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Beyond the Awards: A Look at Women in Music From and By Women

Posted by: Reza Clifton on 2/23/2012


Every year, I publish a " best of/year-end/year-before review of women in music based on the monthly "Venus Sings Radio" program I do on a show called Voices of Women, which airs on URI’s student- and community-run station, WRIU. The list may be slightly skewed in terms of attention on women as vocalists and in terms of the kinds/genres of music I prefer, but even that is pretty diverse. While many might say that I provide a slightly heavier dose of “world music” than what other DJ’s they follow provide – or more hip hop than what my Voices of Women partners contribute – I happily play everything from the Cardigans to Nicki Minaj and from Lykke Li to Etta James.

During the development of the 2011-2012 list, I took some time to peruse other’s compilations – namely from places I respect and turn to for music tips, early awareness, and artist research, and I’m not talking about commercial places like Billboard Magazine or Hot 97.  Well, upon seeing few women listed this year, how I ended up feeling was disappointed.  In some cases, it looked like fewer women than in years past, even! 

One of the conclusions I jumped to was based on the years of research and lectures I’ve done about ethnic and gender diversity in the news.  From the guests and hosts on Sunday morning political roundtable shows, to the boards running the major media companies, analysis and studies have proven again and again that women are not equally represented in these spaces.

But is there is a link between the dearth of women in leadership positions in media/communications/printing/publishing/broadcasting fields and the absence of women on many music lists including on alternative/independent/underground-generated ones?  Will women ever get fairly noted in an environment in which they are kept from gatekeeper positions and roles?  And what about the growing over-sexualization and constant lack of attention on craft when commercial and mainstream spaces and “experts” do cover women in music?

To help the questions stop spinning – and to help me complete this list/article – I checked in with an old college friend of mine hoping for a miracle:  feminist media activist, Jamia Wilson.  As a writer and educator, Wilson travels and trains women and writers on getting their voices heard through traditional and digital media.  She is also the Vice President of Programs at Women's Media Center, an organization that convenes panels, issues reports, leads grassroots campaigns, and trains members of the media to address issues of women’s representation and general diversity.  And let me tell you, she knows her stuff.

Next week, I’ll share portions of my interview with Wilson, which included an analysis of women in music positioned as sexual commodities, the realities of women as working musicians, and a look at the power-shift that happens when women create their own media.  But for now, get ready for an introduction to a group of women in music – some of whom perform and work locally on social justice issues and feminist advocacy; I assure you, you will want to fill your iPod or go Youtube jumping.  Click here for my 2011-2012 list of top women in music and here for my honorable mentions. 

To listen to a segment of my interview with Wilson, click here.   To read more about diversity in the media, click here to view some of my archived presentation notes or here to read the 2012 Women’s Media Center report on "The Status of Women in the Media."  

Contents of this blog constitute the opinion of the author, and the author alone; they do not represent the views and opinions of Women's Fund of Rhode Island.

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