Women Writing Rights

The discrimination of female music journalists


Why Discrimination

The Roots of Female Discrimination

The British music press has been a phallocentric world, revolving around male critics, musicians and readers since its early days. Women have been excluded from this ‘knowing’ community as they were deemed unauthentic pop consumers. This attitude is so heavily engrained into popular music history  that we can trace it back to the 18th and 19th century when ‘pop’ music was seen as “the carnivalesque ‘low other’” by the emerging male bourgeoisie.

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This mind-set was inbuilt within society and impacted on the emergence of rock in the 1960s. Rock's image, a male form of expression and pleasure anchored in the folk art tradition, rebelled against family life which was embodied by women. It could potentially stifle its success. As a result, rock music and its male followers distanced themselves from the mass-produced popular youth music of the '60s through their own masculinisation and authentication.

Women were seen as ‘others’, disposable and, through their association with constructed ‘pop’ music, a threat to rock's authority. Had they been given a chance females could have interrupted the circle of male journalists writing about male bands for male readers. They could have succeeded in giving more coverage to women artists and opened the doors, not only for female bands, but for themselves. They could have brought down the masculinised notions of authenticity that run through the language, the creation of the canon and on to design. By retaining the homosocial nature of the music press, social and economic progress through women was prohibited.

Sarah Rubidge says in Authenticity as Authentication: “Authenticity is […] not a property of, but something we ascribe to a performance.” It is a subjective process that is likely to link opinions of people of the same sex brought up under similar circumstances. Caroline Coon, artist and former Melody Maker star writer, says: “Right at the root, the discrimination against female writers is part of the system of discrimination against women in patriarchy, which is validated by religion. Any time you discuss the structures of society you will go back on what forms the basis of this structure and the ideology within law, within culture is founded on religious patriarchy.” Meehan and Riordan blame the interconnected systems of patriarchy and capitalism for the male hegemony in the media in their book Sex & Money: Feminism and Political Economy in the Media.


"Right at the root, the discrimination against
female writers is part of the system of discrimination against women in patriarchy,
which is validated by religion”
Caroline Coon,
artist and '70s Melody Maker star journalist


'Jenny Runacre and Toyah Willcox in 1977' by Caroline Coon/Camera PressThe construction of fears and anxieties around the notion of ‘otherness’ are devices to preserve male hegemony. Therefore, male music critics made their ‘threat’ feel threatened. This was easily done as all it needed was mirroring societal behaviour in the '70s. Coon says: “We kind of erased this, but if women walked down the street they were going to be wolf whistled at. For instance, if you weren't smiling some jerk was going to say something to you.”

In subsequent decades, the exclusion of women writers has been upheld by the constant appraisal of the canon of important rock artists, like The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. It's hardly a surprise that most male music critics would admire musicians they can most identify with – other straight, white (middle class) men. Many male rock writers have fetishised the same bands and genres over decades. They've made sure that those acts had a regular revival in the music press. Some may ask, isn't this what Mojo is all about?

Since the '90s, commercial pressures and the hunt for readers fuelled the competition between magazines and within each paper's journalistic ranks. A new ruthlessness in the form of ‘safe’ male editorial strategies and sexism surfaced says Meryl Aldridge in Lost Expectations? The language of the music press became once again increasingly masculine. The content and its ‘tone’ of writing influenced the readers' perceptions. With them connecting to the social and economic parts of the music industry it contributed to prevail a certain level of hostility and discrimination towards women writers until now.


Martin James, Professor of the Music Industries, on the rock press' embrace of authenticity and masculinity


Music magazines target predominantly male readerships to this day which is shown by the magazines' marketing material. Q magazine for example puts: “The Q reader is late 20s/early 30s and a passionate music fan. He's inspired by the rock'n'roll swagger of Liam, Noel, Blur and the whole Britpop scene (February 2012).” In fact, females do make up a sizable section of the readership. It's a misperception that limits females' involvement within rock music discourse in all sorts of ways. One way is shown by Q magazine not featuring one women on its editorial writing team in the year 2013.


Uncut critic Andrew Mueller talks about the future gender ratio of music magazines


Martin James, Professor of the Music Industries, says: “What I want women to do is rip up the rule book, tear things up and recreate them.”






Why Discrimination

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© Ines Punessen 2013