Sexism in the dance music world has reared its ugly head again. In recent weeks, Krewella has railed against misogyny after another public spat with Deadmau5, Pitchfork called out Skrillex's latest album cover, and THUMP published an op-ed about EDM's "white male problem." In light of these conversations, last Saturday's panel about women in electronic music, organized by the female DJ collective Discwoman and non-profit organization Powrplnt, couldn't have been better-timed.
By the light of day, the people I recognized from New York's shadowy warehouses and fluorescent-lit bathroom lines crowded into a small alcove in Red Bull Studios. Moderated by Discwoman co-founder Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, the panel featured a broad range of music professionals. New York-based DJs Venus X and Jasmine Solano (aka JSMN) shared their struggles with sexism from an artist's point of view, Bayonet Records founder Katie Garcia provided valuable industry insight, and THUMP Features Editor Michelle Lhooq came at the issues from a media perspective.
All four panelists agreed that electronic music is a male-dominated industry, making the work of female-run organizations like Discwoman all the more necessary. "I often find myself as the only woman in a room, chatroom or event," said Lhooq, sharing depressing statistics on female DJ representation at dance music festivals. Solano concurred, citing last year's three-day Distortion Festival, where she was one of two female DJs on the entire bill, as a particularly disappointing example.
"It's such a contrast because when I come home [to New York], I know so many female DJs that are so good... better than half of these dudes," Solano said. "Maybe what people don't know about the industry, [is that it's like] any other corporate industry. [There is a] hierarchy of tradition, like a white boys club. Everybody just helping who they've always helped."
Even Venus X, who founded the seminal underground party GHE20G0TH1K, said that gender has been an all-too-easy excuse for people to underestimate her. "Because I'm a girl, it's fascinating to people that I can actually DJ a mix without a man's help or a laptop," she scoffed, adding, "The fact that I'm not playing a prerecorded mix is a big deal." Venus further disparaged the powerful men who have offered her a "muse position" instead of an actual job, which she said pretty much translates to, "can you be the inspiration in my life that sucks my dick on the weekends?"
On the other hand, the panelists agreed that subtle micro-aggressions and more ambiguous forms of sexism are more common than outright harassment. This topic seemed especially relevant in light of the recent, high-profile case of Ellen Pao, who demonstrated just how difficult it is to prove gender discrimination in the workplace. "Am I being crazy? You're constantly questioning yourself: is what you're experiencing real sexism?" Lhooq said.
After all, it's hard enough to stick up for equal gender rights when you're hustling to succeed, a salient point the panelists touched upon. Bringing up Jessica Hopper's recent interview with Björk in Pitchfork, Lhooq pointed out that even the Icelandic superstar has admitted to letting men think they came up with her ideas for the sake of efficiency.
This choice between speaking up for what's right and getting things done has a lot of relevance for women working in an industry where every aspect of their ability and enthusiasm is examined under a microscope. As Garcia, who also does A&R at the Secretly Label Group, said, everything is "like a quiz to see how authentic you are, whereas amongst guys it's not as judgmental. There's just this constant struggle where you have to prove yourself."
Considering that all of the panelists identify with non-white cultural backgrounds, the topic of diversity hit particularly close to home. Feminism is diverse, they pointed out, and not all problems are shared across the board—as highlighted by the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag and Riot grrrl backlash. As Lhooq pointed out, "There's not one monotonous form of feminism, and even within feminism there are a lot of different struggles. White female DJs will have an easier time than female DJs of color."
As a queer-identifying Dominican woman, Venus X spoke eloquently on the subject, remarking that "there's an intersection [of identities at play] and all the streets are merging on my body." These multitudes are often way too complicated for most of the industry, she said. "They're just like, 'pick a street and walk down it.' I'm like, 'I can't! I need to walk a little bit on every street and weave through to stay relevant to myself.'"
While most of Saturday's panel was a much-needed dose of real talk, the event ended on a note of positivity, as the four women talked about effective means of change. All of them heavily encouraged mentorship, citing female role models, women-run spaces, and the spirit of collaboration as some of the most crucial ways to encourage other women in the industry.
Ultimately, as Venus X argued, what will determine progress in electronic music is if women are allowed to express their femininity and sexuality without stigma."Can she act like a woman? Can she look like a woman? Can I be beautiful and be taken seriously?" Venus X said to a round of applause. "This is just what God gave me. I shouldn't have to hide it."
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