Every so often, the topic of diversity comes up in electronic music. Women definitely make up less than 50% of participants – including in the forums where this topic is discussed. Since I’ve moved to the UK, I’ve seen a few email flurries where men argue about whether or not its a problem that there are so few women participating and if so, what they can do about it. These arguments themselves are probably somewhat off-putting, as there are always at least a few vocal men who like being in a boys club and will argue that things are fine. Even if everybody started from a pro-diversity standpoint, I doubt it would be a particularly fun conversation for the few women who were on the list, lurking. This is why I think efforts like MzTech, Flossie, G-Hack and ETC are a good idea, despite all the places where they’re problematic (which is beyond the scope of this post).
Women-only events do seem to be how the UK is best able to cope with the massively huge tech gap. This gap, by the way, gets more pronounced as level of techiness rises. As far as I’ve been able to determine, there are fewer than five women who are regular SuperCollider users in the UK. This is absolutely a social problem. It seems to be the case that in Japan, women users are roughly equal in numbers or possibly greater than men. Thus there is nothing inherently woman-unfriendly in the programme.
Meanwhile, in America, there is still a gap, but it seems less bad. I don’t have solid numbers, but I’ve seen women at American conferences and they make up a fair percentage of presenters. However, sexism is also very clearly apparent. How is it that women are participating in greater numbers in what seems like it’s a more sexist environment?
Well, it might not be more sexist in the States. It might just be a more open form of sexism. Scientific American just ran an article about benevolent sexism. When sexism seems ‘friendly’, women are more likely to accept it. They gave a hypothetical example:
How might this play out in a day-to-day context? Imagine that there’s an anti-female policy being brought to a vote, like a regulation that would make it easier for local businesses to fire pregnant women once they find out that they are expecting. If you are collecting signatures for a petition or trying to gather women to protest this policy and those women were recently exposed to a group of men making comments about the policy in question, it would be significantly easier to gain their support and vote down the policy if the men were commenting that pregnant women should be fired because they were dumb for getting pregnant in the first place. However, if they instead happened to mention that women are much more compassionate than men and make better stay-at-home parents as a result, these remarks might actually lead these women to be less likely to fight an objectively sexist policy.
So it might not be that British culture (and British people) are less sexist than Americans. They’re just more polite. And the result of this politeness is not that women feel more empowered. Quite the contrary, in fact. Because the sexism is less in-your-face, it’s more effective and participation by women is thus lowered.
Indeed, if men who mean well are making a big deal about how rare it is for women to get involved in something, this can accidentally slide into benevolent sexism. Which leaves us in something of a bind. For those of us who are men and do want to increase participation by women, what can we do about it? I would argue that one step is vigilant moderation, where all sexism, benevolent or openly hostile, is banished from online discussion. And we can refuse to participate in all-male events or panels. Some effort should probably also be extended in this direction for collaborations, projects and musical groups . . . there is probably some size at which it becomes problematic if everyone involved is a man. The growing pool of G-Hack alumnae will hopefully become part of the larger scene. And hopefully more women on stage will empower the women in the audience to start producing. And hopefully those of us men who want to make a big deal about it (‘and they’re pretty too!’), will get the message that this is not the way forward.