The Guardian is (yet again) trying to stir up trouble. This time it’s over the results of an end-of-year list by an Australian indie-rock radio station of being too male. It’s one of those articles where excessive use of sweeping generalisations means that the valid points the author is trying to make end up getting lost in the noise. The comments thread is a predictable car crash.
On one level it looks like a trivial twitter spat being blown up out of all proportion, and that spat itself looks like a prime example of two people talking past one another because neither is willing to recognise that the other is using a different meaning of the dreaded word “privilege”. Or that the social justice activism’s definition of the word was meant to describe structural inequality rather than be used to attack individuals.
But the wider point of whether or not a poll from an indie-rock radio station is a symbol of endemic sexism in the music scene doesn’t get coherently expressed. As some comments have pointed out, mainstream commercial pop is dominated either by female singers or male singers such as Justin Bieber with overwhelmingly female audiences. You could make a strong case that genre snobbery has a more than a whiff of sexism, especially the implication that indie-rock is somehow superior and more “authentic” than pop. But the piece doesn’t go there.
Taste in music is both subjective and deeply personal. The sorts of music people enjoy listening to, or indeed make, is often strongly gendered, and that gets more so the more you move away from the commercial mainstream. Which means it can get ugly very quickly when you inject identity politics into music fandom in a clumsy and heavy-handed manner. If you imply to someone that their preference for rock over pop somehow makes them sexist and racist, they’re likely to take it personally, and many will react angrily. Especially if you give the impression you don’t actually connect with music at a deep emotional level yourself.
If you want to point out how an awards shortlist, a festival bill or a listeners poll is too male, and there are plenty of those that are guilty as charged, you do need a bit more evidence than merely failing to meet some arbitrary gender quota. Unless of course the bias is so blatant that it’s impossible to explain away.