Women Writing Rights

The discrimination of female music journalists



The Synthesising Years: Limited Access, Limited Success

Lucy O'BrienPhoto by Christina JansenThe 1980s saw the situation for women music writers in the UK slightly improve. Most magazines and newspapers featured at least a couple of female journalists. However, once the slots were assigned the door would slam shut to anyone else until one of them left again.

Whilst some journalists like Sheryl Garratt had mostly positive experiences and only remember rare incidents of discrimination, others like Lucy O'Brien are hard on the music press. O'Brien, who was a NME writer in the '80s, says: “As a female music journalist you had to be almost twice as good as the next man to be noticed.”

NME was a ‘boys' club’ at this time and by the mid-'80s, there were still no women on the paper's editorial staff. About 24% of its freelancers were female. In this environment, the attitude prevailed that women couldn’t write about music with authority. O'Brien says due to this they were subtly ignored and limited to small live reviews. This reflects Helen Davies' academic view that female writers are usually relegated to the least important parts of the magazine. Not only did women struggle with the stamp of being constantly associated with ‘unauthentic’ pop music, there was also the assumption in the music press that the demographic was entirely young, white middle-class men. So why bring in women writers if it's just selling to men?


"There was a fair amount of discrimination
and you had to grit your teeth and be brave”
Lucy O'Brien,'80s NME journalist


For Sheryl Garratt, freelance writer for NME in the early 1980s and later editor of The Face magazine, it was very easy to get a foot in the door at the New Musical Express because Julie Burchill had just left. What helped her in the first place, magazines actively looking for female writers, has had a bit of an aftertaste in the long run. Editors would phone her up, telling her that they wanted her to write for them as they needed a good new female writer. She says: “I would have loved just one person at some point in the last thirty years to call and say ‘we'd love you to work for us. We love your writing’.” Her gender has always come into it, not in a marginalised way but because it has been highly demanded. It bothers her having always been referred to as a good female writer rather than just a good writer, equal to men.

Garratt stresses the importance of male support - unlike most of the interviewees for this project. She says: “There was Graham Lock, my editor at NME, who went out of his way to encourage someone who was incredibly shy. Had it not been for him, I would have probably stopped writing at that point.”

So was it hard for her? “No”, she says. However, she has an opinion on sexist attitudes which suggests that she must have come across it. Garratt says that sometimes it could have worked to your advantage if the person was really sexist; they assumed you didn't really know what you were doing and often told you a lot more.


Former NME journalist Sheryl Garratt on sexism from male journalists



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© Ines Punessen 2013