Please note – this blog is just my observations and thoughts. It is written to encourage debate, ideas, and reflection on sexism within our industry. It is important that we look at it from different angles and perspectives. It is not written to suggest that we simply ignore it and move on – it was written to help understand the different views women have on sexism and how they choose to combat it. Would love to hear how you have decided to deal with it.
As I have been exploring sexism within the audio industry – I have discovered two opposing views from women. The first view that is echoed by women that are established in their careers is that – Yes, there is sexism but it has not hindered or held them back. They feel that they worked hard, often harder than their male co-workers did not give up, and have confidence in their craft. They state that they rarely see sexism and believe that women have made huge strides and the industry is very accepting.
The second view tends to come from younger women, who are either entering the industry or are in the process of establishing themselves. Their view is that they face sexism on a regular basis, if not daily. They feel they do not start out on equal footing, are passed over for work, not given a chance, and often feel they are set up to fail. So which one is it? Is one the reality or is it somewhere in the middle? Or do they both exist?
I think and believe they both exist and very real. I think how we view sexism changes with our age, confidence, environment, and circumstances. Keep in mind this holds true for the people we work with, people can and do evolve. It is also generational, how does your generation view sexism, what does it consider acceptable, what does it tolerate?
I can only speak from my experiences and observations. If you have been following my blog, you know I grew up during the second wave of feminism. Gloria Steinem was/is a role model of mine. My generation was a generation of girls that grew up being told and believing they could be anything they wanted. That it was not necessary to get married or to be a stay at home mom, it was the generation of you could be and have it all. While Gloria was a strong role model, and the words were empowering, young women still found themselves steered towards degrees for women. Humanities, Psychology, and Education in the assumption we would eventually get married have children and become homemakers.
Women that dared to enter male-dominated professions knew they would have to toughen up and be able to be one of the guys. For my generation sexism and sexual harassment were not clearly defined. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in hiring that included race, sex, color, national origin, and religion. Although an important point to note sexual discrimination was thrown in at the last minute in the belief that granting women equal rights would defeat the Civil Rights Legislation.
In 1974, the first sexual harassment lawsuit was filed in the United States, but the term sexual harassment was not coined until 1975. Sexual harassment was still a widely unknown and misunderstood term until the early 1990s when Anita Hill testified before Congress against Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas. If you have not watched Anita, I highly recommend it, it is quite shocking as to how she was questioned and treated. Moreover, it highlights the contrast of change that has taken place.
What I am getting at is that growing up in this generation, is how society viewed what jobs and roles women were capable of, I simply learned to fit in. I did toughen up and ignored a lot of the sexism. I tried to work with people that supported me. Finding your niche allows you to gain confidence and experience, and develop the tools to deal with sexism. You can choose to laugh it off, ignore it, or confront it.
I found that I fit in with the alternative music scene and have toured with many of the same crews for the last 30 or so years. I do live inside this bubble and I rarely face sexism, when I do I usually ignore it. I do realize that just because I do not see it, face it, or am threatened by sexism – does not mean it no longer exists.
I came up during a time where society viewed women working in male-dominated fields like an anomaly. My generation tended to look at things through this lens. The Millennial generation that grew up during third-wave feminism tends to celebrate differences in ethnicity, class, sexual orientation. They see and recognize the institutionalized barriers that women and people of color face. Sexism and Sexual discrimination and harassment are clearly defined. The Millennials were raised to be strong and empowered (at least we hope). They are less likely to tolerate sexism.
A survey that came out in 2014 found that 42% of women between 18- 34 in the UK believe they have faced barriers in the workplace because of their sex. Compare this to Gen Xers at 34% and Baby Boomers at 26%. Does this mean that sexual discrimination and harassment are increasing or do Millennials recognize it and choose to fight it? Do they view things through the lens of sexism first?
I am not saying this bad – but as every parent will tell you – Pick Your Battles. Is dealing with a smart ass on the local crew worth your time and energy? Are they just trying to get you riled up, is that the goal, don’t let them win.
If you call a sound company and they say they are not currently hiring but to check back in April, do you interpret that as
A) They are not hiring because it January?
B) Funny they were hiring until they heard my voice?
If you picked B did you ever contact them again or just assume that they did not hire women?
Do you interpret the guys not wanting you to lift heavy gear as
A) They view you as fragile and don’t think you have any business working
B) They don’t want fellow crew members to get hurt
C) Its teamwork, let’s all work to our fullest capacity
Have you ever considered that men can be awkward and don’t know how to say – Hey you don’t need to prove yourself – Let me help you?
Do you think that the band giving you a hard time about monitors is because
A) Because you are a woman
B) The monitors do sound bad
C) The band is being overly dramatic
Consider that the monitors do sound bad first and if they do sound good – then assume the band is being overly dramatic – will you ever see them again? Did you learn something? Maybe it was because you are a woman – but unless they tell you flat out, you will probably never really know for sure.
I know that sexism exists, and I am aware that women on tour have been sexually harassed and threatened. I know that there are hostile workplaces and workplaces that do not make an effort to add women to their staff. This behavior is not acceptable, and it should stop. But do you miss out on opportunities because your view is through the lens of sexism?
Let me say this I admire the strength of the next generation of women in audio and their willingness to fight against sexism. It is difficult deciding on how to combat sexism and I support women however they choose to deal with sexism.
Karrie Keyes: Karrie’s blog deals with her work as long term monitor engineer for Pearl Jam, issues facing women in the industry, and balancing being a single mom with touring. She is a co-founder and Executive Director of SoundGirls.
About Karrie: Karrie got her start 30 years ago when she met Dave Rat at a Black Flag show. She started working for Rat Sound loading trucks and setting up shows in clubs and theaters for $20. She worked for Rat Sound for 20 years and had worked with RHCP for ten years (1990-2000) and Pearl Jam for 26 years as their monitor engineer. She currently bumps between Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder Solo tours.