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International Women's Day is exhausting for many this year, and for good reason

8 March 2021 | 4:59 pm | Emma Jones

This International Women's Day and it's theme of "Choose to Challenge" has been met with exhaustion by many — and why wouldn't it be?

March 8th marks International Women's Day, a day we all come together to not only celebrate and reflect, but look forward to the path ahead. It should be a day in which we are able to celebrate the great triumphs of the previous twelve months, but in 2021, International Women's Day and its theme “Choose to Challenge” have been met with an attitude of exhaustion from many whom the day is for — and why wouldn't it be?

2021 is only three months in, and already we are seeing reckonings involving politicians at the most senior levels in Australia and sexual assault allegations. We've seen 66 women die because of domestic violence in this country in the last twelve months. Aboriginal children are still ripped from their mothers and trans lives are still under attack. We're seeing more abusers being exposed in the music industry, and the consequent fall outs from these exposures. We've seen major jobs go to those already at the top, and we're seeing the ongoing challenges involved in managing a global pandemic.

During the global pandemic, we've witnessed that the more marginalised you are, the more likely you were to fall victim to losing your job or experiencing a reduction in your hours of paid work. New research has shown that "post-pandemic, the workforce gender pay gap is 31%". This has certainly been the case within the music industry globally, due to men predominantly being employed in higher-level and more secure positions, while women are overwhelmingly employed in lower-level, more insecure, and lower paid positions. But this phenomenon has been even more pronounced where people experience marginalisation on multiple fronts, such as for First Nations women, Black women and women of colour, disabled women, queer women, and trans and gender non-conforming people.

A 2017 report titled 'Skipping A Beat' looked into "Assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry," and called the gender gap "pervasive and chronic." While some strides towards improvement have indeed been made in the years since, the fact of the matter still stands that women are underrepresented at "almost every level - including on festival lineups, on the boards of peak music bodies, on radio, and at record labels" (Hack, 2020). Further, those who do dare to try and forge a career in music are consistently met with obstacles such as pay discrepancies, systemic sexism and misogyny, and the sometimes seemingly omnipresent threat of sexual harassment or assault. It is sometimes seemingly omnipresent due to the anecdotal reality many women face of having to be present at industry events with men who we are told to "just steer clear of when he's drinking," or to not be left alone with. Instagram account Beneath The Glass Ceiling has been anonymously attempting to call out bad behaviour, offering survivors a platform to share their stories without the threat of a defamation case being brought against them — something which has repeatedly happened in the Australian music industry when trying to hold perpetrators to account.

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So, it makes sense that this International Women's Day is met with a somewhat lacklustre feeling from many. For women in music, it is a day in which record labels, agents and other corporations quickly rush to post their #IWD social content before returning to business as usual with their predominantly male rosters, booking their predominantly male line ups, making their inappropriate jokes, and protecting abusers within their ranks until they are forced by public pressure to do something about it (which is rare in itself).

As Hack pointed out, all male acts still dominate radio airplay, festival line ups still are skewed towards being more male dominated, and there remains a significant gap when it comes to songwriters with only one in five members being women, therefore making up about 20 percent of payments made. In that same year, the representation of women on public boards of peak music bodies was 38 per cent, while the number of music students in universities showed a skew towards being male dominated as well. triple j itself had more male feature albums in 2019, and none of the last five years of its listener-voted Hottest 100 countdowns have achieved parity.

It's funny then that the theme of 2021's International Women's Day is "Choose To Challenge," something many already do every day. For so many of us, driven by a deep passion and love of music, it's not a choice that women in music, and beyond, challenge every day. It's simply something we have to do. We already front up. We do the work. We call people out. Every day we are operating in this industry is a choice to turn up. A choice to engage. A choice to work WITH the system to make it fairer and more equitable for us all, rather than simply rejecting it, leaving it completely or attempting to start our own. And despite the challenges each day brings, we choose to do it all again the next day. Every single day there is something that makes us return to our desks, even on those days when life would be easier if we left altogether.

We already challenge every single day we show up after reading the news and seeing another abuser escaping justice, or another victim not believed. We already challenge, as we continue to do our very best and work at least ten times harder, only for someone else to come along afterwards, say the same thing we just said and have it met with applause and adulation while we are left scratching our heads as to why no one heard us the first time. We challenge the very systems in place which are not designed to benefit or protect us when we agitate, organise, and once again do the enormous emotional labour every IWD by practically publicly begging our colleagues and peers to treat us how we deserve to be treated. We already challenge by showing up to do the same, or more work, as our male colleagues only to be paid less than them, and to be respected less than them. We "Choose to Challenge" every goddamn day, especially in 2021, to dare exist in an industry which is happy to profit off us but continues to go silent when we need help protecting us.

Every year, we are met with the same empty platitudes of men saying they need to do better. In 2020, we saw that amplified when the world stood still and made space for Black Lives Matter and finally took a look at what we can do to improve the society around us. However, much like every ‘special’ day, business went back to normal. How many businesses significantly implemented change? How many businesses committed to moving forward? And how many have stuck to their word? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves this International Women's Day, a day which is so much more than just cupcakes and brunches and flowers. We "Choose to Challenge" every day already. When will the rest of the world join us?

Words by Emma Jones

Image by Molly Adams