International Women’s Day: Women in Music

Women in Music’ is a term that describes the role of women as composers, songwriters, instrumental performers, as well as depicting musical movements, events, genres related to women, and feminism.


Women are an integral part of the music industry, both behind the scenes, in terms of songwriting, and on the front stage in the public eye. The creative industries as a whole have a reputation for being liberal and tolerant and promoting gender equality supposedly, but this has not translated into greater actual inclusivity. Ultimately, there is a strong belief that the music industry should face further interrogations to those in privileged positions to further enhance equality within the industry.

The list of talented women within the music industry is endless. An early example of women in music can be seen through the ‘First Lady of Song’, otherwise known as Ella Fitzgerald, a groundbreaking artist known for her purity of tone, who won 14 Grammy Awards throughout her career. Similarly, we can look to Carole King, a musical powerhouse in terms of songwriting. King wrote 118 hits that would feature on the Billboard Hot 100, and talented female songwriters are not scarce, we can also look to Lady Gaga who has written songs for the likes of Adam Lambert, Michael Bolton, and Jennifer Lopez. There are so many talented female artists, whilst men often include the powerful roles women play in society within their music as seen in Outkast’sRosa Parks”, and 2Pac’sDear Mama”. This is of course but a brief description of women in music, but the point is that women play a monumental role within the music industry, yet are so often not credited in a way that equally represents the value that they bring to the industry.

The first lady of music, Ella Fitzgerald

Unsurprisingly, the music industry being a male-dominated industry has, in fact, only hindered growth for the business, as well as, the success of women in the industry. As a result, this has provided women with various challenges and certain criteria within the music industry that women are unfortunately faced with. In 2017, the University of Sydney’s Women, Work, and Leadership Research Group published a report that found women in the music industry were chronically disadvantaged in comparison to their male counterparts. The study found that women were paid less than men, outnumbered in festival lineups, and that female artist’s held fewer industry roles, whilst simultaneously being underrepresented on the boards of all major industry bodies. This is by no means for a lack of women attempting to make it within the industry, with women making up 45 percent of all qualified musicians and music students, they are just simply not offered the chance to prove themselves.

The inequality within the music industry is evident in the way in which women are constantly stereotyped and sexualised. According to Jessica Duchen, a writer for London’s The Independent, women musicians are too often judged for their appearances rather than their talent, and regularly face certain pressures to look sexy on stage and in photos. However, they face even further scrutiny should they go too far in exposing themselves, for example, in Miley Cyrus’ 2013 music video for her single “Wrecking Ball” she was heavily shamed for pushing sexual boundaries and displaying nudity that was deemed too graphic for public viewing. Whereas you look to an example of the incredible singer, Lizzo, whose body type does not conform to that of what the press believes she should look like, and she receives even greater criticism for it. Despite being incredibly fit and working out multiple times a week, she is still on the receiving end of hate comments and horrendous body shaming. Lizzo stated: “I’m working out to have my ideal body type. And you know what type that is? None of your fucking business.”

Superstar musician, and female activist, Lizzo.

So it almost feels as though regardless of how women look or show off their bodies, which in all honesty is none of our concern anyway, they will continue to be heavily inspected whichever route they pursue. Professor Smith, of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, expanded further on this archaic conceptualisation of women within the music industry by stating: “What the experiences of women reveal is that the biggest barrier they face is the way the music industry thinks about women. The perception of women is highly stereotypical, sexualised, and without skill. Until those core beliefs are altered, women will continue to face a roadblock as they navigate their careers.”

However, there is a lot of work currently being done to enhance progressive change to the patriarchal system within the music industry. Over the years, a multitude of organizations were created to help and promote women in the music business. Some of these organizations include ‘Women In Music’, and the ‘#ChooseToChallenge’ campaign, to name but a few. ‘Women in Music’ is the industry’s leading non-profit working to advance the awareness, equality, diversity, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the music industry through education, support, empowerment, and recognition. The initiative was founded in 1985, and now serves thousands worldwide, with chapters reaching as far as L.A. all the way to India. Meanwhile, the ‘#ChooseToChallenge’ campaign is also leading the way in terms of equality within the music industry, with a multitude of artists, both male and female fronting the cause.

#ChooseToChallenge campaign.

The most notable addition to the ‘#ChooseToChallenge’ campaign is Matty Healy, lead singer of British pop-rock band The 1975, who previously committed to taking a stand against inequality in the music industry by pledging that his band would no longer feature at festivals with a lack of female artists in the lineup. Healy stated: “It’s all about action. When it comes to big sociopolitical issues and governments are involved, sometimes action or protest can just be ignored. But when it comes to the music industry, we can change that. It’s not a geopolitical nightmare: it’s the music industry, and it’s something that if everyone gets on board, we can fix.” An initiative that has seen Emily Eavis, owner of Glastonbury Festival, the biggest festival in the world follow suit. Eavis pledged to achieve a 50/50 gender-balance for future Glastonbury lineups, telling Radio 1 Newsbeat: “Our future has to be 50/50, when I look back at past Glastonbury line-ups, I realised it’s always been male-heavy. Unless you consciously change and really address it, then it will stay the same because we’re always going to be flooded with male acts.”

Michael Eavis (Left) founder of Glastonbury Festival, with Co-organiser Emily Eavis (Right).

There are women smashing through the glass ceiling every day, but it does beg the question of why they have to in the first place, and why certain barriers are put in the way to stop them from progressing further. However, International Women’s Day is the chance to celebrate how far we have progressed in the fight for gender equality, but also reflect on how much further we as society still need to progress. The music industry is moving in the right direction, but the onus is now on the younger generations to keep fighting for equality, and ensuring a more suitable environment for the benefit of the workers and society.



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Ben Broyd

Ben Broyd


I write about music, amongst other things. Hope you enjoy.