Satirical Sexism Gone Wrong: Women in Music Tech

Satirical Sexism Gone Wrong: Women in Music Tech

Musician and producer Angharad van Rijswijk (ACCÜ, and former one half of Trwbador) shines a spotlight on the macho world of music tech. 

So I read a tweet this morning posted by musician Rosie Smith, from Oh Peas! (@ohpeas) that read, “I am so hideously bored of studio machismo, it’s the fucking pits.”

I decided to write a bit about it rather than just cramming my points in a series of 140 character slots.
Reading Rosie’s tweet got me remembering some things, including flashbacks from my college years. I’m sharing this as a 25 year old, before you start thinking I’m reminiscing back to the 70s here. It wasn’t that long ago really, is what I’m trying to say. My fingers couldn’t help but to reply in solidarity and to share some of my experiences. What does it mean to be female, studying in the field of music tech? Really, it shouldn’t mean anything. You are studying what interests you and that’s that, right?

In school as an adolescent woman, I enjoyed making tunes and I was never really questioned or made to feel uncomfortable in pursuing it. A big turning point for me was my amazing guitar teacher at the time who went on to introduce me to the world of production and recording in my GCSE years. He was someone I trusted and respected and he planted the fire in my belly that would then go on to take me to study Music Tech. More on him later.

I learnt a lot about what it meant to be a woman on a music tech course just on the first day of college. We all gathered in a room for some kind of registration. A room filled with approximately 100 people. Three of which were women.

That was lesson number one for me right there. I really had no idea that a course like this would or could be so one-sided in the sense of gender. At this point it doesn’t scare me, but it does surprise me.
A strange sense of duty was planted in me that day, a sense of duty that has gone on to sprout and grow. It still co-exists with me to this day. I thought at the time that I owed it to my gender to see this course through. This was definitely something I did not expect myself to think or feel on my first day of college. My world as a musician was changing.

Today on twitter we go on to discuss some of our grim experiences of being female in the music tech education system.

IMG_0468One particular story I shared with Rosie on twitter was about the day my year were preparing for our final live show in college. Live streaming visuals were being prepared and projected while we rehearsed. My friend (who I have to add at this point is female) and I were rehearsing on our guitars. All of a sudden the whole room (of men) start laughing towards our direction, but they are not looking us in the eyes. Confused, I follow their gaze which leads my gaze to the projector board behind us where both of our breasts are being filmed on full projector view. To my disappointment, I see the lecturer is joining in and is also laughing. My friend and I just looked at each other pretty much speechless, and all we could say at that point was “What the fuck? This is so fucking weird.” I felt like running out the studio, but you also have to play your cool. After all, no one wants to be THAT person who is “triggered” by satirical sexism right?

The lecturer, who I shall not name, did come up to me to apologise, only after everyone had left. What I wanted to say as my response was “Your apology counts for shit, mate; you just a-ok’d it to a room full of adolescent men that the objectification of women is totally hilarious and fine to do.” My real response was something along the lines of, “Oh, nevermind, what are you gonna do?” which was regrettably a rhetorical question.

Satirical Sexism in Education…

Something else Rosie and I to and fro’d on twitter was the notion that is satirical sexism. When and should satirical sexism happen? Now, I’m not telling anyone how to be a comedian here, but personally, for it to work, it has to be funny (arguably) and relevant to the environment or individuals to make it satirical. In these types of courses it’s hard to hide the imbalance of gender, it’s so ridiculous and obvious that satire inescapably is born from it. But when does satirical sexism become just plain good old-fashioned sexism?

For me, that thin line between satirical and actual sexism were presented to me when one day I just said it wasn’t funny anymore. Guys, it’s…boring. Can we all just get on with it now please? The same shitty jokes day after day that are beginning to sound really suspicious. It’s the responses you get that turn from cheeky elbow nudging satire to nasty biting stereotypical beliefs. It turns out they do think and believe most of the things they say, just not in the way they like to be perceived. How very clever, you can say what you like, but call it a joke. LOL.

At this point Gwenno (Musician, singer and producer @gwennosaunders) joins the conversation on Twitter and responds with “I always hoped that it would be better within education, with more scrutiny somehow. So depressing to learn that.”

This was her response to a college memory of mine, where I walked past one of the studios in college to see a female peer working in there. I chatted with her later that day because I wanted to tell her it was great to see her in the studio. In actuality she was there just cleaning up the wires for the boys (her words) while they got on with the more tech stuff. She was on the same course and in the same year as them.

Later that year she dropped out the course. Later that day I felt really bad about myself at the fact I was surprised to see her in the studio. Why should I be surprised? She had every right to be in there and to learn just as much as the others. I shouldn’t even have approached her about it, because it should have been a normal fucking thing that does not need mentioning. We were on a bloody tech course after all! Tsjonge, jonge jonge! Is what we would say in the Netherlands (meaning,‘Boy oh boy!’)

The stories and memories go on. I won’t bore you with them all nor have I written this piece to vent and moan, but we should talk about something here. It’s not a new topic, that’s for sure, but it is getting old…and boring. My educational experiences were not all that long ago really, to clarify the sense of time, all we had was MSN and myspace, before the time people used social media to call out or discuss all kinds of social and political topics. It is possible these things were not discussed as much or called out as a result of the lack of platforms for discussion, which social media grants us more with these days. However, even with these platforms, these behaviours are still ongoing. So what’s the problem?

Post education, talking now in the professional field, all kinds of versions of these things still happen. Perhaps not as direct as the filming of right breasts flopping over guitars, blown up on projectors for the entertainment of a penis filled room. Although if that was a metaphor (I wish it was) then yes, these things still do happen.

When I was 18 I joined a band called Trwbador, which was a uni project that Owain Gwilym had started at Caerleon university. I’d started Uni in Cardiff at the Atrium that September, but later dropped out after 4 months so I could focus on what I enjoyed best; songwriting, producing, recording and singing.

I felt I’d learnt enough from college to take me forward to what I wanted to do, without all the student debt.

Being in a “boy/girl” duo was strange. I’ll disclose one example I remember, when we officially stated in our bios that we both shared production duties equally, I would later find out blogs and writers changing things round, saying that I was just the singer. Being female in the context of a male musical presence exempt me from being a musician, recording artist or producer. I’m sure the writers were not aware with the (hopefully) accidental changes, but again it’s another example of not realising your position of responsibility on such platforms. Whether you are a lecturer, teacher, parent or a writer for a music blog, these are platforms that are supposed to inform and educate. It’s taking extra special care in these little actions and details that would really go a long way, I think.

That sense of duty I mentioned earlier that implanted itself in me on my first day of college went on to become my friend. She sits on my shoulder and has been sat there ever since. She did not die the day I finished education. Oh no. She’s still with me. She’s not angry or triggered. Simply dutiful. Making sure I do what I do because I want to and have the right to. She acts as a type of replacement from the words of encouragement that I received from my old guitar teacher. However I was saddened to discover he was facing jail time for grooming, harassing and stalking underage girls that he was teaching in school. It got me thinking, was his enthusiasm for me even genuine? Was his much needed encouragement at the time for me just a grooming ploy?

Of course I count myself very lucky that I didn’t fall victim to any of his convictions, and yet I can’t escape the feeling that I had also been fooled.

Boys will be Boys…

Where does this all even start? Personally I thought it all began in college, but if I pause and think a little harder, it’s always been there, just not in the context of music tech. My earliest memory? It would have to be when I was around 5 or 6. I was on the schoolyard swing and I was punched hard in the face by a boy a bit older than me, because he wanted to use the swing, he didn’t even ask. Attack and claim was his approach. I informed the (female) teacher and she told me, “Well you should have given him a go on the swing when he wanted to, you teased him with the swing.” It literally sounds like a shit metaphor for victim blaming, but that’s exactly what it was. Later I went home with a black eye.

Second earliest memory? Would have to be when I was around 9, again in school, where I was pinned down by all the boys in my class, so one boy could shove his tongue in my mouth, again I reported it to a (female) teacher, her response was “Boys will be boys”.

I hated that phrase. I went on to hear it so many times in secondary school as a response from teachers when reporting harassment. It’s so lazy. Boys will be boys literally translated to me “I can’t be bothered to deal with this, so whatever”.

So it’s all beginning to make sense now. Why this shit still carries on into higher forms of education and then later on in professional fields. It’s clear that not enough is being taught or perhaps more importantly, led by example. My fifteen year old sister had to change schools because of this type of harassment (of the physical and life threatening kind that is). This amongst other things that have happened to friends, peers and so on, tells me there is still not enough being done in our education system. By education system, I don’t exclusively mean just schools, college’s, universities etc.

Education in the home, on the street, in work and so on. The problem from my point of view is that it’s tolerated, and tolerance sieves through and through and through, until you end up one day with this weird semi-transparent fog that lingers cunningly and confused. It doesn’t know wether it wants to be a soft or a satirical sexism.

Anyway, that sororal friend called duty I was telling you about is telling me to stop writing and to get on with my album. Ymlaen!


Accǜ is Netherlands born musician and recording artist (Angharad van Rijswijk). The half Welsh half Dutch songwriter moved to Wales as a child and has gone on to collaborate with artists such as writer/comedian Stewart Lee and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Richard James.

The name Accǜ, meaning accumulator in Dutch, was chosen for the nature of how she approaches her work lyrically, visually and often sonically.

This article first appeared on the ACCÜ blogspot.