Gender Bias in the Music Industry

Women experiencing gender bias in the music industry is unfortunately not a new concept. Though, in a post #MeToo era, could we finally see a change in the current music industry narrative? 


According to a Women in the U.S. Music Industry Obstacles and Opportunity survey in 2019, the self-employed and freelancers in the industry have experienced the most gender bias, with 84% reporting that they have been treated differently due to their gender. 


However, this has not stopped the rise of the success of women in the industry. In 2019 14.4% of songwriters were women: an obvious rise compared to 11.6% in 2018. This certainly doesn’t hide the fact, however, that only 22.5% of the top songs in 2019 were created by women. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed that statistics such as these are most likely a result of objectification, stereotyping, and being a statistical minority.


Since the beginning of popular music between the 1930s and early 1960s, all-girl musician groups and bands have been popular but have always played the part that the industry would allow. By the 1980s however, female musicians began to explore more traditionally male-dominated genres such as Hard Rock and Metal. 


Joan Jett, whose single I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll reached no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100-year-end chart for 1982, has shared the difficulties she faced as an aspiring musician. The film The Runaways, about her band of the same name’s rise to fame, included a scene where she was discouraged by her guitar teacher from playing rock as it was for men. Fortunately, this did not stop her from creating one of the most controversial yet prominent all-girl bands in rock music. Since the band’s disbandment, Joan Jett, as well as other members of the band (Cherie Currie and Lita Ford) have all continued a career in the industry.


Of course, the rock industry is just one of many where women have been incredibly successful. Between the 1990s and 2000s, all-female pop groups began to rise in popularity. Groups such as Destiny’s Child – composed of the incredibly famous Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams – released a best selling second album The Writing’s on the Wall in 1999. In the UK, the all-girl group the Spice Girls formed in 1994 released the single Wannabe, which reached number 1 in 37 different countries. 


A more recent example is Little Mix, a successful all-girl group formed during the 8th series of The X Factor UK in 2011 who have had several number 1 singles, including Wings in 2012 and Shout Out to My Ex in 2016. Even though they represent the success women can have in the industry, members of the group have faced unfair bias and hate. 


Jesy Nelson, one member of the group, created a documentary called IOdd One Out’ with the BBC in 2019 in response to internet trolls who would attack her for her body image. Since school, Nelson has struggled with her appearance, but the cyberbullying she received after her rise to fame drove her to attempt suicide in 2013. In 2020 she announced that she would be departing from Little Mix to focus on her mental health.


Several organisations celebrate women in music and are attempting to highlight the importance of a fairer industry. Below are links to some of the most prominent organisations which can offer advice, support and further research into this topic:


International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM):


Women in Music (WIM-UK):


Photo from IAWM


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