This week I was asked to join a panel at Radio New Zealand to discuss the 23 April release of Lemonade, the second out-of-the-blue album to be dropped by Beyoncé in 3 years. The panel was really fun. I said cool things like ‘baseball’ instead of ‘baseball bat’. Because smashing things with a baseball is so smashy. But really, it was cool. It is a secret, not-so-secret desire of mine to be on radio.
Unsurprisingly, I was invited to the panel to rep for the feminists of the world. And also, feminists who also like Beyoncé, or who are interested in her and her feminism. And we all know how much people like to talk about Bey and her qualifications as a feminist. Now I’m not here to debate this (right now). And, I don’t really know either. So I’ll be brief. My first thought is: if someone says they are a feminist, it is probably because they are.
Feminists are not a homogeneous bunch of people. We all have different ideas, but many, many fundamental truths that we speak. Loud, clear, and together (lots of the time). But most feminists are not in a constant spotlight-come-microscope. If we were, we’d probably all fail the fabled-feminist test. Most feminists are also not the most powerful woman in pop music, or the richest African American woman in the world. This is an irreconcilable coin that just keeps on flipping for Bey. She is in an unreachable position but marketed as the embodiment of women’s liberation….Neo-liberal ‘choice’ feminism. Capitalism loves it. Here – have some choices, but from the few options we give you, and be sure to blame yourself for your circumstances if anything goes wrong – not the system.
Or perhaps I was on the panel speaking for the people who have an interest in women in the music industry. There are lots of different ‘ins’ into this group. The aforementioned people, ‘those who have an interest in women in the music industry’ are everywhere. This is a good group of people, trust me.
It could be that you are very, very much into your underground, and now rather old skool Riot Grrrl herstory and sounds. Or more of an 80s bebe like me, and dissolve in fizzy goosebumps to Tracy Chapman, when she sings Behind The Wall. Or perhaps you enjoy Haim; three sisters who are really good at playing their instruments, singing and writing songs. Go figure. Like, wow. But really, wow.
Or maybe you go right back to Elizabeth Cotton and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and know that women have always slain’ the guitar. I know this is hard for some people to get their heads around, but…..wait for it. Women have bodies too. That means they have heads and brains in them, hands too, feet for drum pedals, fingers for beat machines. Oh yes Sir! Hold the phone. Stop the truck. Call ya Grandaddy. This means women can make music and do other music-y related things.
Ok, back to the panel – There is so much to say on the topic of Lemonade and I think we were just getting into it. There is one particular facet I want to discuss more: the issue of who controls the image of women in the music industry. Again, there are a lot angles. The actual images of women or the way they are presented in music videos are just two. Who has the say here? the balance of power? does this matter? I say it does. The male gaze is real, and the only way the picture will change is by having more women in the frame; letting it be known that women will not be dictated to. That gender and expression of gender are not binary or fixed. That women are not objects, but active agents.
This is where we move on to some solid evidence of sexism the the New Zealand music industry, showcasing one place where the problem exists. So after all this preamble, there is a link between Lemonade and our industry in this blog. And it is in the fine print: the credits.
At the end of Lemonade just as in any film, I squint my eyes, searching for the women. And if I have the power to pause, as I do with Lemonade, pause away I do. Of the 41 strong production team, from Bey the Executive Director right to the Glam department there are 18 women to 41 men. Kind of odd considering women make up 51% of the population. However, a much better representation than in many other large productions.
When Queen Bee asked “Who Runs the world” and answered “Girls”, she was right – and she was wrong. Right, because women are indeed the oppressed working-underclass of the world (mostly unpaid), without whom, the world would actually grind to a halt. Wrong, in that men still hold the balance of power in almost all spheres of life, in almost all decisions made. They weld huge power in creating the images of women, in deciding what is to be celebrated, what is beautiful, what is ok. It is crucial that more women are represented across the board in the industry, so that women’s stories are told by women, as well as by men.
So, the Vodaphone New Zealand Music Awards. Love them or hate them, they showcase some of the industry talent that New Zealand has to offer. Including the talents of film makers who make music videos. I think NZ does pretty well making music videos – we have some excellent film makers. World class even.
Here is the hard data on the Vodaphone New Zealand Music Awards. The small print, the credits we don’t usually notice. It speaks for itself. Each year three nominations are put forward. From 1983 – 2015 there have been 96 nominations (124 people, as some nominations are for teamwork of 2-3 people). Here is what you need to know:
1965 – Recorded Music NZ starts the ‘New Zealand Music Awards’.
1983 – The award for Best Music Video (best director) is created.
1985 – Debra Bustin nominated for ‘Krazy Legs’ (The Pelicans)
1988 – Janine Morell nominated – ‘Haere Mai’ (Cara Pewhairangi)
1989 – Polly Walker & Debbie Watson nominated alongside Paul Middleditch / – ‘I Feel Love’ (Fan Club)
1990 – Niki Caro wins, for ‘Straighjacket Fits’
1999 – Sima & Makerita Urale are nominated – ‘Sub Cranium Feeling’ (King Kapisi) AND Fiona Champtloup with Mark Tierney -‘Unlikely’ (NV) -‘Unlikely’ (NV)
2003 – Bic Runga nominated with Chris Graham – ‘Something Good’
2006- Alyx Duncan nominated for -“Fuji” (Minuit)
2012 – 2015 Men men men men men men men! Sometimes all the same men, all the time, many times over.
And, the breakdown: 11 women have been nominated in all 96 nominations. That is 11/124 people. Let me say it one last time. 11 nominations of women to Best Director for a Music Video and 113 men nominated. When Faye McNeil was nominated in 2011, she was the first in 6 years since Alyx Duncan in 2006.
And the finale – ONE WOMAN HAS WON IN THE HISTORY OF THE AWARDS!!! This is quite a bit less than 1% of the time, 0.8% actually. Are you outraged yet?
The last time I checked, women and men and everyone else who isn’t women and men, mostly have all the same bits and pieces. And we also know that cameras and computers are not operated by vulvas and breasts, or penis’ and smelly armpits. So, what is the issue here? Sexism in the industry is what.
The sexism starts young. Women are re-directed from pursuing certain careers in the arts. Girls are taught that boys play with toys and toys turn into technologies. Boys exclude girls at high school and form bands. Not ‘boy bands’, just bands. Women have children (as do men, but we all know the usual scenario here). Children and the music industry are a hard mix to maintain. Women are objectified. It is ok if they sing, but not so much if the play the bass guitar or drums. Or pick up a camera.
Now, I could keep looking into this for you myself, but I don’t need to. Wellywood Woman already has. Thank goodness. Please read. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts Wellywood Woman, you incredible person. I think she is probably a part of the awesome group: the group that loves women in the industry. Just as Ladi and Faye do.
Support women to exist in the creative arts. Support women to create their own images. Bey put women front and centre in Lemonade, and did a reasonable job with her production team too. But as for the representation and celebration of women in the NZ music video industry….a long way to go people, a long way to go.