26 Nov 2017

Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum: Sexism in the music industry

From Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum, 4:06 pm on 26 November 2017
Geneva Alexander-Marsters, Jessie Moss, Rose Matafeo, Dianne Swann, Ladi6

Geneva Alexander-Marsters, Jessie Moss, Rose Matafeo, Dianne Swann, Ladi6 Photo: Auckland Museum

In her daytime job as a new entrant teacher who also works in play centres, musician and writer Jessie Moss gets a close-up view of the effect of the differences in upbringing between boys and girls.

"Girls are socialised with learned technophobia from when they’re really young to adulthood.”

By contrast, boys are guided by what Jess describes as 'this invisible hand' into dismantling things, taking risks, and pulling things apart. For them, getting it wrong and failing is ok, whereas girls tend to be educated about the need to get it right the first time.

Matt Bianco's backing singers

Matt Bianco's backing singers Photo: Flickr / Andrew Hurley

And she sees those early differences engrained as children grow up. At secondary school, the segregation can be seen in the different kinds of subjects they pick up, and what they’re encouraged into doing.

The effect on women’s future lives is profound. The music industry is no different.

“When you look at women’s backgrounds from when they’re tiny – in my new entrants’ class – there are all these little incremental steps along the way.

"We don’t just suddenly become this musician who doesn’t have much of a background in technology and doesn’t know how to work their gear so well. It happens way back and it builds throughout time.”

If there is one message Jess would like girls to accept, it’s that they hold on to their instruments.

“Don’t be told to put them down. When you look at youth orchestras, there’s an equal spread of girls and boys, but as they get older, they get funnelled into a very narrow row.”

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Photo: Pixabay

Girls become vocalists and play strings and keyboards, but it's a different matter for boys.

The more an instrument is associated with technology, the less likely a woman is to participate. The more associated with the body – vocals, string instruments, maybe guitar – the more likely it is to be a woman.

The resulting power imbalance affects all levels of the music industry, from the programming of festivals to the role of women in music awards.

Moss argues that we need to look critically at who’s booking these festivals, who the promoters are, and the nature of the bro-conomy that they’re tapping in to:

“Because it is their mates. And it’s the guys they went to high school with.” A male reader of something Moss wrote recently reacted defensively to her analysis of this sexism, saying something like, “Talent first.” She felt strongly that he was missing the whole point, ignoring women’s lives and women’s experience.

The culmination of this attitude in the music industry is the sexism which tells women, “This is your space, you can be a vocalist, you’re here to look nice, or you can be a model and present the award at the Vodafone Music Awards because that’s something that we need to happen.”

Jess Moss was speaking at Late At The Museum as part of a panel discussion hosted by Rose Matafeo, which also included musicians Ladi6, Dianne Swann and Geneva Alexander-Marsters (SoccerPractise). It was recorded for RNZ's series Smart Talk.

About the participants

Geneva Alexander-Marsters, Jessie Moss, Rose Matafeo, Dianne Swann, Ladi6

Geneva Alexander-Marsters, Jessie Moss, Rose Matafeo, Dianne Swann, Ladi6 Photo: Auckland Museum

Geneva Alexander-Marsters

Geneva fronts the Auckland band SoccerPractise. To her, music has always provide an escape from convention, an expression of her own self-confidence and a way to explore social issues. Earlier this year, Geneva's involvement in the Pop Waiata project exposed audiences to te reo Maori on public transport.

SoccerPractise 's Geneva on language diversity in the alternative scene

Jessie Moss

Jessie Moss is primary school teacher, musician, writer and te reo Māori enthusiast who lives in Newtown, Wellington with her partner and their two daughters. She spends any spare time reading, thinking and writing about society, our histories and how we live today. Her interests outside music focus on politics, ducation, gender and how Pākehā interact with Te Ao Māori.

Jessie Moss analyses the 2017 Silver Scrolls

Rose Matafeo – Chair

Rose Matefeo is a comedian, writer and actor. In 2010 she won Best Newcomer at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, going on to win the prestigious Billy T Award in 2013. She made her Edinburgh debut in 2016 and in 2017 she garnered five-star reviews for her latest work Sassy Best Friend. Rose wrote, produced and starred in the TV3 show Funny Girls, a six-part sketch series featuring a team and cast of talented female writers and performers.

Rose Matafeo talks to the Wireless

Dianne Swann

Dianne began her career as vocalist and songwriter for her band Everything That Flies, she then went on to become one of the original members of When the Cats Away, and released a solo song Something Good, which achieved NZ Top 20 chart status and a Silver Scroll nomination. In the UK she formed the critically-acclaimed band The Julie Dolphin with Brett Adams, and the couple moved back to New Zealand after to form The Bads.

Dianne Swann talks about music with Jesse Mulligan


Ladi6 has collaborated with numerous local artists, toured Europe extensively and in 2013 worked with US artist Waajeed to produce Automatic. This year Ladi6 was nominated for best soul Album of the Year and best single of the year at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. Her latest EP release Our Royal blue 3000 topped the alternative charts the Heatseeker charts and debuted in the top 10 New Zealand albums chart.

Ladi6's personal tour of 'her' Christchurch

Bic Runga performs for Late at Auckland Museum

Bic Runga performs for Late at Auckland Museum Photo: Auckland Museum / Ralph van der Broeck

Bic Runga talks to Jesse Mulligan

Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum is a part of the LATE at Auckland Museum season.

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Photo: Auckland Museum