Sexism in the Music Industry

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Sexism in The Music Industry


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Sexism has two main definitions. It can be defined as a prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex () or as behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex (). There are multiple types of sexism (Old Fashioned, Neo-sexist, and Ambivalent). Most people will try and take a neo-sexist approach. They will try to deny that sexism exists, especially in the music industry. It subjects women to sexual harassment and objectification. It also affects how they are represented within the industry. This affects their record sales and success in the industry overall. Women have to work ten times harder than men in the music industry. Song lyrics also tend to glorify the mistreatment, objectification, sexualization, and brutalization of women.

The theory used to analyze this cultural aspect is Symbolic Interactionism. Symbolic interactionism origins go back to the 20th Century when Cooley and Mead began to pave the road for future symbolic interactionist. Cooley and Mead’s original applied this theory to explain human behavior. They applied it to help gain a better understanding of how our interactions with others affects a person and how it helps one grow. The Chicago School soon followed in their footsteps. Howard S. Becker came along in the late 1950s. His contribution to the theory was his work entitled Outsiders. In this work, he looks at Jazz musicians and marijuana users. Throughout the work, he describes how deviance is a social construct. He believed that these people weren’t deviants but were seen as deviant because they went against the norm. Becker’s research also showed that a “high is not a fixed product of the chemical properties of marijuana but a condition that is verbally defined, recognized and learned only in interaction with more experienced users.”().

Later on, in the 1950s, Goffman came out with his most important work. He designed and put to use a new dramaturgical model. This model considered interaction with others. It also considered self-presentation. Goffman believed that life is very much like a theatrical performance, everyone has a role to play and different scenes to act out. These scenes can either be heavily scripted or heavily improvised. The model separated a person’s life into two separate areas. The two areas are backstage and frontstage. Backstage is where a person is able to relax and practice. Frontstage is where all the practice is put to use. A backstage space is any private space. For example, your room. A front space is any public area. For example, a meeting. All in all, the theory says that we are not born with certain behaviors. It states that we pick up behaviors from our day to day interactions with one another.

This theory is important in today’s society because this theory actually shows what happens when one human interacts with another. Sexism is a huge problem in society. It plagues women all across the world. It especially plagues women in the music industry. There are three different types of sexism (Old-fashioned, neo-sexist, ambivalent). Old- Fashioned sexism is when a person is very open about the fact that they see the genders differently and they believe that a man should be the breadwinner and the women should take care of the home. Neo-sexism is when a person denies that sexism exists in today’s’ society. Ambivalent sexism can be split into two separate sub-categories (Hostile and Benevolent). Hostile sexism is when men are outwardly derogatory to women, examples of this can be seen in the popular music genre of Rap. Misogyny is heavily present in Rap Music, a leading authority in the Hip Hop culture has said: Hip Hop’s sexism is visible, vulgar, and expressive. Benevolent Sexism within the music industry is more discreet and is more targeted towards females’ artists who might be offered in help for sexual acts, this also seen within the Hip Hop culture. Benevolent Sexism often translates to something much darker in other genres of music as well.

Sexual assault and abuse are heavily entrenched within the music industry and as stated earlier, men who are usually in positions of power tend to abuse them. Rap Music is not the only music genre with prevalent sexism, heavy metal is notorious for being very sexist. Groupie culture is unique to metal and rock music, some of the experiences that these female fans have are not pleasant. 25 percent of former heavy metal groupies say that they experience some type of sexual assault or rape during their days as groupies. Other women who were not fans but in fact were artists have claimed sexual assault. Music executives often target young females who aim at stardom, by offering the work for success. This was the case with Yasmin Lajoie and Michelle De Vries. At the age of 21, Yasmin Lajoie was offered her dream job as an A&R assistant at a Major London music publishing office. In a letter, she wrote she states that “casual misogyny was everywhere” (“Paper Cuts: A Letter by Yasmin Lajoie”, 2018). In this letter, she also mentions how her bosses would make inappropriate jokes and compliment her breast. At 23, she was molested by a manager of an artist they were trying to sign. When she told her bosses, they told her not to make a big deal of it. De Vries’ assault happened while she was waiting for her work permit to come in. Her bosses made her stay with an older employee. While she was staying with him, he acted completely inappropriate towards her. She said that he would come into her room completely naked. A few months later, De Vries found out that her work permit was approved months before. The harassment didn’t end after she moved out. One day the same colleague pulled her and another woman into his office. He then exposed himself and proposed a threesome. She and other women quit soon after the incident. They went to a lawyer and was told if you report this, you will never work in this industry again (Aswad, 2017).

Gender Diversity within the music industry is growing especially today, and a good example of that is the Rock group Pussy Riot. In a music genre known for its objectification of women. Pussy Riot paves the way in Russia, where there are few freedoms. Pussy Riot also doubles itself as a political group often getting jailed for performing a song with lyrics that are not too fond of the government. Another example of a woman breaking traditional roles within music is Female Rappers. Female Rappers such as Lil Kim, Missy Elliot, and Roxanne have gained respectable roles within the Rap industry. These women even though successful in their fields still face sexism.

Even though diversity in the Music industry is increasing, women still do not hold a sizeable chunk of the music industry. In fact, in some genres the representation of women is actually decreasing, A study mentioned by the New York Times writer, Ben Sisario, stated that female representation in pop music has decreased in the last 6 years. In an Analysis done by Billboard, of 600 songs from 2012 to 2017, that of 1200 artists only 22.4 percent were women. Female producers have the most disappointing statistic with only having 2 percent representation within the music industry. The music industry, however, does have a better representation of woman than some industries. An article published on Forbes website states that Billboard comes up with a list of the 100 powerful people in the music industry. The list includes leaders of tech, management, and recorded music. It has been reported that In 2018, 17% of the list was females, up from 10% in 2017. Men still hold most of the top jobs. (Blistein, 2018`). Many believe that the music industry is still very much a Boy’s Club.

Because of this, it’s hard for women to break through in music. Women in the music industry don’t have the same opportunities as men. In an article written by Jon Blistein, entitled New Study: Music Industry’s Greatest Gender Disparity is Behind the Scenes. The article sums up the results from a study conducted by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. During the study, researchers studied 600 songs that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 in the years of 2012-2017. The research showed that “only 22 percent of those songs were by females. Even fewer songs -12 percent- had a female songwriting credit”(Blistein, 2018). The researchers believed that the studio is what contributes the most to this unfair gender gap. It is very rare for females to get a producer credit on a record. In the few cases when they are given credit, they are also the artist. The researchers also looked at producer credits on the top 100 songs, during 2012, 2015, and 2017. All together they looked at 300 songs with 651 producer credits.

Works Cited:

  1. Aswad, J. (2017, December 18). Music Executives Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Assault in BBC Report. Retrieved from
  2. Blistein, J. (2018, June 25). New Study: Music Industry’s Greatest Gender Disparity Is Behind the Scenes. Retrieved from
  3. Oware, M. (2010). Brotherly Love: Homosociality and Black Masculinity in Gangsta Rap Music. Journal of African American Studies,15(1), 22-39. doi:10.1007/s12111-010-9123- Paper Cuts: A Letter by Yasmin Lajoie. (2018, January 28). Retrieved from
  4. Seidman, S. A. (1992). Profile:An investigation of sex?role stereotyping in music videos. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media,36(2), 209-216. doi:10.1080/08838159209364168
  5. Sperling, V. (2014). Russian feminist perspectives on Pussy Riot. Nationalities Papers,42(4), 591-603. doi:10.1080/00905992.2014.924490
  6. Vincent, A. (2017, July 07). Kesha’s comeback: A timeline of her bitter legal feud with Sony and producer Dr Luke. Retrieved from kesha-timeline-bitter-legal-feud-sony-dr-luke/
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Sexism in The Music Industry. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from

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