More men than women are performing at the highest professional level in the folk scene in Scotland. This can be seen in festival lineups, where more men than women are booked as headline acts. This is not due to a lack of female performers, as almost equal numbers of men and women claimed to have performed in public.
This article summarises the findings of my university research on gender equality in folk and traditional music. It covers the current state of gender equality in the creative sector; the areas of inequality; case studies of successful initiatives; and steps for improvement for folk and traditional music in Scotland.
Gender Equality in the Creative Sector
Although more women than men work in the arts sector in Scotland (68% female), they are less likely to specialise in music. This gender imbalance is confirmed by Musicians’ Union membership, with a 30:70 ratio of female to male members. There is also a marked difference in earnings according to gender. Women who work as freelance artists earn on average £13,000, compared to £18,000 average of men, and are more likely to work part-time and to take on unpaid work.
There is a lack of data on gender balance in the award of funding in Scottish music scene. However, the BIT Collective have done positive work identifying issues, and leading conferences, events and talks to discuss gender equality in folk music. Also, in 2017, Creative Scotland started to track the protected characteristics of funding applicants, in order to monitor any trends or gaps. This information is currently unavailable to the public, but is a positive step towards gender equality in funding. It is known, however, that more females working in the arts in Scotland perceive gender to be a barrier to career progression (44% of women compared to just 12% of men).
Reasons for Gender Inequality in Performance
Caring Responsibilities in Traditional Music
Women in the arts are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities.
Being self-employed negates entitlement to most maternity benefits, which contributes to the lack of self-employed women in the creative sector, including folk music. Many womenwho have studied folk music choose to find careers within the industry that are not performance based, due to stability and benefits of employed work.
Working intensely for varying lengths of time, followed by periods of no work, is becoming increasingly common and normalised within the creative industries, as financial gain becomes a more important factor than cultural value. This impacts women more, as the majority of primary carers are women.
It is often assumed that male bands, or male dominated bands are more appropriate for the party atmosphere of the club, and the all female, or female-led bands are more suited to a calmer atmosphere. Although there are a number of female-fronted bands creating driving music, in general there are more male dominated bands creating faster, louder music. As a society we follow what the rest of society deems as normal, so if some men started creating driving music, then others followed; then this became the norm.
It is important for creative programming that gender is not seen as a genre. Prominent folk festivals have stated that they already have one female band or female singer, so do not need another, or that they cannot find a female act that creates the driving music necessary for a headline or late night slot.
Lack of Role Models
If women see that they are not included in high profile events, they may assume they will not be included in the future, and therefore apply for fewer opportunities. This leads to lower self-confidence, which leads to lower expectations.
A Canadian study showed that a female role model more positively affected women, as they tended to identify more strongly with them, and due to gendered obstacles in their career paths, felt being able to see a successful woman was important in choosing a career. Men don’t seem to need male role models to the same extent.
If there are not as many women performing at festivals a high level, fewer women are likely to aim high.
So it looks like there are multiple barriers to progression for female musicians, including financial and practical pressures due to caring responsibilities, as well as confusion between ‘genre’ and ‘gender’ in festival programming. These barriers are further exacerbated by a lack of high-achieving female role models. There are, however, some steps being undertaken to try and improve the situation. These are briefly summarised below.
Case studies of Initiatives Promoting Gender Equality in the Arts
Performing Rights Society Foundation – Funding for Women
The project was formed to provide funding exclusively for women, and to promote new work of women in the UK after it was reported that in 2011 only 13% of PRS members were women. Success was evident in its first year running as the majority of applicants to Women Make Music had not applied for PRS funding before, and half hadn’t applied for any funding.
Swedish Model – Gender Equality
Studies in 2010 into gender equality in Swedish music found that only 24% of permanently employed people in music organisations were women, and 76% of funding went to men – 74% of applicants were men. To combat this, the Swedish government commissioned Swedish arts organisations to produce more opportunities for women in music. This includes gender balanced programming at festivals.
PIPA – Parents in Performing Arts
PIPA’s research highlights an imbalance of carer responsibilities between genders; lack of provision for self-employed workers with carer responsibilities; and exclusion of those with carer responsibilities through workplace structures and systems. 81% of self-employed carers stated that they had turned down work because of caring responsibilities. PIPA has produced a Best Practice Charter outlining a set of guiding principles to help organisations create a supportive working environment that is inclusive of those with caring responsibilities.
Suggestions for change to improve gender equality in the Scottish folk and traditional music scene
Firstly we need some research into the extent of current gender inequalities. In order to make, and record positive change, the present situation must be observed and analysed. This could be in the form of a commissioned report by the BIT Collective if appropriate funding was received.
There is little hope for progression towards gender parity with the current state of programming. Steps must be made towards more creative, innovative programming with a focus on gender balance.
However, as there are currently not as many women as men performing at the level of headline acts, the anxiety towards quota systems can be understood. A positive step forward would be for funding bodies, in particular Creative Scotland, to set guidelines for their funding recipients.
Equal representation on a funding panel could counteract unconscious bias. It has been shown that in selection interviews, both male and female interviewers have strong preferences to candidates of their own gender.
The success of the PRS Foundation Women Make Music funding campaign for women creating popular and classical musics, could be mirrored for traditional music and arts. Like the Feis Rois Tasgadh ‘Small Grants’ strand of Creative Scotland funding, there could be a separate small fund designated for women, or for projects which specifically raise the profile of female performers.
Support for Parents and Carers
As women are more likely to be have caring responsibilities, funding and support for carers would allow women equal opportunity to work and perform. This may be in the form of child friendly accommodation, or further research into what is needed to support parents in the arts.
By programming more women and supporting them through maternity and raising children, there will be more role models for aspiring musicians, which in time will increase the number of women performing, by validating performing as a traditional musician as an acceptable and achievable career.
There is a lot that can be improved in public funding to support and highlight the work done by creative women in the folk and traditional music scene in Scotland; and to encourage more women to follow a performance career. The most important step is to commission and publish further research to raise awareness of gender inequality in the folk and traditional music scene. To improve gender equality all people in the folk scene need to be aware, and involved in the movement; including men. By having clear evidence of inequalities this will help ground the movement and encourage more to be involved.