EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IN MUSIC : Part Five

This episode is focussing on a Sustainable Empowerment Plan and raising objective awareness about gender inequality in music, in India. Presenting a wide range of voices, questions and opinions from women (and men) producers, musicians, DJ, various music industry professionals and activists. Why activism matters and how certain institutions and brands are now riding on feminism, gender bias and connected issues for commercial gain, reducing it to a tool for propaganda. How to bring a sustainable ‘sisterhood’ model to India?

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✦ VOICES ✦

About the situation in India, reflecting her thoughts in context to the Fembot5 empowerment project, she states “What the experience of lot of women in music, is that, if you are vocal, if you call people out, you are immediately casted as an angry woman, with whom nobody wants to work with. Many people have to choose between being the token representative of women, queer, dalit, indigenous or any other minority, or not being represented at all. This might be another reason on top of many others why representation of women is so poor. People have an image of what women should be, and they praise the womanly qualities to high heavens. But very few people actually want to do the work of listening to what women have to say, address how their actions are reinforcing patriarchy/oppression, and instead being the “ally/voice” support impacted leadership, especially for women from marginalized communities.” Tavishi (Richmond Virginia)

“Many times a lot of grass-root change happens because ‘Non-Experts’ are addressing the heart of the issue. Non experts are citizens without expert academic skills. Issues of gender bias, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights etc have been addressed in the past by non-experts as well as experts which has lead to actual policy change. The idea to set up empowerment programs for women musicians in India faces three challenges. One, the populism behind gender bias is taking up more space than the actual efforts and outcome. Two, elite institutional bias and prejudice is playing out as “cherry-picking” : divas as role models. Three, the vast pool of female talent in music which is dormant in India is mostly ignored at festivals, seminars, discussions and online propaganda. We need to address the issue with those who actually need help and inspiration” Women on Wings NGO (India)

“Nativity – Is it Sexist? Where were we are born, who are our parents and what language we speak contributes a whole lot to our identity and various biases. When the wicker in a church recites the history of Jesus to children as facts, it’s story telling but with a very clear agenda. Indoctrination. Nativity is always about the ‘good’ and many times about things ‘unreal’ (not based on facts). The body of a woman was the property of god or the state or a patriarchal / tribal system but now it belongs to political forces and cultural indoctrination (Hollywood, Bollywood, Fashion Industry as big examples). Take the case of violent men (located in various countries) shaming women and posting videos online to celebrate their macho acts and even to monetize. Youtube, Porn-Hub, Facebook, Whatsapp and many such powerful institutions have no problems hosting such content. That very ideology encourages more  adolescent boys and men towards violence, fascism and misogyny “ Philosophy Tube (UK)

“I just happen to read the Fembot5 project in India. My advise is – just keep working, study the field and work and follow your ideas. Consistently get better at what you do and do not try to be like someone else, be yourself and also be critical to what you are currently capable of. You can call out bullshit, but like everything else … be mentally aware. You can’t demand love. I guess something i realized later in my career, that a crew, a team is a wonderful thing to have. Community building is very important when women have to assert their rights, their voices and their creativity. Read this … it’s lovely!” AGF Bass Poet (Finland)

“Fear and hate keeps people in check. It’s a harsh thing to say but the same force is applied to keep women suppressed and weaker. However such systems often collapse in many parts of the world as oppressed groups rise up to fight injustice and address the imbalance. It took more than 27 years of legal and parliamentary debates to decide if homosexuality is legal or not in India. A handful group of activists, lawyers and LGBT folks working in the field of anti-discrimination eventually gathered thousands and thousands of supporters and the pledge to defeat homophobia. This has challenged the ancient chains and hegemony that controls indian society at large. Today we witness the end of a disgusting colonial catholic law : Defeated by an ecosystem of LGBTQ, activists, supporters and lawyers. A victory for millions who can now feel as a equal citizens in the world’s largest democracy. Gay or nay, the struggle for equality remains far from over” Kavitha Jaikrishnan (Bangalore)

Gay Pride Parade In New Delhi

“Music is the most powerful gift given to us from the Heavens. It does not surprise me at all that outside of Europe and North America, there are very few women working in music. For centuries, patriarchal societal models have done their best to stamp down women…what better way to do this than to sever women from the art-form of music? This absolutely must change. The out-dated and repressive societal systems that are preventing women from working in music must be broken down so that women all over the world can feel empowered to express their musical creativity freely. I Suggest that first and foremost, the more predominant female artists need to start standing by their sisters – and start speaking out, highlighting the need for drastic change in the current societal systems that make it so hard for females to embrace a career in music. Then more and more women need to follow in their footsteps. The change must come from within – and it must come from the women “ Liz Cirelli (Italy)

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“A brief look at current tides of  feminist based activism in Europe and America reveals that almost 75% of the crowd is made of white women addressing issues which actually impact about 15% of the world’s women in terms of span and population. I think ‘What about the rest?’ Given certain groups dedicated to empowerment and gender awareness have achieved a lot for themselves. Yet do these self-styled beacons of empowerment and liberation, within affluent societies have a clue about what goes on in India or China or Africa or Middle East? Very little. Imagine the impact! in terms of reach and common benefits, if women artists and activists from the west and east, north and south were to diverge and connect?” I dream of such an impactful inclusive future …” Audio Pervert (Spain)

“Many nations contain tales and mythologies about brave men in armor saving women from peril, shame and slavery from incoming savages or other races. The Greeks were convinced everything east of their empire was barbarian. In these myths heroes always take up weapons to confront the racially ‘unfriendly aliens’. It is a very romantic idea which is used again and again, not for love, but for harnessing hate. For building tribalism. Yet beyond the ‘nostalgia’ there is nothing real to it. The very societies which foster myths about conserving race and saving the woman are those responsible for heinous rates of crimes committed against women. These nations are also responsible for fostering various forms of fascism. Be it India or Turkey or Russia or Mexico or America or Sweden, women bear the brunt of political instability, fascism, authoritarianism and race-religious dogma” Mattias Gardell (Uppsala University Sweden) 

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“There are no new legal amendments inside many existing structures of law to actually  empower women. We can specifically look at the youth socio-cultural sphere as an example. In India, there are zero laws or rights for women which guarantees equal funding, equal opportunity and right to demand inclusion. The result of which can be seen across mass media, bollywood, television, music and all major institutions. In India , women make up less than 15% [space, time and issues] of the ‘total broadcast spectrum’. For every woman singer in bollywood we have 20 male singers. Lest we forget it’s 1.4 billion people ! It’s ironic for any educated person to not feel the need for legal amendments, applicable across the country and the various classes, to guarantee a better future for women”  Mitali Coelho (Goa)

“I have found that over the years of releasing music I wasn’t really aware of the great female electronic artists out in the world. Yes, I had heard of the pioneers such as Pauline Oliveros, Wendy Carlos, Laurie Spiegel et al and some of the newer leaders such as Bjork and Holly Herndon but I had a feeling that there were others like me quietly creating music, soundscapes and sonic art, beavering away using a huge plethora of electronic means to create music, a sound, installations and a voice for themselves. The more you see women in certain roles that have been mainly dominated by men, the more it becomes the norm. Just because something is seen as the “norm”, such as predominantly male conductors or sound engineers, doesn’t mean that this is right. We need to challenge preconceptions and I have tried to do this in several ways (although it is important to state that there are many organisations that do these things and I am a tiny part of this). Feminatronic (UK)

 

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Institutions, music festivals. online media, popular  radio channels, clubs and affiliated agencies across Europe and North America are beginning to address gender bias, homophobia and inclusivity, promising some sort of change. Aggression, bias and sexist behavior is being exposed at various levels. The biggest resounding slap on patriarchy being the #metoo campaign in recent times sweeping across america currently. Various minority groups of women from allover the world are now using digital technology to combine resources, in order to combat patriarchy, violence, inequality and aggression.Visibility is Up ! Yet inside circles of art and music few seems to ask, How Disempowerment actually persists and works against empowerment? Given all involved want to engage in Empowerment. Fact that women as well as men both suffer from disempowerment because of having no (or very little) decision making power and very little access to resources and education. Be at a communal level or individual. While a tiny and often very elite section of society creates the banter of equality and empowerment taking up all the lime-light, a large section of society remains as is and further more disinterested in these exclusive and ad-hoc trends. A recent study in Bangladesh shows the cause and effect of disempowerment. Though figures are not available in India currently, it’s not very different in nature. Gender imbalance and income inequality in the Indian subcontinent is persistent and deep excepting certain small regions.

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cherry-pick phenomena :

UK  /ˈtʃer.iˌpɪk/ US /ˈtʃer.iˌpɪk/ :

to select only the “best” people or things within a given group, so that only people or things that are less good remain as is:

 

Picker and Plump ! A 3 year study of various big and small institutions inside Europe, North America and India, in terms of their content, programs, events and propaganda reveals the ‘Cherry Pick’ phenomena. Globalized Exoticism of sorts. Even as more and more women and trans artists are seen on-stage at many festivals, popular online magazines, online radio as well as social media, the total participation of women in music remains abjectly low. Harboring around 12 to 20% depending which european region we are focussing on. In India gender ratio of artists in music festivals is approximately  81% Male 19% Female. Recently 45 odd festivals based in Europe and North America banded up to make a pledge in order to combat gender inequality.  The flagship effort is lead by KeyChange. Yet Keychange as an organization never speaks about the cause and effect of disempowerment in countries outside Europe. In turn, it features only popular female talent with the help of member festivals, handful advisors and associated hype blogs. Operating within an existing model of exclusivity and propaganda. Clearly a ‘by europeans and for europeans’ affair. A handful number of women artists, DJanes and experts are seen rotating at dozens of festivals and hundreds of seminars and blogs and inside thousands of (re)tweets. About 30 odd leading (aggressive) female artists or industry approved divas take up huge part of the information spectrum, blocking out the majority of female talent and further obfuscating non-european female talent, issues and music. Very few of the ‘chosen women’ ever provide room or assistance to new female talent. MTF Sweden, a tech-fest claims “We are putting women in the lead of all technology areas” and it’s clear that panel of experts are all well established and ‘white’. One has to pay a whopping 230 Euros to hear the tech-divas and hipsters display their ‘amazing ideas’ and get a peek into so called ‘cutting-edge’ technology. BBC, NTS, Quietus, Redbull Music Academy, Pitchfork, FIB Spain, KeyChange, Mutek Canada, Pop Justice, Berlin Pop Kultur and many such large institutions and amplifiers of music have upped their respective female participation given the rising pressure of activism. To a certain degree the narrative of popular music culture is changing. Yet the effect of fetishizing on exotic stereotypes and effectively cashing into the trend remains very big as well. Involved agencies and agents are queuing up maximize their own viewership and profit. These token selected stereotypes (regardless if they are from minority groups, LGBT, African etc) are up as ‘small and easy’ catch : actually spinning on hype, favoritism with no visible change in the size and spectrum of existing gender and race inequality. The Suzanne Ciani case, is interesting in this aspect. Given she is a pioneer in electronic sound design who was largely ignored for 30 odd years, now the litany of icon worship attached to her is seen across hundreds of copy-cat websites and propaganda outlets, makes it rather obvious.  Mutek Canada’s 2018 headline claimed that a “50/50 Gender Balance had been achieved at the festival.” Given that claim is true, yet none of the panelists who speak of “diversity” and “change” seem to be bothered that the line up of their own festivals largely remains overwhelmingly white, often selecting artists with high profile propaganda or deep pockets or big institutional backing.

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Recently a bunch of DJs, producers and activists formally approached ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) to boycott DJ Konstantine (Head of the Giegling Cartel and someone who believes that “women get undeserved attention”) An online manifesto was created to combat his continuos aggressive and incorrect tirade against women : He recently said “Women are usually worse at DJing than men” in an interview for the leading German tastemaker Groove. The ‘issue’ is of little consequence to ADE, which is too busy expanding it’s empire into third world nations and planting it’s top favored ‘All White DJs’ into new ‘virgin’ markets. Nor does it matter to the macho leader (of an all white tribe) to apologize for his prejudice if not misogyny. As CTM, a berlin based festival’s PR claims “we try to include all communities” – The ideology is blessed by Crack Magazine which conveys the festival to be “transformative, inclusive and celebratory” : On closer look the initiative appears to be a near copy of many existing networking festivals and showcases which happen across Europe every summer or winter. Selecting exotic asian or african artists living Berlin or London or Amsterdam is a given. Question being how many? Who are these festivals and institutions targeting to? And for what? Fact 75% of curators of most large and small festivals in EU are white and male. No surprise that in EU as of now, women make up barely 25% of all festival content. We must admit that is 5% more than the scenario in 2014. The ‘crumbs falling off the table’ goto LGBTQ at around 5% and the occasional 1%  for some Black Coffee or Euro-Devi. None of these institutions are currently looking at regions like India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, War torn middle-east and many other parts of the world, instead picking up stereotypes and available artists solely within their regions and ‘friendly’ networks. This exotic tirade (populism) will not change the state of inequality nor provide any sustainable democratic platform for real inclusivity to happen.

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❤️  ‘SISTER-HOOD OF ARTISTS’ IN INDIA : RESOURCE BUILDING (2018 and 2019)

Established Artists : We are calling out to prominent and emerging artists (women and men) to raise awareness with hopes of an larger democratic and objective outcome. This blog plus several corresponding discussions are all suggesting the need for building a ‘Sisterhood of Musicians in India’ : The Fembot5 motivation and research is the combined efforts of more than 50 women artists, academics, activists, DJs and music industry professionals based various nations. A resounding notion across the table has been “More the merrier”

International Female Support Groups : Consulting and learning from existing female support groups based in EU and North America has been of tremendous help in order to acquire a wider understanding of gender & race inequality. Professionals and musicians have also spoken about the depths of patriarchy and populism existing inside the music industry. Speaking to various support groups and regional activists in Germany, Spain, Finland, Italy, Canada, UK, Russia, USA and India has revealed the utmost need for connecting Indian female talent and voices with their counterparts spread over the world.

Activism and Public Support : As stated earlier, activism by non-experts allovers the world has lead to gradual awareness, increased momentum and actual grass-root changes. Such is necessary to achieve any credible change via dialogue, participation and assimilation of resources. Many such examples can be found within  minority groups advocating policy change allover the world. Activism in the online realm has helped thousands of women to connect with their counter part voices. Public support in the digital age has also acquired new a paradigm. Public funding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indigogo, Patreon, GoFundMe etc are witness to a rising number of projects which focus on empowerment and assistance towards new artists, be it within a regional focus or at an international level. The prospect of setting up a public funding initiative in India to empower women in music is a strategic option as well as tool to raise further awareness.

Institutions and organizations : Though critical of the current tide of populism fostered by many leading institutions, the role of these powerful bodies  cannot be denied nor ignored in terms of span and effect. Fact remains that almost 70% of existing empowerment programs for women are funded and fostered by various institutional policies and resources. Coupled with this framework, one must also consider various private and commercial sources of funding available. The framework for setting up an empowerment program for women in India, in regards to music should be presented to all leading institutions and relevant organizations as a call for help. As a call to rise above the populism and create a sustainable platform.

❤️ Showcase

Slut Island, a festival founded in Montreal in 2013 by Frankie Teardrop and Ethel Eugene is primarily targeted at performers and audiences who identify as women, trans, gender fluid, non-binary queers, people of color.  The Co-founders  say, “freaky babes and underrepresented folks who hold anti-oppressive values.”  The festival’s formation is an progressive effort to set up ‘safe spaces’ for artists and audiences alike and work as a tool for advocacy. Merray Gerges on Slut Island Festival “The name of the festival itself sounds similar to, and may be a dig at Sled Island [Calgary-based music and art festival], but Slut Island is a response to the general lack of festival programming that prioritizes women-identifying people”  “Frankie and I have been involved in the Montreal music scene for years and have been forced to accept that women and queers don’t hold the reins over anything”. Read more about the festival and it’s curators here.

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Graphic Design by Tanaz Alvi

Part Six ↓ November 2018.

  • IS IT POSSIBLE TO CREATE A ‘SISTER-HOOD OF ARTISTS’ IN INDIA?
  • HOW RESEARCH, ADVOCACY & ACTION AFFECTS EMPOWERMENT EFFECTIVELY?
  • SUGGESTIONS AND IDEAS BY MENTORS & EXPERTS
  • FEMBOT5 BUILDING INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPATION AND FOCUS ON INDIA.

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