Electronic clubbing scenes in 70’s New York and Britain’s rave culture in the 80’s have been celebrated as times of emancipation in their fusion of class, culture and gender. In a new article published by Contemporary Music Review , Tami Gadir challenges the idea that total gender equality now prevails. Are gender related prejudices still rife in clubs despite snapshots of social and political consciousness in dance music culture?
Past research has portrayed music as a catalyst for inclusivity and a liberating force from repressive cultures via experiential participation. Gadir, however, believes this optimistic interpretation to be the exception rather than the rule and that “ in dance music, discrimination on the basis of gender is widespread, ranging from harsh judgements of DJs’ technical competencies, to harassment and sexual assault. What is more, it is not restricted only to commercial, ‘mainstream’ music events – it also occurs at ‘alternative’ parties that advocate social consciousness and aim for gender equality. ” To support this theory, Gadir conducted 70 interviews with clubbers, DJs and producers, 33 of whom were female international DJs. Their stories of discrimination and prejudice, in stark contrast to supposed ideals of gender liberation in dance music scenes, were also confirmed by the answers of male interviewees who articulated some of those prejudices.
Hannah, a successful Australian DJ documented the pressure to be overtly desirable: “ You only get shows ‘cause you’re hot’… it’s important to look hot to work as what we do…if I was short and really overweight….but I was a killer DJ, no one would come listen to me! “ She also revealed she once had to end her DJ set early because a huge crowd was rudely baying at her to strip. Not only did female DJs document outright sexual harassment but also gender based judgements on their competence and achievements, one having been offered a pre-mixed set by a booking agent to ‘perform’ as he presumed she was unable to mix live. Another Chinese DJ being asked if her ‘awesome’ set was from her boyfriend. Almost all women DJ interviewees documented negative gender bias against them and their profession. The definition ‘Girl DJ’ in contrast to ‘DJ’ confirms the assumption of a default male.
Despite the disheartening testimonies, Gadir concedes that complex gender related debates and shifts in professional practices favouring equal gender policies have begun. Indeed, she recognises some clubbing environments to promote equal, liberal and respectful ideals but overall concludes that “ although the unique, individual scenes and spaces of interest to many dance music scholars might foster a type of alternative politics of participation, they cannot lead us to assume that dance music culture at large has been able to break free from the pervasive gender dynamics immanent in everyday life .” She welcomes the possibility that small steps towards gender consciousness may lead to ‘tangible’ and ‘sustained improvements.’