Blonde hair, bubblegum pop, girls in school dresses. Baby One More Timewas the soundtrack of my early childhood. Thanks to the Framing Britney expose on Britney Spears’ rise and fall from fame, all my innocent infatuations with the life of America’s darling popstar are now gone. Trapped in a legal battle, the recipient of harsh sexist remarks, and suffering from multiple meltdowns in her career, the stories that pushed her into the limelight also became her downfall.
But this isn’t news. Women have historically faced biases and systemic oppression – in the workplace, career leadership paths, and expected societal roles. The documentary showed just how pervasive these biases are for Women in Music. It highlighted that we still have a long way to go to create an equal playing field for people of all genders.
The Glass Ceiling
The Glass Ceiling is a phenomenon in which structural barriers and biases against women prevent them from accelerating in their careers. Women in music aren’t spared from that.
A study by MIDIA, surveying a pool of female artists globally, found that over 90% have encountered unconscious bias in the industry. This is usually as a result of dominating male attitudes and behaviors ingrained in the system.
In the Britney documentary we hear the grim side of one story – Britney’s 13 year-long struggle to gain freedom and control of her own fortune.
But Britney’s story is just one of many – who else could be stuck in systemic traps without the same level of public awareness?
TheTightrope pertains to workplace biases that expect certain behaviours from women. Usually this is the expectation of more “feminine” traits, such as being warm, modest, and mild-mannered.
In music, women tread even more carefully on a string. Aside from their craft, their looks, behaviour, and other aspects of their personal and public lives are under constant scrutiny. Two thirds of women from the same study cite sexual harassment or objectification as key barriers in their careers.
If the speculatios about Britney’s teenage dating life and cup size weren’t enough, look to the viral video of her interview with Diane Sawyer. A line of questioning on whether Britney’s behaviour might “upset a lot of mothers” reveals the extent to which women are held to unreasonable standards and responsibilities.
The pressure is doubly real, as the. Prove-it-Again phenomenon shows. It refers to the pressure felt by women, and other groups perceived as “less competent”, to prove themselves over and over again.
Women in music no doubt feel the effects of this bias, with around 81% of the same study’s respondents stating their difficulty in receiving recognition for their work, in comparison to male artists. When your career is on the line, many women feel the show must go on, and Britney has been no exception. Even in the midst of her breakdowns in 2007 and 2008, she continued to perform and maintain her public persona.
Though the world has historically put us women in disadvantageous positions, women in music are here to stay.
Try as they might to portray women as victims of a system – we are not.
More than ever, these factors have pushed women to work harder. And as another study shows, women within genre categories at awards often creatively outperform male artists. Just this year, the Grammy awards were dominated by women, as this year marked the first time that four separate female performers took home the show’s top prizes.
But we can’t leave it to women alone to dismantle the systems and pave the way for artists of the future. We need to address our own biases and give women an equal opportunity to achieve their aspirations.
Britney’s story is a secret no longer. And it’s also no secret that many women still face the same challenges today.
At Deezer, with women still underrepresented in our Global charts, at 24%, I know we still have gaps to address.
But with initiatives like International Women’s Day, a focus on Women’s work, and more stories engaging with the topic of fairness across genders, I know that people are listening.
My newsfeed is filled with images of Britney supporters out on the streets, #FreeBritney placards in hand. Women and men, young and old alike, are coming forward to ask for change. We’re not calling for Women in Music to fix it alone. We’re taking matters into our own hands.