Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sexism on the Radio

Driving to school this morning, my three-year-old daughter made a very difficult request: she wanted to listen to "woman music" on the radio, i.e., music with a female vocalist.  I knew that this would be difficult, from long experience, and so the search itself has become a game, in which we classify each channel as it scans past: "Man music, advertising, advertising, man music, man music, only instruments, advertising, man music..." Eventually, after twice around the dial, we found a song, in which the singer was saying something about making a painting in which she and her man would be trapped in perfect bliss.  The point, however, is that it was remarkably hard to find, as it usually is.

To me, this is a perfect example of a third-wave feminist issue.  I am certain that there is no intentional conspiracy across the various broadcasters to deny female artists a spot on the radio.  Rather, I expect that this is more a case of market optimization, implicit bias, and apathy.  And that's the way in which I understand the three main "waves" of feminism: the first wave was obtaining legal personhood (e.g., voting, property rights), the second wave was removing other formal barriers to entry (e.g., opening up male-only jobs), and the third wave is noticing things and saying: "Hey, some things are still really gender-biased! What's going on?"

At this point, once you've noticed a strong gender-bias somewhere, there are three basic responses:
  1. Decide to ignore the issue.
  2. Look for a reason why it's "right" that something should be strongly gender-biased.
  3. Acknowledge the issue and try to figure out how to respond it.
Right now, the best I know how to do with the lack of women's voices on the radio is to call my daughter's attention to it and help her to become a critic of media, as well as enjoying the parts she likes.  At other times, we simply get our music from other sources, where we have more control of what we hear.  There's no one right solution in parenting, and it's an always shifting ground based on how your child is currently understanding their environment.  I'd prefer if the radio broadcasts could be changed, but I don't have leverage on that problem, and it's not where I'm going to choose to invest my energy right now---thus opening myself, of course, to criticism that I'm choosing to ignore the issue.

If the owners of radio stations chose to, however, reducing gender bias would be quite easy to do: there's lots of awesome female artists out there, just like there's lots of awesome male artists, and it would be pretty easy to simply adjust the playlists to be more balanced.  In fact, two genres already appear be quite balanced: evangelical and club/electronica.  It's strange to me that from such opposite ends of the political spectrum comes a balance, but there it is, as well as clear evidence that it need not be that hard to do. Right now, however, everywhere that I've encountered them, rock, country, alternative, metal, easy listening, and oldies all appear to be quite heavily male in their playlists.

And yet, and yet: still my daughter yearns to hear women's voices, and it's very hard for her to find them on the radio.
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