This year’s International Women’s Day Theme is #BreaktheBias. To me, this means to break the bias of many things, breaking stereotypes of what women are supposed to be, how we should act how we should speak, speaking generally of course. I think for me personally, this hits deeper because I feel like I live my life in industries that are considered male-dominated. Although that narrative is changing as we put more work in for equality and we see women rise up through the ranks, I feel like there are still biases that control others’ ways of thinking.
Take this study for example from Mohamed Kamal CEO and Founder of Unbias:
“When studying new songs to predict if they will be successful, the Unbias AI considers several hundred audio qualities. One is female vocals. In fact, whether a song has male or female vocal features is a powerful indicator. And yet, this gendered vocal data reveals so much more.
Details pulled from the audio files by the AI point to an unsettling truth: There is a bias in the industry against female artists. This bias is clear.
The data sets produced by Unbias show that female vocal features have a negative correlation with high performance. Broadly, this means that the presence of female vocal features might make a song less likely to land on popular playlists.”
He wanted to figure out why this was happening, but he came to this conclusion along with a few others:
“My gut says the biases in the industry are heavily spilling over into our models. I’d encourage academic and research-driven institutions to use our data for studies to gather official evidence.”
I’m a musician, I sing, play piano, write songs, and play the saxophone. It might be a contradiction for me to say ‘it’s a male’s instrument’ because truly nothing is a ‘male’ or ‘female’ instrument. But, do you ever stop and wonder why we think certain instruments or hobbies are considered ‘male’? There’s a ton of female saxophone players, Candy Dulfer, our own local Tia Fuller, Vi Reed, and the list goes on and on. I really do think it’s because of underrepresentation that we have these assumptions. Coming from personal experience, there have been many times in my life where I was taken less seriously as a musician because I was a woman. I can’t remember how many times I had to answer the question “So who plays the saxophone?” before I was going to play a show when it was literally just me or my partner who plays the guitar. There have been countless times where I have been told “A woman playing the saxophone is sexy” with complete disregard of the fact that I just played one of the best sets of my life. Point blank, break the bias, take me seriously, see me as an equal and treat me like the professional I am. I think biases can also be seen as being ‘positive’ when really it’s still harmful, to assume something about me just because I am a woman. I’ve had many people make the assumption that maybe because I am a woman I MUST approach things in a delicate and serine way because that’s a typical women stereotype.
Now, I’m not here just to complain about all the times I felt like somebody held their conscious or unconscious bias against me. But there’s one more thing I want to bring up. I started competitive powerlifting a few years ago, I am so in love with it. It’s great to have an actual hobby. However, I quickly noticed criticisms and unsolicited advice (which I get ALL the time as a woman in music as well). I have received several comments on social media videos from people I did not know making assumptions based on their own insecurities. Perhaps those aren’t the types of people that #BreaktheBias, but I think knowing that those types of people exist is important. I’ve had people assume many times that I wasn’t as strong as I am, or assume I’m going to get ‘hurt’, or that I do not know what I am doing purely because I am a woman. Luckily, the gym I go to does not have those types of people.
My point is, it’s really important to reflect on why you feel like you may have a bias, and break it down. Do the work. Pay attention to the things you may assume based on somebody’s gender identity. Next time you make an assumption about who is ‘more qualified’ based purely on looks and nothing else. Next time you may assume something about somebody’s ability or expertise purely based on their gender identity. Stop yourself, think about it, and assess it. While it may not always be somebody’s fault they are biased, it is their responsibility to challenge it and #BreaktheBias.