Music by VICE

Why a Women’s Strike in the Music Industry Is Much Gutsier Than it Seems

An interview with publicist and business owner Judy Miller Silverman about women in the music industry and her decision to go on strike.

by Rachel Kraus
Mar 8 2017, 8:00pm

publicdomainpictures.net

Lead image via Public Domain Pictures

It's 7AM on March 8 in Los Angeles and Judy Miller Silverman is not checking her email. New York, Australia, and England are all hours ahead in business, as usual, and press releases have to be sent, pitches followed up on, clients managed. Normally, as the founder and head of her own music publicity company Motormouthmedia, Judy would be handling all of these things by 7:01AM. But not today. Today, she's on strike.

As a follow-up to the unprecedented, millions-strong Women's March on January 21, that protested the Trump administration's stance on issues affecting women, organizers called for a general women's strike on International Women's Day. Calling it "A Day Without a Woman," strike organizers hope to send a statement about women's equality in the workplace. The organization's mission statement for the strike is to recognize "the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system--while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity."

It's this mission that fuels Judy Miller Silverman's participation in the strike, too, as well as her decision to shut down her whole office in solidarity.

"I'm truly striking because I am a huge believer that women play a hugely important role in the world and in society," says Miller Silverman. "I'm sick and tired of making less and being treated as less and not having the opportunities that I truly do believe. I believe I'm a privileged person, but I've worked very hard for it, and I do believe that there are opportunities that don't come my way because of my sex."

For the past 20 years, Judy Miller Silverman has run Motormouthmedia, a music publicity firm with clients that have included Aphex Twin, Animal Collective, Flying Lotus, and other heavy hitters across the spectrum of underground and pop music. She employs a staff and has worked for herself for most of her life, but that has not insulated her from the sexism that pervades the music industry.

"I'm constantly breaking down in my head how few women there are at certain places I deal with," said Miller Silverman. "And it really starts to weigh on you."

Today, while on strike, she said she'll be thinking about all the teams she's been on where she's the only woman. Or perhaps her former boss who made outrageous demands using abusive language. There's also been the cigar-scented business meetings from which she's been excluded, and the male label head who wanted to fire his publicist because she was a mom and couldn't "hang."

Miller Silverman feels incredibly lucky to run her own business and have colleagues, male and female, who prioritize equality in the workplace. But as a boss, she wanted to send a strong message to the male-dominated industry in which she operates about the crucial role women play.

"It's funny because when we talked about the strike and decided to do it," says Miller Silverman. "Everybody was like, 'Oh my god, I've got to get all my work done.'"

Despite the liberal reputation of arts-centered businesses, from statistics about gender distribution and women's anecdotal experience, the decision to strike on behalf of women's rights in the music industry is a bold one. A strike is effective when mass-participation reveals that power resides in the workers, not the bosses who cut checks. But as Miller Silverman pointed out, the music industry is one in which people will sacrifice much for just the chance to participate. That sentiment is amplified for women who disproportionately occupy jobs in public relations, which Miller Silverman said people see as a "silly" function. Miller Silverman noted that some in the music industry even refers to PR as the "women's ghetto."

"I would say in some other industries women might be more irreplaceable," said Miller Silverman. "We want to send that message, but I think so many people feel like, if you're not going to do it, someone else will."

It is precisely this notion of replaceability that makes Miller Silverman's and other women's decision to strike in the music industry an important one. The scramble to get work done in advance of a strike speaks to the need women in the industry have to never falter in the value they provide, so that they're not replaced by someone else eager to prove her value.

"We're important," said Miller Silverman. "Any time there's an opportunity to make a gesture and have your voice heard, I want to do it."

You can follow other coverage of the women's strike under the hashtag #ADayWithoutAWoman. Happy striking.