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Music, and for that matter merit, should not play second fiddle to gender ideology, writes Irian Scott.
This year's Silver Scroll awards are to be held in Dunedin later this month and all top five shortlisted artists are female. Some thing to celebrate, right? But are we celebrating music or gender ideology?
I ask this because of the announcement in July of a new gender-affirmative action regime by the Australasian Performing Right Association (Apra).
Its mission statement outlines a series of gender quotas favouring women across numerous Apra-related fields. Through a number of programmes and initiatives, Apra will guarantee more female inclusion which will extend to making the judging panel 40% female. Other areas where this 40% will be ''enforced'' include its ambassadors programme, songwriters programmes, seminars and songhub.
Presenters, and more crucially, performers at Apra events, must also see a 40% female placement thus elbowing a certain number of male artists off stage.
The stated premise for these policies is that female membership with Apra NZ is only about 23% and women lack visibility within the music industry, which it has deemed a problem. But it is a ''problem'' of which, by its own admission, it does not know the actual cause.
If alone, we deem low female membership a problem, surely we must also count the paucity of men within female-dominated industries such as nursing, teaching and the health sciences as a problem. Of course there is no problem. But there is personal choice.
Already these policies run into a conundrum. The question of what defines a female artist is not as banal as first seems because other than a female soloist, how do these policies apply to male artists and writers who perform with or are credited along with women? The question also starts to fracture along lines of transgender identity.
Apra's own research indicates girls initially have an interest in music but as they become adults that tends to drop. We also know some adolescent girls have an interest in horses but as they become older, boy bands start to replace International Velvet and long luscious equine manes. Women, like men, have preferences.
But the real drive for Apra is membership not gender justice. This is its reason for more ''inclusion''. More members, more fees for Apra. At present, fees are some 13c to the dollar or thereof collected from royalties on behalf of its members. It is a quid pro quo arrangement. But like the often misunderstood gender wage gap, this is where the tiresome gender narrative starts to kick in with the usual factoids and myths of music industry exclusion, systemic sexism, glass obstacles, machismo attitudes, ''expectations of childcare'' and the fictitious omnipresent patriarchy. They all serve some Rausch test of things imagined but not seen in reality.
We see the contradictions of the low visibility argument within reach of statistics from Apra Australia which show that in 2015 and 2016 female members received about twice as many nominations and awards than their male counterparts despite only making up just under 22% of that membership. Furthermore, this narrative cannot be countenanced by a recent trend which has seen female artists receive more Apra awards and recognition. Indeed, the current top five nominees already have local and international acclaim.
Elsewhere, radio stations have been widening the frequencies through strict quotas which guarantee more exposure and royalties for female artists. Our local student broadcaster, Radio One, has implemented gender quotas all designed to redress an imagined problem.
Unfortunately, the guiding hand involved is one of identity politics not fact-based reality. So if it starts with gender, it is not long before race becomes a remedial cause: should there be affirmative action for Polynesians in the classical music genre to counterbalance the prominence of Asians in that field?
Music, and for that matter merit, should not play second fiddle to gender ideology. This does not necessitate a caveat against mediocrity nor does this infer female artists are lacking in artistic merit. But if we continue to modify our artistic and political landscape to fit the going concerns of gender ideologues, then we run the risk of mediocrity taking hold.
Every musician knows exposure at highly publicised events is crucial for recognition and career advancement. Yet, gender policy regimes supposedly aimed to address an imbalance can end up creating an injustice. Rolling out a red carpet for female artists offers an easy pathway while male artists are placed further back in the queue.
Widening the frequencies of inclusion should not be done at the expense of tuning out others who are just as deserving. Overall, organisations that promote affirmative action policies are sending mixed signals; is it ''girl power'' or a handicap race?
- Irian Scott is a Dunedin writer and musician and current Apra member.