Music industry shows gap

Gia Mazur, Reporter

Sarah Madison has dreamt of being a singer since she was a little girl. Throughout grade and high school, her classmates knew her as “the singer,” even if they had never actually met her. She moved to New York City after she graduated to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She graduated from AMDA in 2010 and has been living in the city ever since, pursuing her dream of becoming a recording artist. However, Madison faces challenges each day, mostly because she is a young woman.

“I tried to work with this one guy a few months ago and instead of being like, ‘When do you want to get together and work on the song?’ it’s ‘When can I take you out?’ or ‘When can I buy you a drink?’ said Madison. “To me, it’s insulting. I’m not going to date you to further my career.”

Dr. Julie Kuhlken, who offers a Philosophy of Women course, believes that while it is normal in work environments for colleagues to go to dinners to discuss work, that very same structure can be used for more personal intentions. This ambiguity creates a tough issue for women.

“The difference between being taken out to dinner as for your professional work and being taken out to dinner for a date becomes very, very difficult,” said Kuhlken. “It’s very difficult for her to even protest it because what are they going to say? ‘I was just taking you out to dinner. I would take this guy out to dinner, too.’”

Kuhlken explains this is caused by a difference in how men and women operate. Men operate in an environment where they don’t feel like what they are doing is gendered, but women are more likely to feel that gender plays a role.

“Male, and this is true across cultures, has captured the neutral. To say ‘man’ is also to say ‘human.’ Whereas to say ‘woman’ is always to say a gender.” She’s not just a human but a female human,” said Kuhlken.

According to Kuhlken, even though women’s plight for equality has come a long way, it still is in its infancy compared to how long civilizations have existed. The shift toward equality takes generations, explained Kuhlken, and that is why women still face adversity today.

“It’s like entering a game where you have a smaller playing field than the other person. Clearly, you’re going to be at the disadvantage, even if you’re doing exactly the same thing as the other person,” said Kuhlken.

Aspiring musicians, who happen to be young women, like Madison, are not alone in facing these kinds of dilemmas. Even famous women in music, like pop star Madonna and hip-hop queen Nicki Minaj, have faced criticism for acting how they feel is the same way a man would. Minaj spoke of this double standard during her 2010 MTV documentary “Nicki Minaj: My Time Now.”

“When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He’s ‘bossed up,’” said Minaj. “No negative connotation behind being ‘bossed up.’ Lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”

Kuhlken explained this double standard exists because it has to do with mindsets put in place centuries and centuries ago that are prevalent still today, where the audience a woman was speaking to was already biased against her.

“When you look at these first women who were speaking out, they were speaking to an only-male audience. The way they were speaking was entering philosophy and the only people who could read things were men,” said Kuhlken. “You were speaking to people who could not identify to your subject position.”

Kuhlken explained that today, society and audiences accept a man’s assertiveness because it may be an assertiveness that they will be allowed to use later. Kuhlken said that a woman’s assertiveness may not be seen to be useful by a man, or another woman, because it doesn’t create a “socially reproducible situation.”

“One of the reasons that assertiveness in men is accepted is because it has traditionally been a way in which other people have been able to ride this assertiveness to their own goals,” says Kuhlken. “When women have been assertive, it hasn’t necessarily generated the same social move up.”

Madison feels that many women deal with disrespect from men every day and she hopes her career in music can also help women to overcome adversity and possibly work to change this mindset. She writes her own music, which mostly draws from her own personal experience, something that Kuhlken believes is the ticket to then advancement of women.

“Women need to redefine success for themselves over and over again,” said Kuhlken. “Women started telling their story around 200 years ago and the fact is that has been one of the most useful things over time for women. There is this history of women saying, ‘This is our experience,’ and ‘This is how we manage our experience.’ No, it’s not the same situation a man would be in, but women should never expect it to be the same situation as a man.”