Women Writing Rights
The discrimination of female music journalists
Four Decades in Female Music Writing
Female music critics in the UK press have been treated as almost being ‘other’, outsiders and denigrated in many ways since the late 1960s. They've had to face varying levels of sexual discrimination, hostility and marginalisation. Vanguard music journalists like Caroline Coon, Penny Valentine, Julie Burchill, Vivien Goldman and Caroline Boucher, amongst others, paved the way for subsequent generations of female writers. In the '70s, most of these writers dealt with blatant misogyny, sexism and insults on a daily basis. They often struggled to be taken seriously because a large majority of men didn't deem them authoritative enough to write knowledgeably about music. Subsequently they had to fight for the topics and coverage they believed in. During this time, most women writers had to come up with tactics in order to survive in the sexist construct of the music press, some of which even affected their appearance.
During the 1980s, most music publications featured a couple of female critics. Even though they were now actively sought after, their access within the ranks of men was still limited. Those who ‘made’ it frequently had a hard time due to male prejudice towards their writing and expertise. Women's association with the mainstream, ‘artificial’ pop music, made it difficult for them to penetrate the exclusive world of ‘serious’ music. Diverse strategies were the way in.
Former NME writer Lucy O'Brien on the strategies of female journalists in the '80s
“In the '80s and '90s, there were particular music titles in the UK that were very much old boys enclaves. There were gangs of young men who grew up with their own kind of, what they perceived as, a very distinct take on the music business,” says Andy Prevezer, Vice President of Press and Publicity at Warner Music UK. So, it is no surprise that women's fight for recognition wasn't over in the '90s. Although a handful of women made it into editorial staff positions, they had to fit certain criteria.
Many of the previous restrictions that women faced in articulating their views loosened with the emergence of the Internet. It lead to the noughties' blog culture and online magazines. Suddenly it became so much easier for female writers to get published – especially with the array of mainstream female performers behind them. This led to an increase in women on journalism courses and in entry level journalism positions. However, it became clear that roles like editor-in-chief, publisher, managing editor and most of the commissioning editor jobs were still largely occupied by men. It can be argued that there is still a cap on how far female critics can progress nowadays.
“The music industry is still one of the last male bastilles. It still runs on male octane gas that isn't terribly balanced,” says Alison Wenham, CEO of the Association of Independent Music.