‘Misogyny In Music’ Report Slams UK Industry For Reinforcing ‘Boys Club’ Culture

31 January 2024 | 4:56 pm | Ellie Robinson

The study found that women in the UK music industry face “significant barriers” to get their foot in the door, then navigate “acts of passive aggression, ridicule and misogyny to have a sustainable career”.

'Misogyny In Music'

'Misogyny In Music' (Supplied)

The UK’s Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) have published a report on their year-and-a-half-long inquiry into misogyny in music, and found – as expected – that the state of the industry is dire for women, femme-aligned and non-binary people.

For starters, the report (which you can read in full here) found that women represented less than a third of 2022’s top-selling artists, and a mere 14 percent of songwriters. Across the 50 most-streamed tracks between 14 genres, a total of 187 women or non-binary people were credited as a producer or engineer, compared to 3,781 men. And the earnings reflect this disparity: of all songwriters and composers who were paid royalties in 2020, only 16.7 percent (or one in six) were women.

UK music festivals also snubbed women at large – for the summer 2023 slate, only one in ten headliners were women. The teams behind major festivals are well aware of the divide, too, with Emily Eavis – an organiser for Glastonbury, who the report notes has “long advocated for balanced lineups” – saying in a formal statement, “We’re trying our best so the pipeline needs to be developed. This starts way back with the record companies, radio. I can shout as loud as I like but we need to get everyone onboard.”

In terms of getting more women involved in the industry, things need to change from the ground up. The report found that regardless of how non-male professionals enter the music world, “the environment is unwelcoming, access to career opportunities continues to be problematic and those entering the music industry routinely experience misogyny and discrimination”.

One notable barrier to entry, the report noted, is the prominence of gatekeeping – industry roles in areas like programming, promoting and A&R, for example, are still heavily dominated by men. As a result, women are given less opportunities to work and/or rise up the ranks, and often have to change things about themselves to be accepted or treated with the same respect as their male peers.

“It is a noted phenomenon that women have to attain a higher standard and quality of creativity than their male counterparts,” said a representative of The F-List for Music, a nonprofit community interest company representing more than 5,000 female and gender-diverse musicians. Black Lives in Music also noted that data found black women to be the most disadvantaged in the music industry, with particular areas of concern being over-sexualisation and objectification. “Unless we break or tackle racial discrimination, we cannot really tackle everything else,” said chief executive Charisse Beaumont.

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Elsewhere in the report, it was found that non-male professionals in the music industry faced harrowing rates of sexual harassment and abuse. In a 2019 survey conducted by the Musicians’ Union, 48 percent of 800 respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, and 58 percent said they’d witnessed it.

In a statement provided by the Union, it was said that a common theme in reports received through its Safe Space platform was “men abusing their power to instigate and maintain coercive sexual relationships with women”. A rep for the Union added: “Promises of work, career progression or the threat of retaliation against women professionally if they refuse to participate are used by men to sexually harass women without consequence. These behaviours prevent women working in certain organisations where there are known sexual harassers.”

A summary of the report noted that “non-reporting of incidents of sexual harassment and abuse is high”, and that when victims do file reports, it’s not often they’re believed or taken seriously. “Even when they are believed,” the WEC wrote, “more often than not, it is [the victim’s] career not the perpetrators’ that ends. In many cases, those who do report harassment or sexual assault regret doing so due to the way it is handled.”

In order to curb this trend, the WEC said the newly established Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) will “help to shine a light on unacceptable behaviour in the music industry and in doing so, may reduce the risk of further harm”. They added that CIISA is “not a panacea for all of the problems in the industry [and] other reforms remain crucial, and time will tell whether it has the powers required to drive the changes needed”.

The WEC offered several other recommendations for legislative steps the Government could take, writing in their summary that “requirements should be placed on areas in the industry in which harassment and abuse are known to take place”.

They further expounded: “Studios and music venues and the security staff that attend them should be subject to licensing requirements focused on tackling sexual harassment. Managers of artists should also be licensed. The Office for Students has proposed a new condition of registration and potential sanction for educational settings aimed at improving protections for students. We urge the OfS to implement its proposals swiftly and to enforce them robustly.”

The WEC also pointed out that “distressing” evidence showed “the impact of non-disclosure agreements on victims of discrimination, harassment and abuse”, urging the Government to consider “a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined” in the report.

At the core of all these problems, it’s said, is “the behaviour of men”. In reflecting on the findings outlined in the report, the WEC stated bluntly that “more often than not, women are left with the expectation they will be able to enact change while being hindered by men who do not wish to amend their ways”. They added: “While necessary, preventative measures risk normalising behaviours and place the responsibility on women as potential victims rather than men as potential perpetrators.

“Educating boys and men on misogyny and consent, how to respect and better support women and to recognise the additional challenges they face will be more transformative than any of the measures set out in this report. The Government must develop and introduce a new strategy in schools, aimed specifically at boys on issues of misogyny, sexual harassment and gender-based violence.”