Sexism and Gender in Music

With Jenny Sturgeon, Laura Risk, Alistair Heather.

Gender in the performing arts is a live issue. As soon as female performers go on stage they become sexualised objects, subject to critique for their appearance and its conformity to expected norms. Male performers are not subject to the same level of attention, and their music is free to speak for itself.

The crowd-control over female performers continues long after the acts have left the stage and the curtain fallen. One young Scottish female folk singer wrote an interesting article for Bella Caledonia a couple of months ago. She said that whilst her male counterparts could post endlessly to social media about getting steaming, getting the clap on tour etc, and it would be put down as ‘banter’, a female has to portray herself publicly as staid, thoughtful, and controlled, regardless of what life she is living behind the scenes, or else suffer reputation damage.

Such was the backlash against the article from males in the folk music scene and her contemporaries that the singer in question requested the article be taken down, the conversation silenced. It was an eye-opener: not only were women put in a certain, limited space in the folk scene, they were limited in how far they could even describe their own confinement.

Recently through my work at the Elphinstone Institute, I had the chance to sit down with a prominent academic and performer Laura Risk and Scottish folk singer Jenny Sturgeon to discuss further sexism and issues of gender in music, historically and contemporarily.

They cover sexism, gender balance, ageism and raise the question of non-binary gender identity …

Comments (2)

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  1. Jo says:

    I’m sorry, this is just absurd. How about making a list of female performers whose bodies were/are very much part of the performance, all part of the package? They didn’t/don’t have to do that, they chose/choose to. It’s utterly ridiculous to claim they’ve been exploited. They are very much in charge of their own lives and calling the shots. It’s not just about the music now. There are vids to accompany the songs. Women like Beyonce are very much in charge of their careers and in most of her vids she seems happy to put it all out there.

    Madonna has been doing that for decades. A very young Britney’s parents were clearly happy to have her “sexualised” as she danced about provocatively in her school uniform. Spice Girls, Girls Aloud…all happy to dress as scantily as possible. The appalling Miley swinging naked on a wrecking ball!

    There are so many more we could be here all day. So, please, spare us the outrage. For THEY are the ones who have ensured they’re seen as a piece of meat, that they’re leered at and that it’s all about the female body. And they’ve sold that message to young girls. If anything people should be outraged at them, not on their behalf!

    1. BilCo says:

      I have to agree Jo. Musicians can choose how they are marketed and therefore perceived. Peter Andre unfortunately springs to mind as a singer whose marketing was heavily based on his physical appearance. To suggest that male performers are exempt from having to look a certain way is clearly incorrect, as all the boy bands in history prove.

      It seems to me that the music industry is actually pretty fair, as there is equality of opportunity for both men and women within it. Success is largely down to talent, which is itself largely down to practise. However, while there may be equality of opportunity, both genders may not wish to pursue the same opportunities.

      Certain opportunities may simply be more attractive to one gender rather than the other. This also extends to age-groups. My partner, who participates in local folk music groups, has often commented about the lack of people in their thirties and early forties within these groups. Why? Because their focus is on career and family and they don’t have the time to spare to attend these sessions. They have the opportunity, but prioritise other things.

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