Tuesday, 14 July 2009

All-Time Top 100 Songs Written by People with Penises: Was the Poll Sexist?

Following on from my post yesterday, looking around the blogosphere and twittersphere, there has been some really interesting commentary regarding the lack of female representation in the hottest 100 list, with many people attempting to find reasons for the gender imbalance.

An article by “Kim” at Mark Bahnisch’s Lavatus Prodeo raised my ears to the issue. Furthermore, Articulate talks about the issues, asking if we can blame the lack of female representation on the listeners.

The Enthusiast goes into a lot more detail and provides an interesting run down on the phenomenon. However, near the end of the article, Mel Campbell suggests that the people voting are inherently sexist for the emergence of list characterised by a lack of females.

“That ought to remind us that participating in a public poll like this makes a public spectacle of our taste in music. Perhaps voters simply didn’t want to be embarrassed by their choices. Perhaps they felt more comfortable admitting they liked mainly sexist rock music.”

Without a doubt, this is a very interesting debate and one that is hard to find any concrete answers of whether the latest hottest 100 countdown consciously excludes females.

In terms of gender representation there is no doubt that there is a severe lack of representation, but was it ‘sexist’ as the above posts would tend to suggest? There are a variety of definitions for being sexist, but basically we can accept that it is a belief that one gender is superior to another and that there are lines of discrimination based on such a belief.

Based on my limited understanding of feminism (which in itself is a sometimes very inconsistent body of ideas that revolve around gender distinctions), I get the feeling that you cannot say that the results of the hottest 100 poll are sexist. Feminism itself isn’t exactly about ‘rights and representation for women’. It is about gender equality, a subtly different concept.

I believe that the charge shouldn’t be ‘Were the results of the Hosttest 100 sexist’ or even ‘was the process used to bring about the results inherently sexist?’ – I think the real question is ‘Are the people who voted in the poll sexist?’, and that is a very hard question to answer.

I have some suspicions that the way in which the votes are calculated advantages certain common popular songs that can be seen as essential to the target demographics musical evolution (for instance, songs people liked ten years ago). I think a fairer way to find out if the pollsters were sexist would be see the gender statistics of every voters top two or three songs, rather than the entire ten.

Then again, does the gender of the artist really matter? Am I’m discriminating on the basis of gender if I happen to prefer The Beastie Boys “Sabotage” to Bjork’s “Hyperballad”? I hope I wouldn’t be.

I know I personally do not think about the gender of the band or performer when considering whether I enjoy a piece of music, art or a book. And I think this view can be a feminist one. People like music because of the emotions they receive from them – the melody, timbre, harmonies, lyrical content and a vast number of other considerations. The fact that a song is sung by a male or female is, most of the time, irrelevant.

In fact, I could think of many reasons why concentrating on the gender of who is producing a piece of art is inherently anti-feminist. By simplifying the results of the poll to simple questions of the sex of the performers who put out a tune, could one ask whether these people are inherently making judgments on art based on gender distinctions and drawing boundaries based on sex? Aren’t we forgetting the content, messages and persuasions of the artists who made the music that what was produced in the hottest 100? I’d wager that, regardless of gender, these musicians and their fans would be the people most likely to support feminist ideals.

By saying this, I perhaps run the risk of accusations that I’m subverting and manipulating the ideals of feminism. I hope I’m not because I have the greatest respect for the ideals of feminism and hope that I’m consciously aware of the pervasive effects of overt and covert gender distinctions that still exist today.

I also note that while this gender distinction has been raised on a number of blogs, I haven’t seen much talk with regards to race or other reflexive ‘isms’ being discussed, a phenomena that is also interesting to note.

Would be interested in hearing your perspectives on what I’ve just written – perhaps I’m wrong. Convince me!


ascian said...

You've hit the point Daz... feminism doesn't mean that the countdown should have 50% female songs, just that there's no "I won't vote for her because she's female" bias. And I very much doubt that anyone thought while putting their top 10 in "I won't vote for that because the artist is a woman".

Statistical anomaly, representation of the number of female lead singers in Triple-J-genre bands, or tip that the majority of listeners subconscoiusly prefer to listen to males... but not sexism.

Darragh said...

Hey Ascian, thanks for your comment and for making me think that I'm on the right track with this one.

After a few discussions with some people online I'm leaning more to the statistical anomaly argument. The poll itself isn't the be-all and end-all of music appreciation.

kryz said...

I made sure I didnt vote for anyone who was female, black, had any disability, jewish or has ever lived in Ecuado.

Anonymous said...

Oh, good lord. I was just taking a peek but I have to leave a comment now. Yes, there are clearly issues of gender bias with the list. These issues come from the people who voted. Is a sexist leaning in votes for the Triple J All Time Top 100 Songs the biggest problem the world is facing today? No. It just reflects miserably on its participants, whoever they are.