Women Writing Rights

The discrimination of female music journalists


2000 & beyond

The Shifting Years: Cracks Appear But the Glass Ceiling Continues

In the noughties, many ambitious female university graduates tried to conquer the male-dominated bastion of the UK music press, but for the majority it seemed that the glass ceiling was still in place. The increasingly popular blog culture of this decade, the presence of high-profile female artists in the charts and growing female readerships pushed female music writers to the front of the popular culture agenda.

Lucy O'Brien who is a freelance journalist for Mojo says: “It's 50:50 now and when I started out it was predominantly young men that wanted to write about music. The cultural shift is that young women feel very confident about the music that they like. They take ownership of it and that's where it is so radically different to when I was a teenager.” So publishers had to react – you'd think…


Q magazine only featured one woman on its editorial writing staff during an entire decade


Women Journalists in EuropeFigures taken from the International Federation of Journalists 2001 statistics % of women journalists in lower positions % of women journalists in decision making positionsThis is not counting the editor's personal assistants who were female. Mojo showed a similar pattern with only two editorial positions filled by women; a female reviews editor and contributing editor. NME kept its few female writers in deputy and assistant positions, if you exclude the message board editor, music gear editor and listings editor. They are arguably jobs where female opinions did not matter anyway.

The only exception was Krissi Murison who made her way from staff writer through various commissioning positions to become NME's first female editor in 2009. Krissi Murison says: “When I started out at the NME, there was Kitty Empire and then she went to The Observer (pauses). There were a few female sub editors. Then there was Karen Walter, the editor's PA, but yeah, there weren't that many women on the staff.” Ramona Rush's R3 theory applies here. She argues that women are either kept in minorities across the ranks or if there are more of them in lower positions.

Now, in 2013, both NME and Kerrang! no longer have female editors. With regards to NME's current editorial staff, 50% are female, but most women's job titles either start with ‘deputy’ or end with ‘assistant’. This observation doesn't intend to strip those jobs off their importance. After all, the deputy editor is the second biggest position on the magazine and involves a lot of work, as do probably a lot of the assistant jobs. It also doesn't mean to say that female writers must not start out in entry positions. However, the overall picture painted over the last decade is too salient to be a coincidence.


Martin James, Professor of the Music Industries, on job positions of women and the employment law


Former NME editor Krissi Murison says: “I think it's just a cycle of new people coming up and people moving on. It's certainly not to say that women can only get deputy or supporting roles there.” Murison says she wouldn't get too caught up in the titles of things. However, these job descriptions lower the status of female writers in comparison to their male colleagues. To ignore these signs may perhaps wrongly suggest that there is equality between men and women writers in the British music press.


Mojo writer Lucy O'Brien on the reasons and measures of maintaining the glass ceiling


To this day, music magazines such as Uncut, Mojo and Q only feature about 10% female critics amongst their freelance contributors. So, not a lot has changed since the 1980s in that respect. Similarly to editorial staff positions, female freelancers tend to write blogs and reviews; they are all over the Internet. When it gets to the level of features and cover stories, the number of stories written by women thins out.

O’Brien says: “I published a lot of books. I've been around for decades. I have a lot of respect in the industry and I write for Mojo magazine, but on the whole it's very, very hard for female writers to get a feature in Mojo. It almost always goes to the male writers and you feel like you're hitting your head against this glass ceiling all the time.”


Sheryl Garratt on her time at NME and the different natures of women and men


The harsh discrimination and sexual harassment of the 1970s has slowly developed into a more subtle marginalisation and casual indifference. The overall discrimination of female writers has not disappeared, but evolved into a new, less visible form since the noughties. Female writers often get passed over for a story or for a promotion. So, where are the laws preventing this from happening? The Equality Act 2010 that has replaced previous anti-discrimination laws, like the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Employment Equality Regulations 2005, seems to be failing in enforcing standards in the UK music press.


Ngaire Ruth, '90s Melody Maker writer and now live editor at The Girls Are


Ngaire Ruth, '90s Melody Maker journalist, says: “I don't think any laws have an impact on journalists, male or female, because publishing does this very sneaky thing where a writer would just be told that it wasn't discrimination; that they didn't want the product that the writer was producing, so they could get away with that quite easily.”

The National Union of Journalists also states that the gender pay gap for women and men doing the same or similar jobs in the UK media is still around 17% for employees working full-time and 35% for part-time workers.

As the law hasn't held a gender balance in place much is dependent on readerships. According to Kerrang!'s editor James McMahon, female readers make up 51% of the paper's readership. Until a similar change happens with male-dominated magazines like Q, Mojo and Uncut women writers will have to keep pushing for opportunities. They will have to further develop their female writing styles as adopting male language isn't the way in in the long run; it would just self-perpetuate the sexism of the music press.


Martin James on the future of women journalists in the music press





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© Ines Punessen 2013