Why Are Women Still On The Sidelines Of Musical Conversation?

Women have, unsurprisingly for a demographic that accounts for more than half the world’s population, contributed some sizeable amount to our musical cultural cache. But when lists of the greatest artists to ever live posited, or even figureheads of vast swathes of genres we use to divide them named… suddenly the female voice in music tends to go sorely unaccounted for. In a recent IMPACT survey, published in Issue 237 of the print edition, not one of the campus’ favourite bands or solo acts contained a single female name. Surely it can’t be that men simply make better music, not in a world where Fetty Wapp exists… so why are women so often overlooked in the musical conversation?

XFM was recently choked up from the exhaust pipe of a 2003 Vauxhall Corsa and reborn from the flames of irrelevancy by being rebranded Britain’s Premier Station For Blokes. What this actually meant was choc-a-bloc Oasis and Supergrass padded out in more ways than one by Chris Moyles’ jabbering gullet. Of course amongst the furore they couldn’t avoid playing some work by women because, what the hell?!, but had they really stuck to their word and played only the male side of the last half century’s rocked out guitar music then there would have been some rather glaring omissions in their catalogue.

Where would any guitar music be past 1975 without Patti Smith? Where would punk be without The Slits? Where would any music today be with Kate Bush? With Radio X’s demographic being not only blessed with the male genitals but with receding hairline also, their output of course begins in 1995 and ends a decade later – but had they played the odd piece of contemporary rock then missing from the set would be the likes of Haim, The Savages and Courtney Barnett… arguably the best rock album of the year so far comes from Alabama Shakes who are led by, god forbid, a woman.

Of course mostly-harmless backwards little corners of the FM wavelength aren’t too bothersome but the fact remains that women are often an afterthought in certain genres of music. The likes of Julia Holter, Natalie Prass, The Staves, Laura Marling and Nadine Shah rule the folk roost and FKA Twigs and Bjork continue to put all in their wake to shame on the experimental end of pop, but hip-hop isn’t really bothering and never did. While Janet Jackson paved the roots for nineties hip-hop and Missy Elliot and Nicki Minaj are icons in their own right; female MCs who’ve made it are fewer and further between than the amount of underground talent suggests is just. The likes of Rhapsody and Kate Tempest are rare and admirable exceptions. Lyrics of some of the best albums produced in rap music have eternally been plagued by misogyny and rap collectives have picked up the trait of TV panel shows by adopting a ‘token woman’; Black Hippy have SZA, GOOD Music have Kacy Hill, Odd Future have Kali Uchis and Cash Money have Niki – great vocal talents that often come in, sing the hooks, and leave.

Where would any music be without the likes of Patti Smith or Kate Bush?

That being said; in other genres the misbalance is barely there at all – the legends of soul are Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin first and foremost, whilst the power of a female popstar is undisputed. Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Madonna, Rhianna: they’re musical behemoths and business ones too (so long as, as transpired in the case of the latter, they don’t do anything in music videos only a man is supposed do.) Meanwhile in recent years the likes of Anthony, Perfume Genius and PLANNINGTOROCK have provided a voice in the music in music for those whose genders are somewhat less binary than that.


The matter of fact is, the makeup of artists around the world has changed somewhat since the format of music discussion was shaped. Back in the 70’s not all groups were as male and moustache heavy as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin but those groups hammered their way into musical conscious through sheer creative force and gender perspective in society at the time did little to counterbalance it. There’s much still to be done but in the west at least the hands are much less stacked to one side of the table now and indeed the amount of female talent rising to the fore seems a lot more representative of the makeup of the world in which we live. Gone are the days when women were absent from the front of music in most genres; aside from hip-hop the balance is frequently pretty spot on. It’s the male names that get mentioned first but that’s because we’re still conversing  from the same place as forty years ago, but when we really think of it: female musicians are killing it out there just as much as the men. I guess all it means is that we just have to think about it more.

Liam Inscoe – Jones

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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