Women Writing Rights

The discrimination of female music journalists



The Vanguard Years: Female Journalists vs. Blatant Misogyny

Most music magazine environments in the '70s were defined by sexism, misogyny and suspicion towards female music writers. Women who dared to enter this “unthreatened, pampered lions' den”, as NME journalist Deanne Pearson called it, had to face attitudes that were simply NOT ALLOWED. Caroline Coon, star writer for Melody Maker and Sounds during this time period, says: “The insults and discrimination made one feel absolutely bloody furious and angry; it could be suicide inducing.”


Melody Maker's Caroline Coon on the worst discrimination incident


For Coon, walking into the Melody Maker office had meant facing a barrage of not allowed tactics. Male journalists were shouting at her, asking what the hell she was doing there. Women journalists were an alien concept to their male colleagues whose social attitudes were groomed by older men. They grew up in a patriarchal society which subordinated females.


'Caroline Coon in her studio, 2013' by Jenny Lewis


Although Coon had been hired as a star journalist by Melody Maker's editor Ray Coleman, he didn't take her seriously when she suggested covering that ‘ominous’ movement that was punk! She ignored him, followed the story in her own time and became an oft-cited expert with her book 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion.

In the '70s, many female music journalists wanted to be on a par with male writers. Being excluded from socialising areas like pubs, women found it difficult to be colleagues with heterosexual men. Coon says: “There was a whole different set around women and sexuality which was going to be very undermining of male status and which they found very frightening.”

To cope with everyday misogyny, female writers like Caroline Coon and Vivien Goldman gathered at each other's houses after work, cried, licked their wounds and took a deep breath to go out again the next day, fortified by their comradeship.

Female music journalists became inventive in dealing with sexual discrimination that supported society's closed shop system. Their strategies ranged from being flirty to denying their gender to being feminist and finding support by fellow victims. Caroline Boucher who wrote for the Disc and Music Echo in the early '70s says: “We were running around in short skirts. I suppose we flirted a bit, flirted quite a lot, but you know, it was fine.” Boucher denies any experience of discrimination during her time at the magazine which suggests different levels of discrimination between music titles.

However, one of her comments makes one listen attentively. She says: “If Mick Jagger wanted to be interviewed with his head on my lap, which has happened quite often, go for it. It was fun!” It shows that the times and nature of social interaction were very different back then. What was accepted in the 1970s would not necessarily be accepted in the 21st century. Some may actually call such behaviour sexual harassment.


Former Disc and Music Echo journalist Caroline Boucher on her strategy


Icon feminist Caroline Coon, in contrast, found that one of the ways in which men were trying to diminish her was by calling her too beautiful and too sexy. “I'm not going to change my position. I'm going to stand firmly here, being decorative, being sexy, being out sexually, being careful and eventually because I am right, men will have to deal with it”, she says. Though Coon admits that this attitude was detrimental to her career.


Caroline Coon on various strategies and her own tactic


Fairly common features amongst a lot of female writers in the '70s and '80s were masculine behaviour and appearances to be accepted by their male-dominated environment. This was also reflected in their writing. Martin James, Professor of the Music Industries, says: “Julie Burchill was allowed to be Julie Burchill because she was a loud, brash voice at a time that needed a loud brash voice and because punk smashed down a lot of barriers for women.” In his view it effectively enabled music magazines to say: “Look, we have women on the team and we have loud, brash people on the team.”

Although Caroline Coon told BBC Radio 4 that the sexual harassment act put a lot of men on notice that their behaviour was criminal, all her experiences demonstrate that the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 can't have had too much of an impact.


Caroline Coon on the Sex Discrimination Act and defending her equal right


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© Ines Punessen 2013