What it’s like to be a girl in MIA (and The Music Industry):

What it’s like to be a girl in MIA (and The Music Industry):

Apparently, the 2015-2016 academic year was a bad one for equal gender representation in the Music industry Arts program at Algonquin College. Out of the 500+ audition applicants, and the 80 that were let in, six were female. One was me, and due to how the classes were split, I was the only girl in a lot of them.

Each of my highly qualified and dynamic professors were men. I was given opportunities to succeed (and sometimes fail) the way my other classmates were. There weren’t any profs who disliked me or were unnecessarily tough, but I’m not sure how much of that is personality. It was all undercurrent little things that would remind me that I was the minority, and those got me wondering about the industry as a whole.

One of my examples was an on-the-spot test question we were each given individually. It was a scenario-style written long answer, where we had to build the business plan for operating our own home recording studio. Naturally, I wanted to put my heart and soul into this project, so went for as realistic as possible. Several minutes in, I realized that inviting strange “musicians” to my apartment and expecting money for my recording work wasn’t going to go smoothly every time, and that I would probably need a (physically imposing) business partner included in my plan. I was running out of time to start over, so I just did as I was told and wrote a little note at the end, explaining how that wouldn’t be safe, and how disappointed I was that I could not make the question more realistic, like I had wanted to so badly. That evening, I got an email from the professor who wrote and marked the test. It was a cold explanation of the definition of a scenario question. I felt humiliated weeks after that. Post-Secondary is about meeting people with all sorts of experiences and view points, and I felt singled out for having a different perspective. But stories like that are few and far between.

I’ve noticed that girls, when they’re alone in the company of a group of men will take on one of these general roles, more or less.

  1. The Smart One, who is also cold and calculating.
  2. The Beautiful/Feminine One, who is also rather stupid.
  3. The Nice One, who is basically one of the guys.

Heaven forbid she’s a kind and pretty human being, with a brilliant mind as well. No one outright

tells a girl she has to be one of these, and I don’t know where the types come from. But if you ever turn on a sitcom, dial in onto a three person radio show, or hey, watch people in real life, you’re bound to notice that these patterns repeat, time and time again. I, for example, fall into the “Smart but Cold” pigeonhole in the classroom – it’s also the “type” many female politicians get categorized under.

Everyone has their faults and quirks, but it’s as if these almost self-imposed roles make young women flash a stereotyped and easy to identify one to the world.  Forget “Queen Bees and Wannabes” – the classic parenting psychology book, which explores the social dynamics of teenaged girls. This narrows it down to three, which cannot be shaken off as high school ends.

My mum was surprised when I casually mentioned the classroom demographics in conversation during the first month of school. “But there was a girl in the college program promotional pictures” (because college promotional pictures are always accurate representations of actual demographics)! It got me thinking: why are there only six girls in a music program?

I won’t let anyone tell me that girls simply aren’t good enough at high school English class, or creative enough for the audition tapes of only six to be accepted. Because it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Maybe there isn’t enough of an interest in that particular field of study. Not enough interest in those types of careers. How often do we hear about about female audio engineers, for example? Better yet, how often do we hear about them, and then go back to enjoying the music, without caring?

I want society to get to the point where a woman being the behind-the-scenes mastermind is no longer the punchline. Yes, different people with different perspectives can bring in nuances and details into art. But at the end of the production, it still has to be enjoyable and able to stand on its own – not propped up by who made it.

In North America (where I live), amazing leaps forward have been made to let (white, middle-class) girls like me go to college and earn jobs. That’s an incredible thing, and I am grateful to every person (female and male) who fought for that. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go – I want to see every little girl have the same opportunities as the boy next door, without working twice as hard. However, I would love gender equality, not gender privilege. Yes, it’s a very good thing to encourage young women to go into field where there aren’t many of them. As long as we want to go in the first place. Sweetening the deal by guaranteeing us a place in college or a job after, only to make promotional photos look good isn’t helping anyone.

When I applied for MIA and got in, never once did I ask myself “will there be any girls there?”. I didn’t care; I still don’t. Other than the time with the test question, I never made a big deal out of my birth gender. I dressed myself up however I wanted (floral leather boots and waterproof mascara, please) and tried extremely hard to make kindness an easily apparent part of my personality. Occasionally, there were times I didn’t raise my hand when I knew the answer, or didn’t ask for help when I should have – it was hard to admit weakness, even when going through issues in my personal life. Because if I’m confident in myself and the work I do, I don’t need to compare myself to the young men next to me, or see them as rivals, purely by gender. I consider my looks to be passable, and wasn’t trying to make any classmates my boyfriend. I consider friendliness to be a facet of my being, but didn’t need to stoop down to the level of laughing at (immature) jokes I didn’t think were funny. No one went easy on me, nor should they have had to. I got to where I am at now by pushing myself. Hard work doesn’t have a gender. When I confided in a classmates that I had been offered a management position at a record label, he told me that, as a matter of fact, he’d always thought I would be one of the select few students to make it in our field of study.

I’m doing MIA over two years, instead of a super condensed one. As of this September, we are two girls in my class (improvement!). She’s a really sweet, a type three. There is also a boy who never stops talking. A few days ago, a classmate was taking suggestions for memorable quotes from our profs, preferably ones that made us laugh. The loud-boy jumped into the conversation, and adds

“‘Statutory rate” as said by the Dean. And then, in brackets, we put ‘admit it, we all laughed at that one’.” 

Statutory rates, in context, is a fixed price a CD pressing manufacturer has to pay. It has everything to do with dry budgeting, and there is no funny set-up associated with that particular part of the Dean’s lecture. This student was chuckling because of how the word could be changed, if replacing T-P, and didn’t seem to notice that no one else was chuckling along. If he had been the only male in that classroom, chances are he wouldn’t have put his thoughts into words, and expected people to laugh.

Some days, I think gender equality in my world is going pretty well. Then, I hear stories in the news, am told not to accept meals from big-shots in the music industry, or get sexually assaulted in the backroom by my manager at work – and I am reminded of what a big and scary world this is, even for “one of the select few.”

But there is hope. October 11th was International Day of the Girl. It’s what pushed me to write an article on this subject, one rattling in my mind for a long time. The increased media coverage on women’s rights and accompanying hashtags lets people find this very article, and ones like it.  My classes in college teach about feminism in history, but I’ll be honest, I was scared to write and publish my thoughts on this subject. Would no one read it? Would I get backlash from those who do? I mentioned earlier that hard work doesn’t have a gender. Well, neither does bravery. So for all you girls in high school dreaming of working in the music industry, and wanting to go to college for it… I know a place for you.

“Chantal Hackett on Following Dreams, Founding A Company, and Being Ready For The Fall”

“6 Things Teenager Musicians Shouldn’t Waste Their Money On”

“Rose Cora Perry on Charity Work, How Courtesy Works, and Defining Your Own Success.”

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