hate. As Snarky’s Machine pointed out in comments on Monday’s post, it’s very telling to see what kind of work and creators get passes from the feminist community, and what gets ignored or trashed.
We must be able to discuss art without attacking the creator or engaging in endless prurient speculation about the creator’s gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status, and other personal matters. I do think that there are some things in the personal lives of creators that are relevant to their work—take Roman Polanski, for example. There are some things that provide important context, or a reason to boycott a creator’s work. It’s sometimes hard to sift out when it’s appropriate to bring in the context of a creator’s personal life and history, and to consider matters that are on the public record, and when it’s not, and yet this is precisely what we need to do.
(There’s a great deal of speculation about Miley Cyrus’ mental health, something that should remain a personal matter unless she chooses to discuss it.)
It’s time to step off the seesaw of either blaming women artists for everything and using their personal lives as a vehicle for misogyny, or giving them a pass on everything.
Turn it up! Grrrl style!
Check out this great new resource for those of you wondering what it is like to be a musician who happens to be female. It starts today with the online features, and on air segments on NPR. NPR asked hundreds of working women from all genres what it is like, and includes the results and other notable pages. I’ve spent about an hour so far just exploring and I am really impressed. The responses are amazing, and telling of what it is like to be a woman in still quite (que James Brown….no wait, Xtina’s version) a man’s world.
I am so excited and I look forward to hearing the on air segments, as well as, further exploring all of the online features. You can contribute your thoughts as well here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The only thing I don’t like about the series is the “woman musician” part in the title. You don’t put “man” in front of musician do you? Nope. I know we are focusing on women, which is the point, which is awesome. But we need to say musicians who are also women, not “woman musicians.” Why? The default meaning for musician should not be gendered. I know that it is, and we need to take active steps in breaking that idea (thus this commentary.)
Musicians can be anyone! When we put “woman musician” and never do the same for “male musician,” you default musician’s meaning as male, and you maintain androcentrism with the notion that woman are not normally musicians. Therefore, women remain the marked gender that is not standard issue. So when they are musicians, they are seen as somehow abnormal, unusual, and the exception, not rule, because you are altering the word with a gendered signifier. And that’s not true, nor cool.
Women have always been musicians, they just haven’t always gotten credit or recognition for their craft. And I hope for those of you who are unconvinced check out this series and understand the awe and inspiring power that women have in their musical voices, hands, minds, and hearts.