This week, Country to Country (C2C) announced its headlining acts for 2020 and they were…all men. I was pleased to see many responses expressing dissatisfaction with the all male headline, but there were also many people quick to defend C2C’s artist choice for 2020. Some of those defending the line up were angry, and some were simply lacking an understanding of a woman’s experience in the music industry. Whether intentional or not, both grounds for defending C2C’s exclusive male headline have one thing in common: they excuse gender inequality in the music industry. For this reason, I thought I’d take this opportunity to take the reader through some for the common defences of the lack of women headliners, and explain why the excuses don’t hold up under close scrutiny.
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Excuse 1: Acts are chosen based on their success, and the men are just more successful.
The idea that headliners are allocated by their success simply doesn’t hold up when you look at the C2C lineup. Tanya Tucker appears on the C2C bill, who has 15 billboard number 1s under her belt, outperforming all male headliners by almost double, with the most number 1s held by a man being 8. The success argument doesn’t work when we have a woman on the bill who most would agree has legend status in the Country world, and has more number 1s than all the male headliners.
Another issue with this excuse is the notion that “men are just more successful”. For us to accept this as fact, we have to implicitly accept that men are simply more talented than women. Men are no more talented, entertaining or enduring than women. This notion does not need explaining and I can assume that there is no factual basis to actually believe otherwise. Additionally, success isn’t something that happens of its own accord. There are many factors involved, and when we know that there is a great disparity between a women’s experience in the music industry and a man’s experience, it should not be a great surprise that this impacts chances and levels of success.
To truly cover the challenges that women face that impacts their success in the Country music industry would require a lengthy article of its own. With that in mind, the following section will discuss some of the challenges women face, and how this impacts on success.
Excuse 2: It can’t really be a problem if few women artists are complaining
Speaking out against the injustice that we face as individuals is wonderful in concept, but when it comes to reality, it carries heavy consequences for women in the music industry.
To understand any fear of speaking out, we must consider the fundamental imbalance of power. It is a well known fact that the music industry is male-dominated. Roles such as sound engineers, producers, managers, label execs and festival organisers are predominantly held by men. This means that any women navigating the industry will always experience an imbalance of power: a majority of the time, people calling the shots as to the progression or hinderance of a women musicians career will be male. To challenge the lack of women headlining is to challenge the basic foundations of the Country music industry.
This is always vital when we consider why a woman may, or may not speak out against various gender inequalities she will experience in the industry. When asking why a woman isn’t speaking out, an old phrase comes to mind: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Another essential consideration in women Country artist’s success is the economic gender gap in Country music. I’ve written previously about a lack of women on Country radio in detail (if you want to read the article, follow this link). Women make up 11.3% of the year-end Country airplay reports. Considering radio play is directly linked to album sales, whether song-writers will give you their best songs (additionally, between 2014-2018, only 12% of songwriters were women), ticket sales, and the chances of record labels signing women, we can see how this impacts on the potential success of women artists. Not only can we expect women to experience less success, studies show that men can expect to enjoy a longer lasting career than women, with a mean age of top performing women being 29, opposed to a mean age of men being 41.
Under these circumstances, women already have to beat the odds to have a portion of the success that men more frequently enjoy, and that success is likely to last for a much shorter period of time than their male counterparts. All of this makes for a certain fragility in the knowledge that women have had to clear so many hurdles to be successful, and that success may potentially be short lived: would you chance shortening the already limited life span of your career and throw it all away to speak out?
The truth is, most people would not speak out. It is not simply the duty of famous women artists to create equality, it is a duty for all of us to create a safe space that allows women to feel supported in speaking out and for us to speak when we see something that is unjust.
Excuse 3: Gender inequality is a much bigger problem in the US than the UK. C2C is a UK festival, so gender isn’t a problem.
There seems to be a habit of completely separating the US and the UK Country scene, however, they have to be viewed in tandem.
The UK Country scene has seen a surge in popularity in recent times, however, the UK Country scene is still a fledgling in comparison to the US. For example, even some of our most popular UK Country acts are relatively unknown beyond the UK. In comparison, some of the biggest US Country acts can tour and sell-out world tours. Additionally, you are far more likely to hear US Country artists on the UK Country radio shows than you are to hear UK Country acts on US stations. In this way, the global nature of the US Country scene makes the UK scene inseparable from it. Think of it like the UK Country scene is the child of the US Country scene – the UK scene is an individual in its own right, but is still heavily guided and influenced by its US parent. This is relevant because any festival like C2C aiming to have a cross border appeal, means that a world-dominating US acts will have more appeal as a headliner than a UK based act. With this in mind, any gender issues in the US Country scene will inevitably influence the UK.
Excuse 4: Why do you need to spoil a great event by making it about gender?
Nothing spoils a good time like gender inequality. No one wants to spoil anyone’s fun. You are absolutely entitled to enjoy whatever you choose to enjoy. But your right to enjoy an event does not trump a woman’s right to equality, nor our right to speak when we see injustice. Speaking out about gender inequality does not equal spoiling your fun.
I’ve tried to simplify my answers as much as possible but in truth, sexism is far more ingrained and conditioned into us as individuals by our society than this article has scope to adequately explain. I do hope, however, that this has given the reader a greater understanding of the constant barriers women in the industry face, and that something that may seem trivial to some (like an all male headlining festival), is sending a clear message to women: you can’t do it like the men do. I hope we can all feel a duty to debunk these common excuses to justify the inequality women face with certainty and from a place of understanding: we are all learning at our own pace.
Article written by Honor Logan (twitter.com/honorlogan3)