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The only thing that’s a given for women in music is condescension and abuse

Last week, the Otago Daily Times published a conspiratorial and objectively terrible opinion piece claiming APRA’s ‘gender-affirmative action regime’ is a mediocrity-encouraging membership drive. Dunedin musician, pop music scholar and APRA member Millie Lovelock responds.

It’s a losing battle, arguing with idiots. Unfortunately, being an idiot is currently very much en vogue in Dunedin, especially among men in the Dunedin Music Facebook group and in one-off, unpaid columns in the Otago Daily Times.

Gender quotas are unfair, they snivel, scrabbling at their stamp leaflet as they post another letter about feminist doublespeak to the female journalist they’ve been harassing for years. Men are losing out on hard-earned opportunities, they complain, because APRA wants to help those nasty, thieving women, they scream endlessly into the mirror, snotty tears running down their cheeks. No one listens to my band because Radio One have a gender quota so my spot got taken – it’s not because my band sucks, they insist. What about unequal gender representation in ballet? they shriek, never having been to a ballet to witness the equal numbers of male butt cheeks bouncing in white tights.

This week, in a driveling, poorly executed op-ed, a local men’s rights activist tried to argue that having five women Silver Scrolls finalists was actually a bad thing because it means men are missing out. Typically, I wouldn’t sink so low as to engage with such an utter imbecile, but as a woman and musician, I can’t bite my tongue any longer. It is nothing but revolting scaremongering to suggest that any gender quota could ever disadvantage men, let alone a quota that only requires 40% of any given committee, line-up, or shortlist to be women.

It is also transparently misogynistic to harp on about merit at the same time as insisting men will be missing out in favour of women who don’t deserve to be there, as though there is some never-ending, magic pool of hyper-talented men and only two gifted women in the whole world. To put it very simply, there are five women finalists for the Silver Scrolls because they are five musicians who wrote accomplished and popular songs. They were selected for the shortlist based on merit, and they were voted for by their peers based on merit. There was no conspiracy to exclude men in favour of women, and there literally never has been.

A bad opinion combined with five amazing women musicians (sorry!)

Though it is exhausting to outline them, there is a counter-argument to every single banal point raised by these sad little men, and these counter-arguments are not founded on decades of girls not finding you as clever as you find yourself. Every time someone suggests that we need a quota because women are often excluded or overlooked due to longstanding, systemic oppression, the MRAs bring up fields where women tend to outnumber men. Why don’t we have gender quota that favour men in nursing? they ask, like they’ve caught you with your pants down. Okay sure, it would be awesome if more men took up nursing as a profession. But do you know why they don’t? Because nursing involves altruistically caring for others, and this kind of work is very much coded as women’s work. Men are perhaps less likely to become nurses because traditional masculinity means boys aren’t taught the value of empathy and caring for others in the same way that girls are. Nursing is not valued as a career that “real” men should pursue.

It is really remarkable how men like this love to suggest the patriarchy is an imaginary bogeyman invented by women to garner sympathy, and therefore privilege, and yet they’re the ones simpering about how there are forces at work keeping them out of healthcare roles, teaching and ballet. Of course, they think women are behind this but, big surprise, it’s the big old patriarchy bogeyman coming for them too. They’re just too busy feeling sorry for themselves to see it.

These big babies also love to bring up race as insensitively as they can, blundering on about how “Asians” supposedly outnumber other ethnicities in classical music and tacitly suggesting that white people should be outraged by this. Should we have a quota to address under-representation of certain ethnicities in certain fields? they sneer, as though it is the most ridiculous question ever asked. The answer is yes, we should. The New Zealand music industry consistently privileges white musicians. Māori and Pacific music is underappreciated and represented at awards ceremonies, New Zealand hip-hop is not given the credit it is due, alternative music scenes exclude people of colour and are often openly racist. These are huge problems in our community, and while a gender quota is a step in the right direction there is still so much more we need to do to address inequality in music.  

We all know, however, what the driving force is behind these pathetic, attention-seeking debates regarding whether women have the right to be present at an event or to win a fucking prize: pure, unbridled envy. White men in Dunedin (and New Zealand) think they are entitled to the world and there is nothing more painful to them than seeing women standing on the stage they think they should own. They cannot fathom the idea that some woman might be better than them so they set her up as the recipient of some sort of pity prize handout. Let me be clear: the only thing that’s a given for women in music is condescending advice and virulent abuse. If you’re a white cis dude and you can’t win a prize or get picked for a lineup it’s because you’re not good enough despite centuries of privilege. And quite frankly, when the quota still favours you at 60%, the polite thing to do is to shut the fuck up and maybe try writing a good song.


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