Misogyny in electronic dance music (EDM) culture

Electronic dance music (EDM) emerged out of the disco scene of the seventies, and was later influenced by techno culture of the eighties and rave culture in the nineties. Dance music culture today retains aspects of the alternative politics of its predecessors, and asserts itself as a welcoming and progressive space, particularly with respect to gendered identities and sexual orientations.  It has been claimed that EDM culture is a potential feminist, or post-feminist space as it provides freedom from gender discrimination. However, there are limits to the progressive potential of EDM cultures, and continued experiences of gender discrimination among female Disc Jockey’s (DJs), suggest alternative politics may be more imagined than real.
EDM is a broad term, and encompasses many forms of electronic dance music. Generally speaking it can be defined as any form of electronically produced music that is intended to be danced to, and is often performed by DJs in clubs, at parties and at other events. EDM is removed from the sphere of popular music and contains many sub-genres and sub-cultures. EDM culture is the organisation of these individual events, and the associated norms and values, or practices, beliefs, behaviours and experiences of individuals and groups. In this article, I will focus primarily on EDM culture by exploring the experiences of female DJs to examine how alternative politics inherited by EDM culture play out in the lived experiences of women.
DJ music cultures are historically connected to African American males, but more recently EDM has breached racial and geographical divides (Rowley, 2009). EDM DJs are still predominantly male, and women are seen as atypical DJs who are often taken less seriously than their male counterparts (Rowley, 2009). Similarly the experiences of women have been absent from scholarly literature on EDM culture, and female DJs are underrepresented in the research into the experiences of individuals at these events. There has been some scholarly debate, however, about the potential of EDM cultures as feminist or post-feminist spaces, highlighting the alternative, progressive and revolutionary possibilities (Pini, 2001). Such assertions are often founded upon a belief that EDM culture is somewhat of a social and political utopia; a place where individuals are free from gender discrimination, and broader social constraints. Gender and sexual expressions are said to be liberated, and individuals can free themselves from repressive gender norms and dynamics (Pini [2001], St John [2006]).
The lived experiences of female participants in EDM culture contradict the idea of the culture as a utopia, and this is particularly evident in stories of female EDM DJs (Rowley [2009], and Gadir [2016]). Female DJs face all the typical issues associated with working in a male dominated space, such as male centred hiring practices and struggling to be accepted as ‘one of the guys’ (Rowley, 2009). In addition to this, female DJs are often objectified by marketers, promoters and record labels in an attempt to segment and redefine the, once almost exclusively, male market. This is often achieved through the use of gendered signals and symbols, including hyperfeminised and sexualised images of female DJs, making them subjects of the male gaze.  Female DJs are increasingly vulnerable to becoming display objects, as the role of the DJ becomes increasingly central in EDM culture, and the expectation of visual performances become greater (Rowley, 2009). Representations of femininity in EDM cultures are often limited, and confined to hegemonic displays and stereotypical symbols of femininity. The sexualisation of women in promotion material not only sets expectations for the appearance of the female DJs, but also for female participants.

What you find when typing "female DJ" into Google. Source: dreamstime.com

The alternative politics of EDM culture may be more conceptualized than real, with transformative and liberating spaces the exception rather than the rule. Despite some notable exceptions such as the gay club scene that has prevailed against a backdrop of heteronormativity (Pini, 2001), and the Australian psytrance movement, that promotes performativity and facilitates identity formation (Tramacchi, 2001) - EDM culture is not immune to everyday gender dynamics. Women are resisting the unequal power balance in EDM culture: female DJs in Chicago employ strategies as acts of resistance to challenges they face because of their gender. One particular strategy is the establishment of collectives (Rowley, 2009). Collectives in music subcultures empower women through the principle of safety in numbers, and help female DJs to gain power they may not hold individually. Female DJ collectives also exist in Australia, such as Luna Chicks but these as yet remain an under-researched phenomenon. Female collectives have been well documented in other musical movements, such as the Riot Grrrl collective, and have been demonstrated to provide women with a group identity, increased physical safety and social status as well as providing ethical guidance to members(Rowley, 2009).
The experiences of female DJs in EDM cultures should remind us to be critical as feminists, and to reflect and examine the merits of a place, space or movement that claims to have broken free of the patriarchal constraints of everyday life. Through the stories and experiences of women we gain a clearer insight into how gender dynamics impact on their works as EDM DJs and the means by which they resist this and strive for change. EDM culture is not a utopia for many women, and alternative claims are likely more based on an idealization than the reality. Claims of solidarity and free expression fall short when female DJs performative identities are systematically objectified and prescribed. Patriarchy permeates every sphere, and EDM culture is not insusceptible to the symptoms of misogyny and sexism. Stories of women’s resistance give us hope though, as we see individuals pushing for change. Equality doesn’t happen by accident, and if EDM culture wants to affirm an equal, welcoming and safe space for women it must be done with intention.

By: Irene Squires

Gadir, T. (2016), ‘Resistance or reiteration? Rethinking gender in DJ cultures’, Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 115-129, Routledge
Pini, M. (2001), ‘Club cultures and female subjectivity: the move from home to house’, New York, Palgrave
Rowley, ML. (2009), ‘For a girl, you really can throw down: women in Chicago house music scene’, Michigan State University, pp. 9-47
St. John, G. (2006), ‘Electronic dance music culture and religion: An overview’, Culture and Religion, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 1-25
Tramacchi, D. (2000), ‘Field tripping: Psychedelic communitas and ritual in the Australian bush’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 15, No.2, pp. 201-213
Luna Chicks - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1671921306451770/


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