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  • Imbi: Body Image and Representation

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Hugh Heller and Ella Clair In this moment of increased online discourse surrounding the nuances of cultural and gender identities, music artists have been at the forefront of the conversation. For people who don’t fit within societal "norms", their real life experiences preceded this dialogue. Alternative RnB artist Imbi has paved a path for such people in our music industry, but not without difficulties. Imbi expresses that all personal and political matters are deeply connected. To them, body image intersects with these other facets of identity. In a chat with Emma Volard last week, Imbi displayed hope for a genuinely diverse and inclusive music industry. What follows is an abridged version of this conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? As with any relationship, my relationship with my body is incredibly complex and very fluid - it’s ever-changing, growing and developing. Right now, it’s a mostly positive one. I feel that each day I grow more and more into myself, and feel more and more peaceful with my vessel. But that being said, it fluctuates. And my relationship with my body isn’t exclusive to me. When I have people around me who are telling me I’m beautiful and sharing joyful moments with my body, it helps me affirm my relationship with my body. That’s an energetic exchange. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? For a long time, I deeply resented myself and my body, and I didn’t understand why. I thought it was because I was undesirable or wasn’t beautiful. I really wholeheartedly believed that for the majority of my upbringing. That started to shift when I began to understand my feelings of dissonance between my soul and my physical form. I guess I realised that dissonance is something completely natural and inherent in our human experience. I recognised that our soul is something other than our physical, and as much as they’re connected and reflect each other, they’re not the same thing. As I understood more about my identity and strengthened it outside of my body, my relationship with my body shifted. That shift allowed me to appreciate my body from a different perspective, as opposed to what I was doing before, where I was like, “Oh my God, everyone’s judging me based on this physical thing.” E: What about your sexuality? My sexuality hasn’t so much affected my body image, but my gender identity definitely has. Relating to the physical, I suppose that gender presents its own difficulties. I mean, there are elements of my physical body that don’t align with my gender identity, at least in socially acceptable ways. Having breasts is something that I constantly struggle with. But that being said, it’s also somewhat liberating - it’s also really helped me understand how my physical body doesn’t represent me in my entirety. In fact, it’s impossible that it could represent me in my entirety. That’s something I’ve learnt as a non-binary genderqueer person, whose gender identity is constantly fluctuating. E: How has your cultural background influenced your body image? I only realised that I wasn’t white when I was about 18 years old. I went to a private Jewish school where the majority of students were of South African background. There were like, three other brown kids in my year, and we’d joke about being the only brown kids. I didn’t actually register that I had a different cultural background to everyone else until I graduated school. And I think that’s sort of empowered me. I guess for a long time, I got by with enough privilege to not be reminded constantly of the colour of my skin, which definitely has its pros and cons. I mean, at school I was really confused as to why no one found me desirable. I can now reflect on that and be like, oh, racial bias and the “otherness” of being a brown-skinned person. Whether it was conscious or not, I think young [white] children, especially from conservative backgrounds, are quite intimidated or afraid of brown bodies. But I mean, it’s only added another layer of complexity to my relationship with myself. At this point, I find being brown quite empowering and something that I really value and cherish about myself. The more I lean into my otherness, and the more I lean into my differences and the things that make me unique, the more affirmed I feel in my body. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Definitely not. There is a really huge dissonance in what the Australian industry claims to want and what it actually practices. There’s a lot of talk about being intersectional and wanting to be diverse and all of this stuff, but in practice, it just misses the mark entirely. And it’s not for lack of artists of diverse genders or cultural backgrounds - perhaps it’s just because of what’s the easiest and most accessible. You know, there’s these cis white, skinny, surfer-dude bros who make that one very generic kind of music that apparently the Australian public can’t get enough of. I believe they have room for more. E: How does that make you feel? It’s really disheartening. There’s definitely a big part of me that wonders why I’m doing this if I’m only going to tick the “token, gender-diverse, brown person” diversity box. And I mean, that’s happened and partly why I think I’ve had many of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m pretty sure it was just to save face and to not get called out. You know the whole @LineupsWithoutMales thing? Like, festivals making sure they hit a 50/50 [gender] ratio? It’s upsetting, but also something that keeps me going - it gives me a reason to represent. Are we on a road to changing this? I mean, the fact that there’s this desire to save face and a pressure to meet those quotas is something. I think we are on the road to a more diverse musical landscape in Australia and the mainstream, but I think it needs to come from the genuine intention of being accepting and encouraging of all kinds of musicians as opposed to the intention to not get fucked on by the public. I don’t know if that intentional shift is something that we’re close to at all. But I have hope. I mean, I have to have hope, right? Where do you look to see yourself represented? It’s really hard. I find safety and familiarity in my own community and see myself represented there, but in terms of the music scene and public figures, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I recognise I won’t find that representation. I certainly don’t look for representation in so-called Australia - that type of representation doesn’t exist in an accessible way here. There’s some folks I follow on Instagram, but they’re from other places across the globe. And I don’t follow those people to see myself represented anyway. I’ve never thought about looking for myself in musical role models because it’s never an option. It’s kind of sad. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? In the past, I tried to dull things down and make myself more palatable. I never really allowed myself to realise my creative impulses because I didn’t think they would be desirable or attractive to the mainstream, or even just the music scene. Unfortunately, I think that’s still pretty true. That being said, I haven’t really been doing much music stuff this year. I’ve been focussing on personal growth and implementing structural changes to the ways I engage with my artistry and musicianship. I’m quite excited to bring a new element of myself to the music scene when we start back up again - an unapologetically fearless declaration of who I am in all of my intersections, showing the industry how implementing diversity quotas are not the only thing people need to do to feel comfortable. I’m actually tired of making sure that people are comfortable around my presence. In future, I’ll be a lot louder. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? 100%. I mean, I’ve tried very hard to maintain my artistry as authentically as possible, but white beauty standards have still had an incredibly damaging effect on my perception of self, which only now, at the age of 23, am I starting to unravel. Only now I can be honest with myself about what those effects have been, what I need to do to work through them, and how to shift those thought patterns. For the longest time, white beauty standards made me hate myself. With a Middle Eastern background, I’m hairier than most people, my hair is a bit more coarse, I sweat more, my skin is darker. For the longest time, I thought all of that meant there was something wrong with me. For the longest time, they were things I couldn’t accept, couldn’t celebrate. I tried to change these things. I didn’t even understand that these things were a result of just my genetics. Of course, now I’ve started this journey of unlearning and reprogramming, that’s really different. It’s starting to shift now. I’m working through it. We’re working through it. E: Yeah, I think we’re all trying to recondition ourselves out of these really awful and destructive ideals. Yeah, white beauty standards don’t just have negative impacts on non-white people. They’re fucked for pretty much everyone because they’re unrealistic. Whether it’s weight-based, clearness of skin, whatever… what is advertised as “normal beauty standards” is unattainable to most. It’s not even real. It’s photoshopped and digitised. It’s something that we all need to actively be deconstructing. Especially for non-white people, but also for everyone. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social and political issues? It’s all deeply connected. You can’t talk about white beauty standards without talking about racism. You can’t talk about global warming and environmental justice without talking about Indigenous sovereignty. And I think if someone is passionate about deconstructing white beauty standards, it’s up to them to consider whether or not it’s their place to be spearheading that discussion. Secondly, if it is their place, then it needs to be intersectional and carry an awareness. For example, in this conversation, yes, we’re talking about white beauty standards, but there’s also the space to engage in a whole host of other political content. I think that’s really necessary when discussing any sort of political or social matter. So, is there space for discussing body image issues when the rest of the world is so deeply cooked as well? I guess there has to be. It’s part of deconstructing the inherent societal flaws and toxic patterns of “normalised behaviors” that we’ve been force-fed since popping out of the womb. How has your identity affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene in so-called Australia? There have been opportunities given to me just because of my “identity”: the labels that I choose to give myself to cope with existing. There have been times where I’ve found really amazing people in the industry because of our similarities in our identity, because of our differences. There have been countless times where I’ve been completely overlooked at shows or festivals. I was very much just there to be there. When you invite someone to perform at your show, what kind of support have you put in place to make sure their experience wasn’t personally damaging? If their experience was damaging, do you have a process of accountability and can you make the appropriate reparations? That type of support simply just does not exist. At all. And there have definitely been times where I deeply wish that it did. I’ve had many experiences where I’ve been encouraged to quieten myself. I’ve been encouraged to make myself smaller and keep my head down - to keep it all as vanilla as possible and to be easy to deal with. There have been times where it hasn’t mattered how loud I am - the people in charge don’t have any intention of actually listening to me and my needs. Normally, if someone isn’t part of the queer community, I can sense their fear when they engage with me. It’s as if they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. If you’re a booker and you are inviting me, a gender diverse person, to perform in your space, it really doesn’t take much to make me feel safer. The first step is to stick up a couple pieces of paper over gendered bathrooms (eg. this bathroom has a urinal and this one does not). You can also just ask me what I need to feel safe. “What does Imbi need to feel comfortable?” And for sure, that doesn’t have to be exclusive to gender - that support should be provided when you’re inviting anyone into your space. Unfortunately (and more often than not), people think they’re being inclusive just by inviting those [gender diverse] people there to play, and think they don’t have to do these other things. It’s so upsetting. You need to realise that you’re inviting someone whose day-to-day existence entails dealing with being overlooked, misinterpreted, misunderstood and oftentimes attacked. E: What about as a person of colour? While I think my experiences are valid and real, I’m quite light skinned and definitely don’t cop the brunt of racism in any way, shape or form. Could you elaborate on your experiences of skin colour bias? It’s really challenging to discuss and to navigate because I have faced microaggressions where it’s quite obvious that the white people in the space are being treated substantially differently and given different preferences. That being said, when I’m in a space with darker-skinned people, that same amount of privilege that’s granted to white people is then granted to me. That’s a process of accountability that I have to take on. I have to recognise where that privilege comes through, what I can do with that privilege to ensure the person perpetuating the racial bias is aware of what they’re doing, and then make reparations for that. If I haven’t stood up in the past, which has happened, then it’s me sitting down and thinking, “Okay, how can I make reparations for my head nodding where I should’ve been shaking my fist in solidarity with those who look a little bit different to me?” These are really important conversations. People find it hard to admit that they’ve done something wrong, but that’s just a part of the human experience. We all have done many things wrong. It’s about learning what each situation asks of you and taking accountability. Do you feel you’ve seen many incidents of colourism in your time in the music industry? Yes, I do. Many times. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon - I see it as something that’s very deeply ingrained in the so-called “Australian” psyche: a systemic problem. The entire social structure and system here is based off mass cultural genocide and white supremacy. In order to amend the toxic behaviours people have been perpetrating for decades, there requires an entire deconstruction of what is considered “normal behaviour”. If we want our planet to live on, we have to decolonise. I don’t know if people are ready for that conversation yet? What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? In an ideal world, I’d like to see reparations made. I’d like to see diverse and intersectional lineups at every event. I’d like all Indigenous lineups at festivals that are celebrated and encouraged by the mainstream. I’d like to see new levels of safety and community care implemented throughout venues and festivals. I’d like to see less white men running venues and festivals. Being realistic, furthering discourse. I’d like to see more of these conversations going on in more mainstream ways. It’s not hard to put up a poster at a venue that says “if you feel unsafe, do this”. I hope the industry can change and grow. I really do. I hope that the widely accepted norms within the music industry can be deconstructed and reconstructed in more equitable, accepting and intentional ways. I’d also like to say that I hope people can be gentle with themselves in taking accountability. I’d like to express my deep love and care for the people who’ve engaged in this, either as readers or as people helping to push these sorts of conversations. I hope everyone can love themselves and their communities. Only then can we all grow together. Keep up to date with Imbi here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.

  • Imbi: Body Image and Representation

    Written by Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Hugh Heller and Ella Clair In this moment of increased online discourse surrounding the nuances of cultural and gender identities, music artists have been at the forefront of the conversation. For people who don’t fit within societal "norms", their real life experiences preceded this dialogue. Alternative RnB artist Imbi has paved a path for such people in our music industry, but not without difficulties. Imbi expresses that all personal and political matters are deeply connected. To them, body image intersects with these other facets of identity. In a chat with Emma Volard last week, Imbi displayed hope for a genuinely diverse and inclusive music industry. What follows is an abridged version of this conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? As with any relationship, my relationship with my body is incredibly complex and very fluid - it’s ever-changing, growing and developing. Right now, it’s a mostly positive one. I feel that each day I grow more and more into myself, and feel more and more peaceful with my vessel. But that being said, it fluctuates. And my relationship with my body isn’t exclusive to me. When I have people around me who are telling me I’m beautiful and sharing joyful moments with my body, it helps me affirm my relationship with my body. That’s an energetic exchange. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? For a long time, I deeply resented myself and my body, and I didn’t understand why. I thought it was because I was undesirable or wasn’t beautiful. I really wholeheartedly believed that for the majority of my upbringing. That started to shift when I began to understand my feelings of dissonance between my soul and my physical form. I guess I realised that dissonance is something completely natural and inherent in our human experience. I recognised that our soul is something other than our physical, and as much as they’re connected and reflect each other, they’re not the same thing. As I understood more about my identity and strengthened it outside of my body, my relationship with my body shifted. That shift allowed me to appreciate my body from a different perspective, as opposed to what I was doing before, where I was like, “Oh my God, everyone’s judging me based on this physical thing.” E: What about your sexuality? My sexuality hasn’t so much affected my body image, but my gender identity definitely has. Relating to the physical, I suppose that gender presents its own difficulties. I mean, there are elements of my physical body that don’t align with my gender identity, at least in socially acceptable ways. Having breasts is something that I constantly struggle with. But that being said, it’s also somewhat liberating - it’s also really helped me understand how my physical body doesn’t represent me in my entirety. In fact, it’s impossible that it could represent me in my entirety. That’s something I’ve learnt as a non-binary genderqueer person, whose gender identity is constantly fluctuating. E: How has your cultural background influenced your body image? I only realised that I wasn’t white when I was about 18 years old. I went to a private Jewish school where the majority of students were of South African background. There were like, three other brown kids in my year, and we’d joke about being the only brown kids. I didn’t actually register that I had a different cultural background to everyone else until I graduated school. And I think that’s sort of empowered me. I guess for a long time, I got by with enough privilege to not be reminded constantly of the colour of my skin, which definitely has its pros and cons. I mean, at school I was really confused as to why no one found me desirable. I can now reflect on that and be like, oh, racial bias and the “otherness” of being a brown-skinned person. Whether it was conscious or not, I think young [white] children, especially from conservative backgrounds, are quite intimidated or afraid of brown bodies. But I mean, it’s only added another layer of complexity to my relationship with myself. At this point, I find being brown quite empowering and something that I really value and cherish about myself. The more I lean into my otherness, and the more I lean into my differences and the things that make me unique, the more affirmed I feel in my body. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Definitely not. There is a really huge dissonance in what the Australian industry claims to want and what it actually practices. There’s a lot of talk about being intersectional and wanting to be diverse and all of this stuff, but in practice, it just misses the mark entirely. And it’s not for lack of artists of diverse genders or cultural backgrounds - perhaps it’s just because of what’s the easiest and most accessible. You know, there’s these cis white, skinny, surfer-dude bros who make that one very generic kind of music that apparently the Australian public can’t get enough of. I believe they have room for more. E: How does that make you feel? It’s really disheartening. There’s definitely a big part of me that wonders why I’m doing this if I’m only going to tick the “token, gender-diverse, brown person” diversity box. And I mean, that’s happened and partly why I think I’ve had many of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m pretty sure it was just to save face and to not get called out. You know the whole @LineupsWithoutMales thing? Like, festivals making sure they hit a 50/50 [gender] ratio? It’s upsetting, but also something that keeps me going - it gives me a reason to represent. Are we on a road to changing this? I mean, the fact that there’s this desire to save face and a pressure to meet those quotas is something. I think we are on the road to a more diverse musical landscape in Australia and the mainstream, but I think it needs to come from the genuine intention of being accepting and encouraging of all kinds of musicians as opposed to the intention to not get fucked on by the public. I don’t know if that intentional shift is something that we’re close to at all. But I have hope. I mean, I have to have hope, right? Where do you look to see yourself represented? It’s really hard. I find safety and familiarity in my own community and see myself represented there, but in terms of the music scene and public figures, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I recognise I won’t find that representation. I certainly don’t look for representation in so-called Australia - that type of representation doesn’t exist in an accessible way here. There’s some folks I follow on Instagram, but they’re from other places across the globe. And I don’t follow those people to see myself represented anyway. I’ve never thought about looking for myself in musical role models because it’s never an option. It’s kind of sad. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? In the past, I tried to dull things down and make myself more palatable. I never really allowed myself to realise my creative impulses because I didn’t think they would be desirable or attractive to the mainstream, or even just the music scene. Unfortunately, I think that’s still pretty true. That being said, I haven’t really been doing much music stuff this year. I’ve been focussing on personal growth and implementing structural changes to the ways I engage with my artistry and musicianship. I’m quite excited to bring a new element of myself to the music scene when we start back up again - an unapologetically fearless declaration of who I am in all of my intersections, showing the industry how implementing diversity quotas are not the only thing people need to do to feel comfortable. I’m actually tired of making sure that people are comfortable around my presence. In future, I’ll be a lot louder. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? 100%. I mean, I’ve tried very hard to maintain my artistry as authentically as possible, but white beauty standards have still had an incredibly damaging effect on my perception of self, which only now, at the age of 23, am I starting to unravel. Only now I can be honest with myself about what those effects have been, what I need to do to work through them, and how to shift those thought patterns. For the longest time, white beauty standards made me hate myself. With a Middle Eastern background, I’m hairier than most people, my hair is a bit more coarse, I sweat more, my skin is darker. For the longest time, I thought all of that meant there was something wrong with me. For the longest time, they were things I couldn’t accept, couldn’t celebrate. I tried to change these things. I didn’t even understand that these things were a result of just my genetics. Of course, now I’ve started this journey of unlearning and reprogramming, that’s really different. It’s starting to shift now. I’m working through it. We’re working through it. E: Yeah, I think we’re all trying to recondition ourselves out of these really awful and destructive ideals. Yeah, white beauty standards don’t just have negative impacts on non-white people. They’re fucked for pretty much everyone because they’re unrealistic. Whether it’s weight-based, clearness of skin, whatever… what is advertised as “normal beauty standards” is unattainable to most. It’s not even real. It’s photoshopped and digitised. It’s something that we all need to actively be deconstructing. Especially for non-white people, but also for everyone. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social and political issues? It’s all deeply connected. You can’t talk about white beauty standards without talking about racism. You can’t talk about global warming and environmental justice without talking about Indigenous sovereignty. And I think if someone is passionate about deconstructing white beauty standards, it’s up to them to consider whether or not it’s their place to be spearheading that discussion. Secondly, if it is their place, then it needs to be intersectional and carry an awareness. For example, in this conversation, yes, we’re talking about white beauty standards, but there’s also the space to engage in a whole host of other political content. I think that’s really necessary when discussing any sort of political or social matter. So, is there space for discussing body image issues when the rest of the world is so deeply cooked as well? I guess there has to be. It’s part of deconstructing the inherent societal flaws and toxic patterns of “normalised behaviors” that we’ve been force-fed since popping out of the womb. How has your identity affected the way you’ve been treated in the music scene in so-called Australia? There have been opportunities given to me just because of my “identity”: the labels that I choose to give myself to cope with existing. There have been times where I’ve found really amazing people in the industry because of our similarities in our identity, because of our differences. There have been countless times where I’ve been completely overlooked at shows or festivals. I was very much just there to be there. When you invite someone to perform at your show, what kind of support have you put in place to make sure their experience wasn’t personally damaging? If their experience was damaging, do you have a process of accountability and can you make the appropriate reparations? That type of support simply just does not exist. At all. And there have definitely been times where I deeply wish that it did. I’ve had many experiences where I’ve been encouraged to quieten myself. I’ve been encouraged to make myself smaller and keep my head down - to keep it all as vanilla as possible and to be easy to deal with. There have been times where it hasn’t mattered how loud I am - the people in charge don’t have any intention of actually listening to me and my needs. Normally, if someone isn’t part of the queer community, I can sense their fear when they engage with me. It’s as if they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. If you’re a booker and you are inviting me, a gender diverse person, to perform in your space, it really doesn’t take much to make me feel safer. The first step is to stick up a couple pieces of paper over gendered bathrooms (eg. this bathroom has a urinal and this one does not). You can also just ask me what I need to feel safe. “What does Imbi need to feel comfortable?” And for sure, that doesn’t have to be exclusive to gender - that support should be provided when you’re inviting anyone into your space. Unfortunately (and more often than not), people think they’re being inclusive just by inviting those [gender diverse] people there to play, and think they don’t have to do these other things. It’s so upsetting. You need to realise that you’re inviting someone whose day-to-day existence entails dealing with being overlooked, misinterpreted, misunderstood and oftentimes attacked. E: What about as a person of colour? While I think my experiences are valid and real, I’m quite light skinned and definitely don’t cop the brunt of racism in any way, shape or form. Could you elaborate on your experiences of skin colour bias? It’s really challenging to discuss and to navigate because I have faced microaggressions where it’s quite obvious that the white people in the space are being treated substantially differently and given different preferences. That being said, when I’m in a space with darker-skinned people, that same amount of privilege that’s granted to white people is then granted to me. That’s a process of accountability that I have to take on. I have to recognise where that privilege comes through, what I can do with that privilege to ensure the person perpetuating the racial bias is aware of what they’re doing, and then make reparations for that. If I haven’t stood up in the past, which has happened, then it’s me sitting down and thinking, “Okay, how can I make reparations for my head nodding where I should’ve been shaking my fist in solidarity with those who look a little bit different to me?” These are really important conversations. People find it hard to admit that they’ve done something wrong, but that’s just a part of the human experience. We all have done many things wrong. It’s about learning what each situation asks of you and taking accountability. Do you feel you’ve seen many incidents of colourism in your time in the music industry? Yes, I do. Many times. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon - I see it as something that’s very deeply ingrained in the so-called “Australian” psyche: a systemic problem. The entire social structure and system here is based off mass cultural genocide and white supremacy. In order to amend the toxic behaviours people have been perpetrating for decades, there requires an entire deconstruction of what is considered “normal behaviour”. If we want our planet to live on, we have to decolonise. I don’t know if people are ready for that conversation yet? What change would you like to see in the so-called Australian music industry over the next five years? In an ideal world, I’d like to see reparations made. I’d like to see diverse and intersectional lineups at every event. I’d like all Indigenous lineups at festivals that are celebrated and encouraged by the mainstream. I’d like to see new levels of safety and community care implemented throughout venues and festivals. I’d like to see less white men running venues and festivals. Being realistic, furthering discourse. I’d like to see more of these conversations going on in more mainstream ways. It’s not hard to put up a poster at a venue that says “if you feel unsafe, do this”. I hope the industry can change and grow. I really do. I hope that the widely accepted norms within the music industry can be deconstructed and reconstructed in more equitable, accepting and intentional ways. I’d also like to say that I hope people can be gentle with themselves in taking accountability. I’d like to express my deep love and care for the people who’ve engaged in this, either as readers or as people helping to push these sorts of conversations. I hope everyone can love themselves and their communities. Only then can we all grow together. Keep up to date with Imbi here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article. Thank you dearly to Imbi for your time. Interview with Imbi conducted by phone on 17 August 2020. Article first published 30 August 2020. Photographs taken by Theo Elder. Written by Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Hugh Heller and Ella Clair. Edited by Jake Amy.

  • Andrea Keller on Gender Equality: Is the Music Industry at a “Tipping Point”?

    Written by Rose Bassett, Ella Clair and Jake Amy While speaking to improvising pianist and composer Andrea Keller last week, I asked for her thoughts on gender inequality within the so-called Australian music industry. In particular, I was interested in how she, one of the world’s most incredible pianists, has seen it expressed throughout her diverse career. Within her response, Andrea mentioned a “tipping point” - a moment in time where gender equality begins to ground itself in a more stable and established position within our music industry. 2020 could, in my view, be the “tipping point” year. Alongside the very real and varied challenges this year has presented, we can reflect on the persistence of gender inequalities, expressing themselves through the actions and decisions of individuals, institutions and organisations alike. COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of our music industry. Can we rebuild them, only this time, with a newer and more inclusive design? Why are gender and cultural inequalities such persistent themes within our music industry? The themes of gender and cultural inequality infiltrate so much of society and our lives, so of course they can be found in our music scene too. As to the reasons for their persistence, I believe these themes remain entrenched in our community because there is still apprehension with those who aren’t willing to truly recognise and acknowledge misguided ways of thinking. We can defend our positions without really listening to others, with humility, and with the sole intention to understand, but in my view, this is the only way forward. As a music community, we’re challenging our behaviours and ways of thinking, and making positive motions towards identifying and changing the defective systems we’ve been reliant on for too long. Although I have mixed feelings about quotas, making change begins with consciousness. As with most things, we have to train our intuition to respond in new ways, therefore we are in somewhat of a “practise” phase now, as we educate ourselves and others through it. While we’re practising together, my hope is that we never again approach a female/gender nonconforming/marginalised musician for a gig/project/teaching position with the words “we really need a woman/we’re doing a program featuring women/we want to make sure we have female representation”. If you are writing that email/having that conversation and you go to write/say something along those lines, please stop yourself. Without fail, this feels like a major slap in the face, diminishing merit and serving no purpose other than to devalue, albeit unintentionally. We’ve had, and do have, visionaries in our community; women and men who lead by example with their graceful actions, who provide and create opportunities to celebrate the diversity of our community. I’m particularly grateful that we have people like Zoe Hauptman, Chelsea Wilson, Claire Cross, Sonja Horbelt, and more, working in positions of leadership in our scene. With more and more visionaries at the helm, my hope is that we’ll have trained our collective intuition enough, so we may get closer to tipping the gender and cultural imbalance. Within the jazz scene it could be said that there has been a “code of silence” around issues of gender and diversity. Have you experienced this, and if so, how? The jazz scene is a male-dominated industry where survival relies on how you’re connected and who you’re connected to. This has traditionally led to women often being overlooked. You can look at many areas of the industry to see this clearly in action. Looking at the permanent staffing at four institutions that offer the study of Jazz and Improvisation (or equivalent) Bachelor of Music performance degrees in Melbourne, for instance, gives a snapshot of gender and diversity inequality. Across the four degrees that employ approximately 21 current permanent staff, only four are women, with half of the institutions having all-male permanent staff teams. The first of the current female staff appointments occurred in mid-2017, however, in my view, it’s not the case that there weren’t appropriately qualified or work-ready females pre-2017. We silence the uncomfortable truth, but we need to look at this honestly, without getting defensive, and acknowledge it in full light, if we’re to begin to dismantle our archaic constructs. Recently, Australian jazz musician and educator James Morrison wrote a character reference for a student who admitted to indecent assault. What do you think about this? I cannot comment on the James Morrison Academy situation. However, the scenario described is far from unique in the music industry and broader society; perpetrators being protected (by connection, power and/or wealth) and victims made voiceless. This sends a really disturbing message to those (particularly marginalised) members of our community who may find themselves in need – that when push comes to shove, the system will not protect them. This includes those who should have their duty of care central to their manifesto. Misaligned duty of care feels like the ultimate betrayal. Examples of gross misdirected compassion perplex me, and these are not choices I would make. The motivation is beyond my comprehension, especially from those in positions of leadership and power. To bias one’s compassion so singularly in one direction, and with what is often reported to be total abandonment of those most vulnerable. There is no situation or reason that makes disrespectful behaviour/violence against human beings acceptable. If we want to break the cycle, we need to seriously address our compassion-bias. All the parties involved in a situation such as this require guidance, counselling, mentoring, training, education, and more. In my view, we need to be better at hearing the experiences of others. If we’re only able to understand others through comparisons with our own lives, we run the risk of minimising their consequences by the limits of our own emotional intelligence and experiences. We should listen to understand, not to answer, not to form an opinion, but just listen to understand. Have you experienced sexism within the music industry and, if so, in what ways? I read an interview with an American jazz musician who expressed that at the start of each gig she felt as though there was an assumption that she couldn’t play, so she had to work extra hard to convince audiences of her legitimacy. She articulated something I’d always sensed but had never articulated for myself – it was somewhat consoling to put a label on it, and to know that it’s a shared experience. The oppressing lack of belief, the feeling of always starting on the back foot, speculations that you’ve only been selected or awarded an opportunity because you’re a woman and there’s a box to tick... is tough to front up to every day. Fortunately, in my experience, I’ve been surrounded by enough supportive and encouraging musicians and people in the industry to help me stay on course. Without mentors, role models, and multiple avenues for musical pursuit, my story may well be different. R: Have you found that women too can perpetuate unfair standards against one another in similar or different ways to men? I entered motherhood at the same time that I began emerging as a musician on the jazz scene. Because of the synchronicity of both events, I often attribute motherhood as the main root of biased attitudes towards me. I don’t believe these attitudes are born from disrespect or malice; I see them coming from misunderstanding. The unfair standards I’ve experienced from women have generally involved me missing out on work because I have three children and there is an assumption that my primary role is to care for them. Whereas, in reality, my role is as much to provide financial security for them as it is to care for them. My husband, who is also a musician and is also responsible for the care of our children, does not get subjected to the same treatment. These attitudes can come from women with or without children, but when they are mothers themselves, it does make me wonder who’s got my back. These experiences teach me how important it is to communicate with people about what the reality is, and to act compassionately, giving them the power to decide what is or is not possible for them, it shouldn’t be left up to my assumptions. What was your experience of music education as an instrumentalist? As a child starting out in music, I was learning in the classical world, which doesn’t have the exaggerated gender imbalance we see in jazz. In my early teenage years, when I got interested in jazz, the gender imbalance was instantly noticeable, but it didn’t deter me. I was shy and lacked confidence, and I envied the gusto with which the boys approached improvisation, but I stuck with it. I loved the music and there were enough people encouraging me. I was really fortunate as I had great teachers and fellow students. Trumpeter Phil Slater was in the first jazz band I ever played in. Even as a teenager, he was incredibly supportive, and his focus was contagious! I did find myself in a few situations that were negative, but because I had multiple avenues of musical activity going on, I was able to abandon the negative ones and just stuck with the positive ones. Studying my undergraduate degree, at what is now the Jazz and Improvisation department at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, was overall a positive experience. Brian Brown, who established the course, was a visionary man, and his all-inclusive philosophy and unbiased approach reverberated through the staff and students. Sue Johnson was on permanent staff at the time, and her encouragement and nurturing played an enormous part in keeping me on my path. Still, I was one of only two female instrumentalists in my year, along with two female singers, the remaining 35 students were male. That was back in the mid-nineties. I had assumed that things would look vastly different 25 years on, in terms of gender equity, but sadly they don’t to me. R: Now, as an educator yourself, do you feel that this education system has become more equal regarding gender? Why or why not? I don’t have answers here. Dishearteningly, any shift towards gender equality in the education system has been barely perceptible. There is hope that the inclusion of women on staff in institutions, and the establishment of Take Note, Girls Do Jazz, and other equivalent programs in the major cities around Australia will help propel us towards a tipping point. I hope to see it turn around in my lifetime. There are lots of things we’re doing right and there’s no question that we must continue to dedicate our efforts towards positive change. Keep up to date with Andrea here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Andrea Keller on Gender Equality: Is the Music Industry at a “Tipping Point”?

    Written by Rose Bassett While speaking to improvising pianist and composer Andrea Keller last week, I asked for her thoughts on gender inequality within the so-called Australian music industry. In particular, I was interested in how she, one of the world’s most incredible pianists, has seen it expressed throughout her diverse career. Within her response, Andrea mentioned a “tipping point” - a moment in time where gender equality begins to ground itself in a more stable and established position within our music industry. 2020 could, in my view, be the “tipping point” year. Alongside the very real and varied challenges this year has presented, we can reflect on the persistence of gender inequalities, expressing themselves through the actions and decisions of individuals, institutions and organisations alike. COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of our music industry. Can we rebuild them, only this time, with a newer and more inclusive design? Why are gender and cultural inequalities such persistent themes within our music industry? The themes of gender and cultural inequality infiltrate so much of society and our lives, so of course they can be found in our music scene too. As to the reasons for their persistence, I believe these themes remain entrenched in our community because there is still apprehension with those who aren’t willing to truly recognise and acknowledge misguided ways of thinking. We can defend our positions without really listening to others, with humility, and with the sole intention to understand, but in my view, this is the only way forward. As a music community, we’re challenging our behaviours and ways of thinking, and making positive motions towards identifying and changing the defective systems we’ve been reliant on for too long. Although I have mixed feelings about quotas, making change begins with consciousness. As with most things, we have to train our intuition to respond in new ways, therefore we are in somewhat of a “practise” phase now, as we educate ourselves and others through it. While we’re practising together, my hope is that we never again approach a female/gender nonconforming/marginalised musician for a gig/project/teaching position with the words “we really need a woman/we’re doing a program featuring women/we want to make sure we have female representation”. If you are writing that email/having that conversation and you go to write/say something along those lines, please stop yourself. Without fail, this feels like a major slap in the face, diminishing merit and serving no purpose other than to devalue, albeit unintentionally. We’ve had, and do have, visionaries in our community; women and men who lead by example with their graceful actions, who provide and create opportunities to celebrate the diversity of our community. I’m particularly grateful that we have people like Zoe Hauptman, Chelsea Wilson, Claire Cross, Sonja Horbelt, and more, working in positions of leadership in our scene. With more and more visionaries at the helm, my hope is that we’ll have trained our collective intuition enough, so we may get closer to tipping the gender and cultural imbalance. Within the jazz scene it could be said that there has been a “code of silence” around issues of gender and diversity. Have you experienced this, and if so, how? The jazz scene is a male-dominated industry where survival relies on how you’re connected and who you’re connected to. This has traditionally led to women often being overlooked. You can look at many areas of the industry to see this clearly in action. Looking at the permanent staffing at four institutions that offer the study of Jazz and Improvisation (or equivalent) Bachelor of Music performance degrees in Melbourne, for instance, gives a snapshot of gender and diversity inequality. Across the four degrees that employ approximately 21 current permanent staff, only four are women, with half of the institutions having all-male permanent staff teams. The first of the current female staff appointments occurred in mid-2017, however, in my view, it’s not the case that there weren’t appropriately qualified or work-ready females pre-2017. We silence the uncomfortable truth, but we need to look at this honestly, without getting defensive, and acknowledge it in full light, if we’re to begin to dismantle our archaic constructs. Recently, Australian jazz musician and educator James Morrison wrote a character reference for a student who admitted to indecent assault. What do you think about this? I cannot comment on the James Morrison Academy situation. However, the scenario described is far from unique in the music industry and broader society; perpetrators being protected (by connection, power and/or wealth) and victims made voiceless. This sends a really disturbing message to those (particularly marginalised) members of our community who may find themselves in need – that when push comes to shove, the system will not protect them. This includes those who should have their duty of care central to their manifesto. Misaligned duty of care feels like the ultimate betrayal. Examples of gross misdirected compassion perplex me, and these are not choices I would make. The motivation is beyond my comprehension, especially from those in positions of leadership and power. To bias one’s compassion so singularly in one direction, and with what is often reported to be total abandonment of those most vulnerable. There is no situation or reason that makes disrespectful behaviour/violence against human beings acceptable. If we want to break the cycle, we need to seriously address our compassion-bias. All the parties involved in a situation such as this require guidance, counselling, mentoring, training, education, and more. In my view, we need to be better at hearing the experiences of others. If we’re only able to understand others through comparisons with our own lives, we run the risk of minimising their consequences by the limits of our own emotional intelligence and experiences. We should listen to understand, not to answer, not to form an opinion, but just listen to understand. Have you experienced sexism within the music industry and, if so, in what ways? I read an interview with an American jazz musician who expressed that at the start of each gig she felt as though there was an assumption that she couldn’t play, so she had to work extra hard to convince audiences of her legitimacy. She articulated something I’d always sensed but had never articulated for myself – it was somewhat consoling to put a label on it, and to know that it’s a shared experience. The oppressing lack of belief, the feeling of always starting on the back foot, speculations that you’ve only been selected or awarded an opportunity because you’re a woman and there’s a box to tick... is tough to front up to every day. Fortunately, in my experience, I’ve been surrounded by enough supportive and encouraging musicians and people in the industry to help me stay on course. Without mentors, role models, and multiple avenues for musical pursuit, my story may well be different. R: Have you found that women too can perpetuate unfair standards against one another in similar or different ways to men? I entered motherhood at the same time that I began emerging as a musician on the jazz scene. Because of the synchronicity of both events, I often attribute motherhood as the main root of biased attitudes towards me. I don’t believe these attitudes are born from disrespect or malice; I see them coming from misunderstanding. The unfair standards I’ve experienced from women have generally involved me missing out on work because I have three children and there is an assumption that my primary role is to care for them. Whereas, in reality, my role is as much to provide financial security for them as it is to care for them. My husband, who is also a musician and is also responsible for the care of our children, does not get subjected to the same treatment. These attitudes can come from women with or without children, but when they are mothers themselves, it does make me wonder who’s got my back. These experiences teach me how important it is to communicate with people about what the reality is, and to act compassionately, giving them the power to decide what is or is not possible for them, it shouldn’t be left up to my assumptions. What was your experience of music education as an instrumentalist? As a child starting out in music, I was learning in the classical world, which doesn’t have the exaggerated gender imbalance we see in jazz. In my early teenage years, when I got interested in jazz, the gender imbalance was instantly noticeable, but it didn’t deter me. I was shy and lacked confidence, and I envied the gusto with which the boys approached improvisation, but I stuck with it. I loved the music and there were enough people encouraging me. I was really fortunate as I had great teachers and fellow students. Trumpeter Phil Slater was in the first jazz band I ever played in. Even as a teenager, he was incredibly supportive, and his focus was contagious! I did find myself in a few situations that were negative, but because I had multiple avenues of musical activity going on, I was able to abandon the negative ones and just stuck with the positive ones. Studying my undergraduate degree, at what is now the Jazz and Improvisation department at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, was overall a positive experience. Brian Brown, who established the course, was a visionary man, and his all-inclusive philosophy and unbiased approach reverberated through the staff and students. Sue Johnson was on permanent staff at the time, and her encouragement and nurturing played an enormous part in keeping me on my path. Still, I was one of only two female instrumentalists in my year, along with two female singers, the remaining 35 students were male. That was back in the mid-nineties. I had assumed that things would look vastly different 25 years on, in terms of gender equity, but sadly they don’t to me. R: Now, as an educator yourself, do you feel that this education system has become more equal regarding gender? Why or why not? I don’t have answers here. Dishearteningly, any shift towards gender equality in the education system has been barely perceptible. There is hope that the inclusion of women on staff in institutions, and the establishment of Take Note, Girls Do Jazz, and other equivalent programs in the major cities around Australia will help propel us towards a tipping point. I hope to see it turn around in my lifetime. There are lots of things we’re doing right and there’s no question that we must continue to dedicate our efforts towards positive change. Keep up to date with Andrea here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. Thank you dearly to Andrea for your time. Question responses written by Andrea between 28 July and 20 August 2020. Article first published 27 August 2020. Photographs taken by Hayley Miro Browne and Natasha Blankfield. Written by Rose Bassett. Edited by Ella Clair and Jake Amy.

  • Thando on Identity, Image and the Complexity of White Beauty Standards

    Written by Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller From Emma: So far, 2020 has been a year of ambiguity, over-sanitised dry hands, loss of people-skills and fluctuations in body mass. For some, it’s also been a year of relentless self-doubt and learning how to not be a fucking misogynist. We’ve seen online activism reach its peak and the masses band together towards dismantling systems of oppression. And I myself have seen my perspective of self teeter between the realms of crippling anxiety, self-deprecation and total self-confidence. My relationship with body image is complex and I’ve definitely had my fair share of comments tossed my way about weight gain, health and dieting. I like to pride myself on being a strong, independent and empowered woman, and for the most part I am. But there are days where I am self-conscious and hyper-critical about my own physical appearance. However, in this time of isolation I’ve found solace and renewed confidence in online conversations with empowered women and gender nonconforming people from the so-called Australian music scene. This experience inspired me to deepen these conversations with a series of interviews with some of Naarm’s most empowering women and gender nonconforming artists. I spoke with alt-RnB artist Thando, whose body confidence and musicality I’ve admired, about her personal relationship with body image and her negation of white beauty standards. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? It was not until I got pregnant that I realised how incredible the vessel I have is. I know that I may not have society’s stock-standard “good-looking” body, but I’ve always appreciated it and loved all its differences nonetheless. Those differences help set me apart. As far as my personality goes, I’m kind of a weird person, so I guess it makes sense to make this the norm. I never go out of my way to maintain a look or anything. After the responsibility of nourishing a whole human, I treat it with more respect. I honour my body. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? Body image is not something I really ever think about - I’ve always been quite blasé about it. It’s allowed me to be very comfortable in my own skin and gives me the confidence to express whatever I feel, whether that be through the way I dress or in the way I move. In life, I just kind of soak up whatever energies are around me and use that to carry myself. What other people think of me is not my business (that’s something that I learnt from RuPaul). Not a lot of clothes that can express my personality come in my size, so I can’t shop at stock-standard stores. It’s probably a bit cliché but I think there aren’t as many options. I can’t just walk into Bardot and buy a thing. I'm a size 22 - there’s nothing at Bardot. I think they only size up to 16, so I have to look outside the box for ways that I can express who I am. I buy a lot online from overseas retailers, local designers or go op-shopping to try and find something I like. Standard sizing in Australia is so limited. In the US, they cater for a demographic that tends to be larger anyway, so there’s a bit more variety there. Has being a person of colour (POC) impacted your perception on body image? I definitely do not speak for all people of colour, but yes. I’m from the Ndebele tribe in Zimbabwe where big women are revered. The body standards there are the complete opposite to those of the Western world, so I’ve always grown up being that bitch. I’m juicy, thick, have a fat ass and stomach pouch... it’s all characteristics of being a woman from a favourable background. Eating good indicates your social standing - your family must have money. When I moved to Australia, I remember my family would comment on my body and be like, “It's going to be so easy for you to find a husband and navigate the dating world - no one’s going to want us because we’re skinny”. At the time, I didn't really understand it: I was not undesirable, but if I flipped through any magazine, all I saw was skinny white women. I just wasn’t that. Whenever I navigated white Australia, I was not ever looked at as the hot friend or the viable dating option. I was always the fat friend. And yet, there’s a whole culture of POC people (and not just from Zimbabwe) that used to look at me in a way that would glorify my body image. Basically all non-white people told me that I was a desirable woman because I had some meat on my bones. It was a weird space, and it only made sense to love my body the way that it was. I think I’d be doing a great disservice to other people that look like me to not embrace what I have. Obviously, I think it’s important to be transparent about this as well: I’m not promoting bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles - we need to accept the body that we have. I’m still quite a fit person, even if it doesn’t look like I am. I have the stamina to be on stage for three hours at a time, dancing and singing. I do my cardio and chase a one-year-old toddler around all the time. I know that I’m healthy. I just don’t look like someone who is skinny and goes out of their way to maintain their weight. In society, there are so many expectations of body-positive people to all have a similar shape and style. Body positivity is a bit of a weird term because I think it can imply that people who don’t have “beautiful bodies” are irrelevant. I’ve actually tried to steer away from saying that I’m body positive. This is the first time I’ve ever really spoken about my body in this context. It’s hard. People want to make sure that the whole spectrum of representation is represented, and whether I’m modelling or being the spokesperson for something, I tick three boxes: I’m a woman, I’m black, I have a “fat” body (and I don't find that offensive at all - it’s the same as saying someone has a “thin” body). I know that I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because I tick so many boxes on that diversity spectrum. Being put in the forefront increases visibility for people that look like me. I’m very proud to have been able to get certain opportunities because of that. Because if you told me that I’d get those opportunities 15 years ago, I probably would’ve laughed. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Yes and no. I see myself [represented] in women such as Emma Donovan and Kylie Auldist, but then also, it’s interesting to think that they’re not super mainstream artists either... I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head. I don’t know if that means I’m just not paying enough attention, or those people genuinely aren’t there. I think back to when I was a little girl watching Australian Idol and seeing Paulini on TV for the first time. I was like, holy shit... there’s a black girl on telly - I could totally audition on a show like this! Seeing her up there definitely gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I needed to start pursuing a dream in music. I actually find it quite interesting when I think about representation of body-positive women in our media. I can’t actually think of anyone. No, I do not see myself represented, Emma. E: How does that make you feel? I’m kind of disappointed, you know? And I think everyone is making a conscious effort to represent a lot more people: people who are gender diverse, culturally diverse... showing people who're able-bodied and also people who are disabled. We still need to do better though. It’d be really good to see people like me in newspapers and magazines, and not just in a tokenised way. Sometimes our bodies are invisible, and that’s really disheartening. There’s a darker part to auditions for things: so, you know, a casting agency for modelling has everyone participate in an audition but won’t explicitly tell everyone that they don’t actually want to see certain body shapes, and they sort of just don’t select those people. I guess the question becomes, “What can we do about it?”. Where do you look to see yourself represented? I think I gravitate towards seeing myself, if that makes any sense. For example, my saved Spotify songs are mostly by black women, and it’s not even intentional. I think it’s because I subconsciously want to see myself represented in those spaces. A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in my early days. I got here about 20 years ago and was the only black kid at my primary school in Canberra. I know that there were populations of African migrants in other cities and regional towns, but in Canberra I felt very invisible. I had to do my best to fit in with everything that was going on around me. I found myself dialling down my blackness in any way I knew how. I never wore Afrocentric hairstyles. I went to the ends of the earth to change my accent so that no one ever said anything about it. I still have a couple of words where my partner will playfully say, “I don't know what that means”, but it’s still a reminder of how othered I am. As a result of fighting it so hard when I was younger and trying to reclaim my blackness in adulthood, I naturally gravitate towards anything I see myself represented in. American media is kind of where I fit. I really love Jazmine Sullivan and her music videos. The people she features in her content resemble me the most. Beyoncé's HΘMΣCΘMING was amazing, because it didn’t just feature incredible show-fit dancers and backing singers. She had dancers that looked like me! Like, big girls. With thighs and booties and I was like, yes. It’s so exciting to see that because it’s a testament to being able to achieve anything you set your mind to and not letting society’s standards of ableism or beauty get in the way of that. It’s really important to be able to see yourself represented everywhere. Everywhere. Even if I've had opportunities given to me because of tokenism or quotas, I'm getting that festival slot or airplay or interview because someone wants to see what I’ve got to offer and hear what I've got to say. I’ll take that platform. I don’t overthink it. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? Majorly. It’s funny - I find that a lot of my fan base actually consists of a lot of middle-aged women, which is amazing. I think that largely came from being on The Voice when I was 20. Interestingly, I found there was a lot more acceptance of my body image when I dressed more conservatively. I guess that kind of mirrored what the crowd who came to see me was comfortable with. As I matured in my artistry, I took more risks and wrote music that was a bit more risqué, raunchy and vulgar. I obviously wanted to reflect that in the way that I presented myself on stage. So I’d wear a dress with a little bit more cleavage and raise the sex appeal, which is something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. I don’t think people are used to seeing a woman my size own their sexuality like that. If they do, it’s usually in pornography and they’re not going to talk about it. This was a way for me to playfully challenge what people think is sexy or beautiful, and maybe get them to consider that bigger bodies have just as much sex appeal [as smaller bodies]. Because everybody is desirable. The feedback I got from that was awesome, because people really relate to seeing someone that doesn’t conform to society’s standard of “sexy” owning their sexuality and doing it so comfortably, without being contrived. I definitely attribute that to having a really healthy relationship with a healthy sex life and being made to feel wonderful and sexy every single day, which really helps me elevate my body image. If I can give the same thing that my partner gives to me to my audiences, then I know that I’m doing my job. I want to help my audience feel empowered. That’s why releasing a song like Naked is so important to me. I want people to appreciate what is beneath their layers. You can be insecure and shy and not like certain things about yourself, but when you’re completely naked there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to be able to embrace every part of yourself. That’s why I talk about getting to know someone and everything that makes them who they are beside all the material stuff you see on the outside. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? No, not really. My sisters helped me realise that I was sexy. I was like, “You know what? Yeah”! Because of that, I’ve always walked with confidence and pride. I’ve never been ashamed of what I have, and because of that, I’ve never really compared myself to my white counterparts. White beauty standards exist in this sphere, and people can definitely succumb to the pressures that come from those standards. I think that if you have a really great support network around you (with people that hype you up everyday), you can counter those standards with something completely different and beautiful. I’m worthy of the swipe-right on Tinder. I’m worthy of all the things, because I’m beautiful, bold and sexy. And everyone can feel beautiful, bold and sexy. I don’t keep people around me that don’t make me feel good about myself. At the end of the day, people who fit within white beauty standards are still beautiful. I think everyone is absolutely stunning. And while I don’t see myself being represented in all campaigns, I can still appreciate beauty. As long as people are happy in their own bodies, then I’m happy. I think there’s definitely room to diversify beauty standards. Maybe we should just get rid of the standards altogether? There’s no realistic representation of what an average person looks like anyway. None of my friends fit into these standards at all. We all look so different. We all have a different way of looking at ourselves and appreciating the bodies that we have. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? I think that body image is a pressing social/political issue. Look at the way that women’s bodies are policed in every society, every workplace (sex workers)... um, hello? You can care about other political/social issues as well as this, but there’s a lot of things going on in the world and I think we’ll drive ourselves crazy if we try to fix everything at once. Everything that you fight for is reflective of where you are in life, and most definitely dependent on your privilege. One of the hardest things I’m dealing with is how I move through the world as a black woman, what my body image is, and how I'm perceived. And that’s definitely not something that my counterparts back in Zimbabwe are thinking about. Comparing an issue to something else undermines it. There’s a lot of “what about-isms” that happen, but they literally do nothing. I think about Beyoncé and her film Black Is King. A lot of people are not impressed with her exploitation of African culture and her inability to speak out on the injustices happening in Africa. There’s a lot of corruption, there’s famine, there’s disease, but like, we can’t really expect a pop star to be the voice of change. You’ve got to look at it realistically - it’s the law makers that allow this corruption to happen. You can’t expect someone to end corruption in Africa because they use Africa in their music. You know? I wouldn’t expect this conversation to be the thing that changes Australia’s perspective on body image and ends white beauty standards in Australia. Online activism is great because it raises awareness, but it’s actually more about what work is done after that. I think because we’re here in Australia, we need to use our privilege to address what’s happening in our own backyard. There are injustices here to First Nations people. How do we address these problems and situations? What you feel strongest about is what you fight hardest for. That’s what you’ve got to put your energy towards. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Do you think women’s expressions of sexuality are taboo? If so, why? I think they are, and I don’t think they should be. I think that the patriarchy (because there’s also women that encourage this) demands for women to be seen and not heard, and even when women are seen, they have to be very respectful, dainty and non-vulgar. They can’t openly talk about the things that they want. They can’t talk about their desires, they can’t express their sexuality. And then, you know, you have people that will come out and challenge that, like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in their new collaboration WAP. There’s so much criticism about them speaking so openly about their vaginas and people are offended and yet their male counterparts are releasing songs about fucking bitches and nailing them against wall. And that's acceptable?! I think that anyone who identifies as a woman who finds themselves shocked by WAP’s message should probably think about why they think that, considering their male counterparts have been doing that since the beginning of hip hop. Don't talk about how vulgar and trashy these women are because they're singing about their vaginas. Literally, let's look up every male who's ever sung about his dick and then we'll have the conversation. Even outside of music, think about how it’s just seen as promiscuous for a dude to sleep with a bunch of women, whereas if a woman is sexually liberated in the same way then she’s a whore. It doesn’t make sense. I think it’s archaic. I think it’s stupid. I think if women want to fuck 100 dudes, they should be able to fuck 100 dudes and have no one say anything about it. I don’t think someone’s sexual expression is anyone else’s business. I hate that it’s a taboo thing. I hate that when women who want to put it in their music or in their art it's considered vulgar. There's just literally no reason for it. I just kind of dip my toe in the water a little bit. Jill Scott is probably one of my biggest inspirations and her music is very sexually explicit in a very tasteful and fun way... I don't fellate my microphone because I don't want to have that conversation with my mum, but I still try to push boundaries of what I think people will be comfortable with. It’s really frustrating and I really thought that by the time I'd reached adulthood we'd have moved past all that stuff, but it seems like society definitely still has a really long way to go, especially when it comes down to basic things like double standards. Sexuality is taboo when it really shouldn't be. What change would you like to see happen in the so-called Australian music industry within the next five years? I would like to see people like me holding higher positions of power. If there’s a board for the ARIAs and all these record labels, you know, the gatekeepers, I think there has to be a fairer representation of what the scene itself looks like. And if that doesn't happen, then I’ll have to do it myself. But yeah, I definitely want to see more people that look like me represent the masses in those positions of power. It’s the people upstairs, and it’s about numbers, it’s about maintaining power. It should actually be about equity and sharing some of that around. Only then will we see a much more level playing field for everybody. And five years is more than enough time for that to happen. Keep up to date with Thando here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. Thank you dearly to Thando for your time. ​ Interview with Thando conducted by phone on 13 August 2020. Article first published 23 August 2020. Photographs taken by Michelle Grace Hunder. Written and edited by Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller.

  • Thando on Identity, Image and the Complexity of White Beauty Standards

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller From Emma: So far, 2020 has been a year of ambiguity, over-sanitised dry hands, loss of people-skills and fluctuations in body mass. For some, it’s also been a year of relentless self-doubt and learning how to not be a fucking misogynist. We’ve seen online activism reach its peak and the masses band together towards dismantling systems of oppression. And I myself have seen my perspective of self teeter between the realms of crippling anxiety, self-deprecation and total self-confidence. My relationship with body image is complex and I’ve definitely had my fair share of comments tossed my way about weight gain, health and dieting. I like to pride myself on being a strong, independent and empowered woman, and for the most part I am. But there are days where I am self-conscious and hyper-critical about my own physical appearance. However, in this time of isolation I’ve found solace and renewed confidence in online conversations with empowered women and gender nonconforming people from the so-called Australian music scene. This experience inspired me to deepen these conversations with a series of interviews with some of Naarm’s most empowering women and gender nonconforming artists. I spoke with alt-RnB artist Thando, whose body confidence and musicality I’ve admired, about her personal relationship with body image and her negation of white beauty standards. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. Can you talk about your relationship with your body? It was not until I got pregnant that I realised how incredible the vessel I have is. I know that I may not have society’s stock-standard “good-looking” body, but I’ve always appreciated it and loved all its differences nonetheless. Those differences help set me apart. As far as my personality goes, I’m kind of a weird person, so I guess it makes sense to make this the norm. I never go out of my way to maintain a look or anything. After the responsibility of nourishing a whole human, I treat it with more respect. I honour my body. How has your identity impacted your perspective on body image? Body image is not something I really ever think about - I’ve always been quite blasé about it. It’s allowed me to be very comfortable in my own skin and gives me the confidence to express whatever I feel, whether that be through the way I dress or in the way I move. In life, I just kind of soak up whatever energies are around me and use that to carry myself. What other people think of me is not my business (that’s something that I learnt from RuPaul). Not a lot of clothes that can express my personality come in my size, so I can’t shop at stock-standard stores. It’s probably a bit cliché but I think there aren’t as many options. I can’t just walk into Bardot and buy a thing. I'm a size 22 - there’s nothing at Bardot. I think they only size up to 16, so I have to look outside the box for ways that I can express who I am. I buy a lot online from overseas retailers, local designers or go op-shopping to try and find something I like. Standard sizing in Australia is so limited. In the US, they cater for a demographic that tends to be larger anyway, so there’s a bit more variety there. Has being a person of colour (POC) impacted your perception on body image? I definitely do not speak for all people of colour, but yes. I’m from the Ndebele tribe in Zimbabwe where big women are revered. The body standards there are the complete opposite to those of the Western world, so I’ve always grown up being that bitch. I’m juicy, thick, have a fat ass and stomach pouch... it’s all characteristics of being a woman from a favourable background. Eating good indicates your social standing - your family must have money. When I moved to Australia, I remember my family would comment on my body and be like, “It's going to be so easy for you to find a husband and navigate the dating world - no one’s going to want us because we’re skinny”. At the time, I didn't really understand it: I was not undesirable, but if I flipped through any magazine, all I saw was skinny white women. I just wasn’t that. Whenever I navigated white Australia, I was not ever looked at as the hot friend or the viable dating option. I was always the fat friend. And yet, there’s a whole culture of POC people (and not just from Zimbabwe) that used to look at me in a way that would glorify my body image. Basically all non-white people told me that I was a desirable woman because I had some meat on my bones. It was a weird space, and it only made sense to love my body the way that it was. I think I’d be doing a great disservice to other people that look like me to not embrace what I have. Obviously, I think it’s important to be transparent about this as well: I’m not promoting bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles - we need to accept the body that we have. I’m still quite a fit person, even if it doesn’t look like I am. I have the stamina to be on stage for three hours at a time, dancing and singing. I do my cardio and chase a one-year-old toddler around all the time. I know that I’m healthy. I just don’t look like someone who is skinny and goes out of their way to maintain their weight. In society, there are so many expectations of body-positive people to all have a similar shape and style. Body positivity is a bit of a weird term because I think it can imply that people who don’t have “beautiful bodies” are irrelevant. I’ve actually tried to steer away from saying that I’m body positive. This is the first time I’ve ever really spoken about my body in this context. It’s hard. People want to make sure that the whole spectrum of representation is represented, and whether I’m modelling or being the spokesperson for something, I tick three boxes: I’m a woman, I’m black, I have a “fat” body (and I don't find that offensive at all - it’s the same as saying someone has a “thin” body). I know that I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities because I tick so many boxes on that diversity spectrum. Being put in the forefront increases visibility for people that look like me. I’m very proud to have been able to get certain opportunities because of that. Because if you told me that I’d get those opportunities 15 years ago, I probably would’ve laughed. Do you see yourself represented in the Australian music industry? Yes and no. I see myself [represented] in women such as Emma Donovan and Kylie Auldist, but then also, it’s interesting to think that they’re not super mainstream artists either... I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head. I don’t know if that means I’m just not paying enough attention, or those people genuinely aren’t there. I think back to when I was a little girl watching Australian Idol and seeing Paulini on TV for the first time. I was like, holy shit... there’s a black girl on telly - I could totally audition on a show like this! Seeing her up there definitely gave me the confidence and self-assurance that I needed to start pursuing a dream in music. I actually find it quite interesting when I think about representation of body-positive women in our media. I can’t actually think of anyone. No, I do not see myself represented, Emma. E: How does that make you feel? I’m kind of disappointed, you know? And I think everyone is making a conscious effort to represent a lot more people: people who are gender diverse, culturally diverse... showing people who're able-bodied and also people who are disabled. We still need to do better though. It’d be really good to see people like me in newspapers and magazines, and not just in a tokenised way. Sometimes our bodies are invisible, and that’s really disheartening. There’s a darker part to auditions for things: so, you know, a casting agency for modelling has everyone participate in an audition but won’t explicitly tell everyone that they don’t actually want to see certain body shapes, and they sort of just don’t select those people. I guess the question becomes, “What can we do about it?”. Where do you look to see yourself represented? I think I gravitate towards seeing myself, if that makes any sense. For example, my saved Spotify songs are mostly by black women, and it’s not even intentional. I think it’s because I subconsciously want to see myself represented in those spaces. A lot of that comes from a lack of representation in my early days. I got here about 20 years ago and was the only black kid at my primary school in Canberra. I know that there were populations of African migrants in other cities and regional towns, but in Canberra I felt very invisible. I had to do my best to fit in with everything that was going on around me. I found myself dialling down my blackness in any way I knew how. I never wore Afrocentric hairstyles. I went to the ends of the earth to change my accent so that no one ever said anything about it. I still have a couple of words where my partner will playfully say, “I don't know what that means”, but it’s still a reminder of how othered I am. As a result of fighting it so hard when I was younger and trying to reclaim my blackness in adulthood, I naturally gravitate towards anything I see myself represented in. American media is kind of where I fit. I really love Jazmine Sullivan and her music videos. The people she features in her content resemble me the most. Beyoncé's HΘMΣCΘMING was amazing, because it didn’t just feature incredible show-fit dancers and backing singers. She had dancers that looked like me! Like, big girls. With thighs and booties and I was like, yes. It’s so exciting to see that because it’s a testament to being able to achieve anything you set your mind to and not letting society’s standards of ableism or beauty get in the way of that. It’s really important to be able to see yourself represented everywhere. Everywhere. Even if I've had opportunities given to me because of tokenism or quotas, I'm getting that festival slot or airplay or interview because someone wants to see what I’ve got to offer and hear what I've got to say. I’ll take that platform. I don’t overthink it. How has your body image impacted the way you present yourself as an artist? Majorly. It’s funny - I find that a lot of my fan base actually consists of a lot of middle-aged women, which is amazing. I think that largely came from being on The Voice when I was 20. Interestingly, I found there was a lot more acceptance of my body image when I dressed more conservatively. I guess that kind of mirrored what the crowd who came to see me was comfortable with. As I matured in my artistry, I took more risks and wrote music that was a bit more risqué, raunchy and vulgar. I obviously wanted to reflect that in the way that I presented myself on stage. So I’d wear a dress with a little bit more cleavage and raise the sex appeal, which is something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. I don’t think people are used to seeing a woman my size own their sexuality like that. If they do, it’s usually in pornography and they’re not going to talk about it. This was a way for me to playfully challenge what people think is sexy or beautiful, and maybe get them to consider that bigger bodies have just as much sex appeal [as smaller bodies]. Because everybody is desirable. The feedback I got from that was awesome, because people really relate to seeing someone that doesn’t conform to society’s standard of “sexy” owning their sexuality and doing it so comfortably, without being contrived. I definitely attribute that to having a really healthy relationship with a healthy sex life and being made to feel wonderful and sexy every single day, which really helps me elevate my body image. If I can give the same thing that my partner gives to me to my audiences, then I know that I’m doing my job. I want to help my audience feel empowered. That’s why releasing a song like Naked is so important to me. I want people to appreciate what is beneath their layers. You can be insecure and shy and not like certain things about yourself, but when you’re completely naked there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to be able to embrace every part of yourself. That’s why I talk about getting to know someone and everything that makes them who they are beside all the material stuff you see on the outside. Have white beauty standards had any implications on your artistry? No, not really. My sisters helped me realise that I was sexy. I was like, “You know what? Yeah”! Because of that, I’ve always walked with confidence and pride. I’ve never been ashamed of what I have, and because of that, I’ve never really compared myself to my white counterparts. White beauty standards exist in this sphere, and people can definitely succumb to the pressures that come from those standards. I think that if you have a really great support network around you (with people that hype you up everyday), you can counter those standards with something completely different and beautiful. I’m worthy of the swipe-right on Tinder. I’m worthy of all the things, because I’m beautiful, bold and sexy. And everyone can feel beautiful, bold and sexy. I don’t keep people around me that don’t make me feel good about myself. At the end of the day, people who fit within white beauty standards are still beautiful. I think everyone is absolutely stunning. And while I don’t see myself being represented in all campaigns, I can still appreciate beauty. As long as people are happy in their own bodies, then I’m happy. I think there’s definitely room to diversify beauty standards. Maybe we should just get rid of the standards altogether? There’s no realistic representation of what an average person looks like anyway. None of my friends fit into these standards at all. We all look so different. We all have a different way of looking at ourselves and appreciating the bodies that we have. Should we be talking about body image when there are more pressing social/political issues? I think that body image is a pressing social/political issue. Look at the way that women’s bodies are policed in every society, every workplace (sex workers)... um, hello? You can care about other political/social issues as well as this, but there’s a lot of things going on in the world and I think we’ll drive ourselves crazy if we try to fix everything at once. Everything that you fight for is reflective of where you are in life, and most definitely dependent on your privilege. One of the hardest things I’m dealing with is how I move through the world as a black woman, what my body image is, and how I'm perceived. And that’s definitely not something that my counterparts back in Zimbabwe are thinking about. Comparing an issue to something else undermines it. There’s a lot of “what about-isms” that happen, but they literally do nothing. I think about Beyoncé and her film Black Is King. A lot of people are not impressed with her exploitation of African culture and her inability to speak out on the injustices happening in Africa. There’s a lot of corruption, there’s famine, there’s disease, but like, we can’t really expect a pop star to be the voice of change. You’ve got to look at it realistically - it’s the law makers that allow this corruption to happen. You can’t expect someone to end corruption in Africa because they use Africa in their music. You know? I wouldn’t expect this conversation to be the thing that changes Australia’s perspective on body image and ends white beauty standards in Australia. Online activism is great because it raises awareness, but it’s actually more about what work is done after that. I think because we’re here in Australia, we need to use our privilege to address what’s happening in our own backyard. There are injustices here to First Nations people. How do we address these problems and situations? What you feel strongest about is what you fight hardest for. That’s what you’ve got to put your energy towards. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Do you think women’s expressions of sexuality are taboo? If so, why? I think they are, and I don’t think they should be. I think that the patriarchy (because there’s also women that encourage this) demands for women to be seen and not heard, and even when women are seen, they have to be very respectful, dainty and non-vulgar. They can’t openly talk about the things that they want. They can’t talk about their desires, they can’t express their sexuality. And then, you know, you have people that will come out and challenge that, like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in their new collaboration WAP. There’s so much criticism about them speaking so openly about their vaginas and people are offended and yet their male counterparts are releasing songs about fucking bitches and nailing them against wall. And that's acceptable?! I think that anyone who identifies as a woman who finds themselves shocked by WAP’s message should probably think about why they think that, considering their male counterparts have been doing that since the beginning of hip hop. Don't talk about how vulgar and trashy these women are because they're singing about their vaginas. Literally, let's look up every male who's ever sung about his dick and then we'll have the conversation. Even outside of music, think about how it’s just seen as promiscuous for a dude to sleep with a bunch of women, whereas if a woman is sexually liberated in the same way then she’s a whore. It doesn’t make sense. I think it’s archaic. I think it’s stupid. I think if women want to fuck 100 dudes, they should be able to fuck 100 dudes and have no one say anything about it. I don’t think someone’s sexual expression is anyone else’s business. I hate that it’s a taboo thing. I hate that when women who want to put it in their music or in their art it's considered vulgar. There's just literally no reason for it. I just kind of dip my toe in the water a little bit. Jill Scott is probably one of my biggest inspirations and her music is very sexually explicit in a very tasteful and fun way... I don't fellate my microphone because I don't want to have that conversation with my mum, but I still try to push boundaries of what I think people will be comfortable with. It’s really frustrating and I really thought that by the time I'd reached adulthood we'd have moved past all that stuff, but it seems like society definitely still has a really long way to go, especially when it comes down to basic things like double standards. Sexuality is taboo when it really shouldn't be. What change would you like to see happen in the so-called Australian music industry within the next five years? I would like to see people like me holding higher positions of power. If there’s a board for the ARIAs and all these record labels, you know, the gatekeepers, I think there has to be a fairer representation of what the scene itself looks like. And if that doesn't happen, then I’ll have to do it myself. But yeah, I definitely want to see more people that look like me represent the masses in those positions of power. It’s the people upstairs, and it’s about numbers, it’s about maintaining power. It should actually be about equity and sharing some of that around. Only then will we see a much more level playing field for everybody. And five years is more than enough time for that to happen. Keep up to date with Thando here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Grace Robinson: What Is There To Lose?

    By Grace Robinson, with contributions by Kali Shanthi Our Melbourne music industry frequently revels in its progressive nature, proudly brandishing its perception of diversity and inclusion. Despite these claims to diversity, women are still combatting the notable gender disparities prevalent in all sectors of our music industry and broader society. In 2017, a report published by the University of Sydney found female-identifying musicians to be severely disadvantaged across the board in the Australian music industry. Female representation on Victorian industry boards sat at a meagre 38%. Of the 100 most-played songs on Australian radio stations, a mere 21% featured women, and only 21.7% of APRA writers identify as female. As of last year, for every dollar a male musician earns, a female musician earns 12 cents less. Unfortunately, inequality is structurally embedded within the music scene, and operates with intersectionality, as it does in our broader society. BIPOC women, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQI+ community are almost completely absent in key industry roles. Despite this, prominent organisations enjoy the benefits of their tokenistic and superficial allyship with marginalised communities. But if our marginalised communities do not see themselves represented among the influential “leaders of the industry”, why are we surprised when there are astonishing disparities in our line ups, tertiary institutions and industry roles? However, since this report was published in 2017 – there’s been numerous female-centric initiatives, workshops and programs established in Australia to bring women into focus. Falls Festival committed to a 50% female representation on their 2018/2019 line up compared to the bleak 31% the previous year. This year we saw Billie Eilish take out the top position in the Hottest 100, the first solo female artist to win the title. Whilst these positive developments within Australia’s popular music scene are notable, unfortunately we haven’t seen these same advancements within our ever-evolving jazz and neo-soul industries. Unfortunately, the gender disparity in jazz and soul cannot be credited to the lack of women in the scene. There is no shortage of impressive, innovative and hardworking female identifying musicians in our communities - Ngaiire, Andrea Keller, Nai Palm, Kaiit, Gian Slater and Allysha Joy being the tip of the iceberg. The perspectives and behaviours that drive inequality are deeply ingrained within this industry, with progress largely at a standstill. Therefore, it is evident that this problem is not perpetuated by a lack of powerful and talented women, but instead the lack of accountability and proactive measures taken by powerful and talented men. To create meaningful change, these problems need to be addressed at the earliest stages of development, starting in our educational systems I was fourteen when I first encountered misogyny and gender inequality in the music industry. I brushed off these encounters as insignificant, thinking it’s just another demeaning and dismissive comment from a male sound engineer, booker or band member. However, it is increasingly apparent that in my formative years as a young female musician, these comments were pivotal in shaping my perspectives and behaviours within the industry. This being said - I am lucky that I was always a confident and self-assured teenager. I was valued and supported by my high school music program, and I was assured in my musical abilities. But when I began tertiary study in jazz and improvisation, I was confronted by the weight of gender inequality all around me. On the first day of university, I quickly realised that I was the only female in the majority of my classes. I was one of four female vocalists accepted – and one of eight females in the course in total. I had never encountered such a dramatic and notable gender disparity, and I was certainly not prepared for the substantial impact this marginalisation was bound to have on my confidence as a young musician. I noticed very quickly that the self doubt I was combatting was informed and even perpetuated by the attitudes of my male counterparts. My musical knowledge and abilities were underestimated by my lecturers and peers, my intelligence commonly diminished to just a pretty face, just a pretty voice. As a female musician, you’re taught to believe that the way you look is equally as important as the way you play. This was always in the back of my mind, so before weekly performance classes I would get up an hour earlier to ensure I looked my best. I felt I was sexualised on stage by my predominately male cohort, my appearance always under scrutiny and overshadowing my talent. The stigmatised stereotype of a female vocalist looking pretty at the front, with a bunch of blokes jamming out behind her, dominates the jazz scene and its accompanying institutions. This pressure of the male gaze exacerbates feelings of insecurity and self doubt. The musical intelligence of a singer is often overlooked and underestimated - I was constantly expected to prove my jazz credentials, my practice regime and my harmonic abilities to be considered equal in the eyes of my male counterparts. I responded to this dismissive attitude by engaging in my classes and practicing extensively, throwing myself into every aspect of the course. I asserted leadership roles within my ensembles and worked relentlessly alongside my male equivalents. However, this quickly manifested into a reputation of arrogance and bossiness; I began to be seen as a stereotypically overbearing and demanding woman. Speak up amongst your male colleagues and be labelled as overbearing and demanding, or stand in their shadows and remain underestimated for the rest of your career. This prompted me to reflect on how we can be proactive in creating educational environments that nurture, support and encourage our young women. Why do our music education programs consistently underrepresent women? How can we be proactive in ending these cycles that plague our white-washed, male dominated music industry, and instead create safe and inclusive spaces for our marginalised communities? Unfortunately, I haven't found the fix-all solution. However, my personal struggles against the discriminative cultures that pervade these biased educational institutions have taught me a lot. Informed by conversations with empowering women, I have identified and established some proactive measures that will work to disempower and deconstruct oppressive frameworks, creating a safer educational environment in which all students can thrive. (NOTE: Whilst these measures predominantly target gender inequality in music education, they can be easily adapted and inserted into any institution that lacks diversity.) Representation The importance of representation when discussing diversity and inequality is central, yet the simplicity of the concept is often overlooked. Female representation in leadership positions within any institution is crucial to creating a gender diverse and supportive environment and is essential in eradicating underlying systematic oppression. All young people in the early stages of their careers should see themselves represented within the higher power structures. Without representation, women, and all marginalised communities, continue to see their futures in the hands of cis white men, potentially discouraging them from pursuing their career. The answer is simple - hire more women - and in order to achieve this we need our male leaders to step up. We need you to stop hiring your mate, your brother-in-law or the guy you used to jam with at university. Instead, look harder – be accountable for your actions and not complicit in this cycle. Ask yourself, do you have enough women employed? Do you have enough BIPOC and queer people employed? Are you actively dismantling the structures which allow you to sit on top, while others fight twice as hard for recognition? If you have the power and privilege to make change – it is your responsibility to highlight the voices of those who do not. How can we get more young women auditioning for tertiary study in music? There is a notable inconsistency in female representation between our high school and university music programs. Tertiary study in music, and specifically in jazz, is potentially daunting to our younger women given the lack of gender equality within the industry. Naturally, this will cause some women to lack confidence in their talent and ability and be hesitant to audition. I think all music universities should have a team of female students who run workshops and initiate discussions with high school-aged female musicians. This is a super easy and practical initiative, and I believe would have an incredible impact on our next generation of female musicians. Establishing a community in which women can encourage other women is crucial to increasing female representation in male-centric systems. Quotas and targets to encourage representation Establishing quotas and targets within the industry is becoming increasingly common as a means to combat gender inequality and promote representation, as they are an easy and effective way to set an explicit goal within any institution. However, this tactic remains a contentious and controversial topic for many people. A common argument against implementing quotas is that positions and promotions should be merit-based, not gender-based. Not only is this argument somewhat offensive because it implies that fewer women are qualified for these roles, judging people on merit is a practice that has clearly failed in the past. I'm sure everyone on interview and audition boards have believed they were accepting people based on “merit”, but our male dominated, and white washed industries would say otherwise. Until we eliminate the unconscious bias prevalent in our societies, one’s idea of “merit” will be skewed by their prejudice. Another common misconception is that quotas give unqualified and untalented women the positions of qualified and talented men. Instead, targets aim to prioritise qualified women over their equally qualified male counterparts and create a significant female presence. Having a collective of women is a means for deconstructing prejudice and bias, while adding only one or two women leads to tokenisation and delegitimisation. Targets provide a structured framework to overcome these unconscious biases, allowing less room for unintended discrimination to emerge. However, I must stress that targets are only a first step; they are not the fix-all solution. Targets promote and prioritise female participation, but we need deeper structural change and support systems to combat the prevailing gender inequalities. Address AND discuss the inequalities Commonly in our education systems and broader society, we often refrain from discussing sensitive topics in an attempt to avoid conflict and confrontation. However, this prioritisation of “peace-keeping” is an exercise in privilege and ignorance. When those who are in privileged positions decide not to discuss the inequalities and injustices that affect those around them, they are actively benefiting off this silence. If a cis-white male lecturer is addressing a class of 38 men and two women, and does not address the notable gender disparity, they are complicit in normalising and perpetuating inequality. If a cis-white male lecturer is teaching a class on the history of jazz to an entirely white cohort, and doesn’t address this lack of diversity, they are complicit in perpetuating ignorance. Most modern popular music was quite literally founded on oppression. People of colour created and revolutionised jazz in heavily segregated 20th century America, yet the genre, especially in the Melbourne music scene, has been appropriated by white privilege. Whilst playing, learning and teaching this genre is not oppressive in principle, if you choose to ignore its tumultuous history then you are complicit in this oppressive cycle. In order to respectfully appreciate and perform jazz music, we need to address its racist and misogynistic past AND present, especially in our education systems. Once again – the solution to this particular problem is rather straightforward. Initiate discussions and acknowledge inequalities. Address the continuous oppressive structures that define our music industries and our broader societies, being sure to highlight the voices of minorities. Studying the Sexism and Racism of Music’s History should be compulsory. This is rather self-explanatory and builds upon my previous point. If our education systems want more diversity within their cohort, they need more diversity within their curriculum. If our industry wants to end the cyclic and systemic prejudices prevalent within our scene, we must educate our students on these frameworks, before dismantling them. Generally, we cannot eliminate a problem without first educating ourselves on it, and this accountability must be reflected in our curriculums. It seems obvious that within a system specifically designed to support and educate our upcoming musicians, education on the prevalence of discrimination within this genre and industry is necessary. Teach about women as much as you teach about men Jazz students have analysed, discussed and worshipped the contributions of pioneering male musicians at length. It's obvious why - they were extraordinary players. However, in my experiences as a jazz student, our revolutionary female jazz musicians aren't afforded the same place in our classrooms. While Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald are noted as exceptional singers, their compositions aren't regarded with the same esteem as those of their male counterparts. In my first year studying jazz, my cohort was given repertoire and song lists derived from 20th century jazz musicians and composers. In total, we were expected to learn, listen to and memorise some 50 jazz songs from the 20th century. There were over one hundred musicians featured on the list. Only four were women. When I questioned this lack of representation, I was told that “there weren’t a lot of women making jazz at that time”, or that they “wish there were more female instrumentalists but there just weren’t as many back then”. Most alarmingly, I even heard that it's “too hard to find women who were as good at that time”. Whilst there are varying degrees of truth to these claims, this dismissive perspective perpetuates the cycles of female marginalisation in our music industry. If young women don't see themselves reflected in our school curriculums, why would they be compelled to study them? It is first important to realise why there are less women in our jazz history. There is a pretty good reason why women in the 20th century are hard to find in our jazz history books - that reason being the damn patriarchy. There were plenty of incredible women learning, writing and playing music at this time, however they were not accepted on the stages or in the jazz clubs of the time. Women were not regarded as professional musicians, and were unaccepted in the toxic “boys club” jazz industry of the time. The women who destroyed these misogynistic frameworks and continued to create music despite being ostracised by their communities deserve to be regarded and respected in jazz history. The social politics of these times didn’t occur in a vacuum, they impacted every sphere of life and they must be taught as such. If you google “female jazz musicians in the 20th century”, you will find countless vocalists and instrumentalists who played in the same scene as our male icons: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Carla Bley, Irène Schweizer, Lovie Austin, and the list goes on. Revolutionary and influential female jazz musicians have played in the scene since the beginning. All of us - and especially our teachers - need to look harder. If you simply shrug and say, “there aren't enough good women in music history", then you are complicit in perpetuating a patriarchal mindset. Some programs are taking steps towards this. Some universities have recently made it compulsory to include a song showcasing a woman, or written by a woman, in all end of year recitals. This initiative is powerful and important. In my experience, if a recital does showcase a woman, it’s in a female musician’s recital. Forcing young male musicians to promote and support female musicians can help to actively dismantle their unconscious biases, thereby encouraging equality. This will work to educate students about influential female musicians of the past, whilst incorporating female musicians into repertoire and performances today. Stop tokenising your female musicians! Being a woman in a male-dominated institution, I have noticed that often we are separated into different ensembles and classes, so that each group can have their token female musician. This strategy seems logical on paper: try to have at least one woman in every class. However, in practice, this separation even further marginalises and ostracises the already out-numbered women in this institution. Alternatively, education systems should support their marginalised communities by allowing them to encourage each other. If you want all women to feel validated and welcomed within these male-centric institutions, give them opportunities to work together and support one another, don’t tokenise them. In my experiences, it is increasingly difficult to feel a sense of belonging when you are consistently the only female in your ensembles, performances and classes. Naturally, when feeling outnumbered in any social circumstance, we instinctively withdraw ourselves and feel a lack of confidence in our ideas and creations. Whilst focusing on systematic changes that will create a more inclusive learning environment for future female musicians, it is integral to also support the current female musicians. I encourage music institutions to create targeted ensembles only for women, or any marginalised community. These ensembles should not be audition-based or select entry, instead they should be an environment created to empower female musicians and encourage collaboration and creation. Creating spaces where women can feel supported and validated within their male-dominated institutions is integral for institutional and personal growth. Address the dark history of jazz giants Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Frank Sinatra are undeniably revolutionary and exceptional musicians. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing they have in common. These four pioneering men, amongst many others of the time, all have a sordid history of sexual assault and domestic violence. Miles Davis openly admitted to beating and abusing his three wives with little remorse and regret. His first wife once told a New York Times interviewer that “I actually left running for my life—more than once.” Similarly, Charlie “Bird” Parker had a reputation of exploiting and harassing young women for his sexual benefit. In Miles Davis’s memoir, we hear that Charlie Parker once forced a woman to perform oral sex on him in the back seat of a taxi while he ate fried chicken. Frank Sinatra was known for his “sex-parties” that he would host amongst the elite “boys-club” of the jazz industry, which would involve hiring young women to take part in group sexual activity, often under the influence of cocaine. Sinatra was also guilty of luring ex-girlfriend Marilyn Monroe to his Cal Neva Lodge resort in Lake Tahoe, where she was then drugged and sexually assaulted by Sinatra and other powerful men, including mob boss and leader Sam Giancana. Although these men are evidently impactful and important within the jazz and music industries, their moral failings often go unmentioned. These men should not be idolised. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate the musician from their music, but there is little effort to do so in our classrooms and society. Whilst these men made seminal contributions that continue to shape young jazz musicians today, our youth need to be made aware that they were abusers. For me, cancel culture is not the answer, and although I believe that their compositions should continue to be taught, it must be alongside a detailed depiction of their dark history off stage. If this abusive behaviour is not addressed, it is somewhat endorsed. We need to pierce the glossy artifice of our male icons and discuss their downfalls alongside their greatness, breaking the cycle of despicable behaviour in great male musicians. Our educational institutions have a responsibility to speak out against assault and violence, especially when these issues continue to plague our jazz industry today. Change is within your control, don’t view inequality as beyond the individual. As a society we fear change and often view prevalent inequalities as untouchable and unfixable by the individual. Although most of us can acknowledge the oppressive systems that continue to hold cis-het white men at the top, we can also feel overwhelmed and helpless in our quest to change this. However, an individual can make a difference and the pervading idea that inequality is just too big to handle is one of the reasons we lack progress in this industry, as we do in society. We need to reshape our perception of inequality to begin to see it as an individual responsibility, rather than a societal burden. There are countless small measures that men, and any person of privilege, can incorporate into their daily lives to support and foster those around them in marginalised communities. The first step is awareness: assess the situations and environments you find yourself in. Who do you surround yourself with? Are you predominantly surrounded by cis-white men? Do you lack diversity within your social circles and music communities? Question this. The next step is putting your money where your mouth is, both figuratively and literally! If you’re a young man in the industry and want to make change, it's as easy as actively supporting women, non-binary, queer and BIPOC people in the industry. Request their music on the radio. Listen to them and add them to your Spotify playlists. Share their music with your circles. Buy their music. Go to their gigs, book them for gigs, ask to collaborate with them. If you see questionable behaviour in your circles – CALL IT OUT. Just because they're your favourite band or a close friend, does not mean they get an excuse to be problematic. Stop getting the same cis-white friends on your trendy neo-soul line ups, we’re all so tired of seeing identical line ups every Saturday night. Branch out and demand diversity. Seek out BIPOC musicians and female fronted bands and demand representation. Until we see men actively using their voices to promote diversity, progress will remain largely at a standstill - we can’t do this alone! Make sure your gigs and events are safe for women and marginalised communities: Are the security guards trained in cultural sensitivity? Are there female and BIPOC people on staff? Boys club line ups promote boys club audiences, and we are tired of feeling objectified while trying to enjoy music. Most importantly – check in with your female-identifying, queer and BIPOC friends. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them feel supported, actively check your privilege and combat your bias. The truth is, inequalities are often weaponised and used to divide our society. The prevailing “us-versus-them” mindset only magnifies and reinforces our differences, when we should be forming a united front. The truth is, a diverse and equal music industry will benefit everyone. If all musicians are placed on a level playing field, we will see truly earth-shattering creations and performances within our scene. An inclusive and diverse music industry will allow all artists to create music with equal opportunity – which will have indescribable benefits for our creative industry and music economy. However, if we continue to be complicit in the cyclic prejudices which plague our industry, we will remain divided and unequal. Change can happen, but only if we work together. We already have the ball rolling, so let’s support each other to keep the momentum and demand change. Remember, to the privileged, equality always feels like oppression. What is there to lose? Keep up to date with Grace here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. By Grace Robinson with contributions by Kali Shanthi. Edited by Jake Amy, Rose Bassett and Michael Belchamber.

  • Grace Robinson: What Is There To Lose?

    Written by Grace Robinson with contributions from Kali Shanthi Our Melbourne music industry frequently revels in its progressive nature, proudly brandishing its perception of diversity and inclusion. Despite these claims to diversity, women are still combatting the notable gender disparities prevalent in all sectors of our music industry and broader society. In 2017, a report published by the University of Sydney found female-identifying musicians to be severely disadvantaged across the board in the Australian music industry. Female representation on Victorian industry boards sat at a meagre 38%. Of the 100 most-played songs on Australian radio stations, a mere 21% featured women, and only 21.7% of APRA writers identify as female. As of last year, for every dollar a male musician earns, a female musician earns 12 cents less. Unfortunately, inequality is structurally embedded within the music scene, and operates with intersectionality, as it does in our broader society. BIPOC women, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQI+ community are almost completely absent in key industry roles. Despite this, prominent organisations enjoy the benefits of their tokenistic and superficial allyship with marginalised communities. But if our marginalised communities do not see themselves represented among the influential “leaders of the industry”, why are we surprised when there are astonishing disparities in our line ups, tertiary institutions and industry roles? However, since this report was published in 2017 – there’s been numerous female-centric initiatives, workshops and programs established in Australia to bring women into focus. Falls Festival committed to a 50% female representation on their 2018/2019 line up compared to the bleak 31% the previous year. This year we saw Billie Eilish take out the top position in the Hottest 100, the first solo female artist to win the title. Whilst these positive developments within Australia’s popular music scene are notable, unfortunately we haven’t seen these same advancements within our ever-evolving jazz and neo-soul industries. Unfortunately, the gender disparity in jazz and soul cannot be credited to the lack of women in the scene. There is no shortage of impressive, innovative and hardworking female identifying musicians in our communities - Ngaiire, Andrea Keller, Nai Palm, Kaiit, Gian Slater and Allysha Joy being the tip of the iceberg. The perspectives and behaviours that drive inequality are deeply ingrained within this industry, with progress largely at a standstill. Therefore, it is evident that this problem is not perpetuated by a lack of powerful and talented women, but instead the lack of accountability and proactive measures taken by powerful and talented men. To create meaningful change, these problems need to be addressed at the earliest stages of development, starting in our educational systems I was fourteen when I first encountered misogyny and gender inequality in the music industry. I brushed off these encounters as insignificant, thinking it’s just another demeaning and dismissive comment from a male sound engineer, booker or band member. However, it is increasingly apparent that in my formative years as a young female musician, these comments were pivotal in shaping my perspectives and behaviours within the industry. This being said - I am lucky that I was always a confident and self-assured teenager. I was valued and supported by my high school music program, and I was assured in my musical abilities. But when I began tertiary study in jazz and improvisation, I was confronted by the weight of gender inequality all around me. On the first day of university, I quickly realised that I was the only female in the majority of my classes. I was one of four female vocalists accepted – and one of eight females in the course in total. I had never encountered such a dramatic and notable gender disparity, and I was certainly not prepared for the substantial impact this marginalisation was bound to have on my confidence as a young musician. I noticed very quickly that the self doubt I was combatting was informed and even perpetuated by the attitudes of my male counterparts. My musical knowledge and abilities were underestimated by my lecturers and peers, my intelligence commonly diminished to just a pretty face, just a pretty voice. As a female musician, you’re taught to believe that the way you look is equally as important as the way you play. This was always in the back of my mind, so before weekly performance classes I would get up an hour earlier to ensure I looked my best. I felt I was sexualised on stage by my predominately male cohort, my appearance always under scrutiny and overshadowing my talent. The stigmatised stereotype of a female vocalist looking pretty at the front, with a bunch of blokes jamming out behind her, dominates the jazz scene and its accompanying institutions. This pressure of the male gaze exacerbates feelings of insecurity and self doubt. The musical intelligence of a singer is often overlooked and underestimated - I was constantly expected to prove my jazz credentials, my practice regime and my harmonic abilities to be considered equal in the eyes of my male counterparts. I responded to this dismissive attitude by engaging in my classes and practicing extensively, throwing myself into every aspect of the course. I asserted leadership roles within my ensembles and worked relentlessly alongside my male equivalents. However, this quickly manifested into a reputation of arrogance and bossiness; I began to be seen as a stereotypically overbearing and demanding woman. Speak up amongst your male colleagues and be labelled as overbearing and demanding, or stand in their shadows and remain underestimated for the rest of your career. This prompted me to reflect on how we can be proactive in creating educational environments that nurture, support and encourage our young women. Why do our music education programs consistently underrepresent women? How can we be proactive in ending these cycles that plague our white-washed, male dominated music industry, and instead create safe and inclusive spaces for our marginalised communities? Unfortunately, I haven't found the fix-all solution. However, my personal struggles against the discriminative cultures that pervade these biased educational institutions have taught me a lot. Informed by conversations with empowering women, I have identified and established some proactive measures that will work to disempower and deconstruct oppressive frameworks, creating a safer educational environment in which all students can thrive. (NOTE: Whilst these measures predominantly target gender inequality in music education, they can be easily adapted and inserted into any institution that lacks diversity.) Representation The importance of representation when discussing diversity and inequality is central, yet the simplicity of the concept is often overlooked. Female representation in leadership positions within any institution is crucial to creating a gender diverse and supportive environment and is essential in eradicating underlying systematic oppression. All young people in the early stages of their careers should see themselves represented within the higher power structures. Without representation, women, and all marginalised communities, continue to see their futures in the hands of cis white men, potentially discouraging them from pursuing their career. The answer is simple - hire more women - and in order to achieve this we need our male leaders to step up. We need you to stop hiring your mate, your brother-in-law or the guy you used to jam with at university. Instead, look harder – be accountable for your actions and not complicit in this cycle. Ask yourself, do you have enough women employed? Do you have enough BIPOC and queer people employed? Are you actively dismantling the structures which allow you to sit on top, while others fight twice as hard for recognition? If you have the power and privilege to make change – it is your responsibility to highlight the voices of those who do not. How can we get more young women auditioning for tertiary study in music? There is a notable inconsistency in female representation between our high school and university music programs. Tertiary study in music, and specifically in jazz, is potentially daunting to our younger women given the lack of gender equality within the industry. Naturally, this will cause some women to lack confidence in their talent and ability and be hesitant to audition. I think all music universities should have a team of female students who run workshops and initiate discussions with high school-aged female musicians. This is a super easy and practical initiative, and I believe would have an incredible impact on our next generation of female musicians. Establishing a community in which women can encourage other women is crucial to increasing female representation in male-centric systems. Quotas and targets to encourage representation Establishing quotas and targets within the industry is becoming increasingly common as a means to combat gender inequality and promote representation, as they are an easy and effective way to set an explicit goal within any institution. However, this tactic remains a contentious and controversial topic for many people. A common argument against implementing quotas is that positions and promotions should be merit-based, not gender-based. Not only is this argument somewhat offensive because it implies that fewer women are qualified for these roles, judging people on merit is a practice that has clearly failed in the past. I'm sure everyone on interview and audition boards have believed they were accepting people based on “merit”, but our male dominated, and white washed industries would say otherwise. Until we eliminate the unconscious bias prevalent in our societies, one’s idea of “merit” will be skewed by their prejudice. Another common misconception is that quotas give unqualified and untalented women the positions of qualified and talented men. Instead, targets aim to prioritise qualified women over their equally qualified male counterparts and create a significant female presence. Having a collective of women is a means for deconstructing prejudice and bias, while adding only one or two women leads to tokenisation and delegitimisation. Targets provide a structured framework to overcome these unconscious biases, allowing less room for unintended discrimination to emerge. However, I must stress that targets are only a first step; they are not the fix-all solution. Targets promote and prioritise female participation, but we need deeper structural change and support systems to combat the prevailing gender inequalities. Address AND discuss the inequalities Commonly in our education systems and broader society, we often refrain from discussing sensitive topics in an attempt to avoid conflict and confrontation. However, this prioritisation of “peace-keeping” is an exercise in privilege and ignorance. When those who are in privileged positions decide not to discuss the inequalities and injustices that affect those around them, they are actively benefiting off this silence. If a cis-white male lecturer is addressing a class of 38 men and two women, and does not address the notable gender disparity, they are complicit in normalising and perpetuating inequality. If a cis-white male lecturer is teaching a class on the history of jazz to an entirely white cohort, and doesn’t address this lack of diversity, they are complicit in perpetuating ignorance. Most modern popular music was quite literally founded on oppression. People of colour created and revolutionised jazz in heavily segregated 20th century America, yet the genre, especially in the Melbourne music scene, has been appropriated by white privilege. Whilst playing, learning and teaching this genre is not oppressive in principle, if you choose to ignore its tumultuous history then you are complicit in this oppressive cycle. In order to respectfully appreciate and perform jazz music, we need to address its racist and misogynistic past AND present, especially in our education systems. Once again – the solution to this particular problem is rather straightforward. Initiate discussions and acknowledge inequalities. Address the continuous oppressive structures that define our music industries and our broader societies, being sure to highlight the voices of minorities. Studying the Sexism and Racism of Music’s History should be compulsory. This is rather self-explanatory and builds upon my previous point. If our education systems want more diversity within their cohort, they need more diversity within their curriculum. If our industry wants to end the cyclic and systemic prejudices prevalent within our scene, we must educate our students on these frameworks, before dismantling them. Generally, we cannot eliminate a problem without first educating ourselves on it, and this accountability must be reflected in our curriculums. It seems obvious that within a system specifically designed to support and educate our upcoming musicians, education on the prevalence of discrimination within this genre and industry is necessary. Teach about women as much as you teach about men Jazz students have analysed, discussed and worshipped the contributions of pioneering male musicians at length. It's obvious why - they were extraordinary players. However, in my experiences as a jazz student, our revolutionary female jazz musicians aren't afforded the same place in our classrooms. While Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald are noted as exceptional singers, their compositions aren't regarded with the same esteem as those of their male counterparts. In my first year studying jazz, my cohort was given repertoire and song lists derived from 20th century jazz musicians and composers. In total, we were expected to learn, listen to and memorise some 50 jazz songs from the 20th century. There were over one hundred musicians featured on the list. Only four were women. When I questioned this lack of representation, I was told that “there weren’t a lot of women making jazz at that time”, or that they “wish there were more female instrumentalists but there just weren’t as many back then”. Most alarmingly, I even heard that it's “too hard to find women who were as good at that time”. Whilst there are varying degrees of truth to these claims, this dismissive perspective perpetuates the cycles of female marginalisation in our music industry. If young women don't see themselves reflected in our school curriculums, why would they be compelled to study them? It is first important to realise why there are less women in our jazz history. There is a pretty good reason why women in the 20th century are hard to find in our jazz history books - that reason being the damn patriarchy. There were plenty of incredible women learning, writing and playing music at this time, however they were not accepted on the stages or in the jazz clubs of the time. Women were not regarded as professional musicians, and were unaccepted in the toxic “boys club” jazz industry of the time. The women who destroyed these misogynistic frameworks and continued to create music despite being ostracised by their communities deserve to be regarded and respected in jazz history. The social politics of these times didn’t occur in a vacuum, they impacted every sphere of life and they must be taught as such. If you google “female jazz musicians in the 20th century”, you will find countless vocalists and instrumentalists who played in the same scene as our male icons: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Carla Bley, Irène Schweizer, Lovie Austin, and the list goes on. Revolutionary and influential female jazz musicians have played in the scene since the beginning. All of us - and especially our teachers - need to look harder. If you simply shrug and say, “there aren't enough good women in music history", then you are complicit in perpetuating a patriarchal mindset. Some programs are taking steps towards this. Some universities have recently made it compulsory to include a song showcasing a woman, or written by a woman, in all end of year recitals. This initiative is powerful and important. In my experience, if a recital does showcase a woman, it’s in a female musician’s recital. Forcing young male musicians to promote and support female musicians can help to actively dismantle their unconscious biases, thereby encouraging equality. This will work to educate students about influential female musicians of the past, whilst incorporating female musicians into repertoire and performances today. Stop tokenising your female musicians! Being a woman in a male-dominated institution, I have noticed that often we are separated into different ensembles and classes, so that each group can have their token female musician. This strategy seems logical on paper: try to have at least one woman in every class. However, in practice, this separation even further marginalises and ostracises the already out-numbered women in this institution. Alternatively, education systems should support their marginalised communities by allowing them to encourage each other. If you want all women to feel validated and welcomed within these male-centric institutions, give them opportunities to work together and support one another, don’t tokenise them. In my experiences, it is increasingly difficult to feel a sense of belonging when you are consistently the only female in your ensembles, performances and classes. Naturally, when feeling outnumbered in any social circumstance, we instinctively withdraw ourselves and feel a lack of confidence in our ideas and creations. Whilst focusing on systematic changes that will create a more inclusive learning environment for future female musicians, it is integral to also support the current female musicians. I encourage music institutions to create targeted ensembles only for women, or any marginalised community. These ensembles should not be audition-based or select entry, instead they should be an environment created to empower female musicians and encourage collaboration and creation. Creating spaces where women can feel supported and validated within their male-dominated institutions is integral for institutional and personal growth. Address the dark history of jazz giants Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Frank Sinatra are undeniably revolutionary and exceptional musicians. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing they have in common. These four pioneering men, amongst many others of the time, all have a sordid history of sexual assault and domestic violence. Miles Davis openly admitted to beating and abusing his three wives with little remorse and regret. His first wife once told a New York Times interviewer that “I actually left running for my life—more than once.” Similarly, Charlie “Bird” Parker had a reputation of exploiting and harassing young women for his sexual benefit. In Miles Davis’s memoir, we hear that Charlie Parker once forced a woman to perform oral sex on him in the back seat of a taxi while he ate fried chicken. Frank Sinatra was known for his “sex-parties” that he would host amongst the elite “boys-club” of the jazz industry, which would involve hiring young women to take part in group sexual activity, often under the influence of cocaine. Sinatra was also guilty of luring ex-girlfriend Marilyn Monroe to his Cal Neva Lodge resort in Lake Tahoe, where she was then drugged and sexually assaulted by Sinatra and other powerful men, including mob boss and leader Sam Giancana. Although these men are evidently impactful and important within the jazz and music industries, their moral failings often go unmentioned. These men should not be idolised. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate the musician from their music, but there is little effort to do so in our classrooms and society. Whilst these men made seminal contributions that continue to shape young jazz musicians today, our youth need to be made aware that they were abusers. For me, cancel culture is not the answer, and although I believe that their compositions should continue to be taught, it must be alongside a detailed depiction of their dark history off stage. If this abusive behaviour is not addressed, it is somewhat endorsed. We need to pierce the glossy artifice of our male icons and discuss their downfalls alongside their greatness, breaking the cycle of despicable behaviour in great male musicians. Our educational institutions have a responsibility to speak out against assault and violence, especially when these issues continue to plague our jazz industry today. Change is within your control, don’t view inequality as beyond the individual. As a society we fear change and often view prevalent inequalities as untouchable and unfixable by the individual. Although most of us can acknowledge the oppressive systems that continue to hold cis-het white men at the top, we can also feel overwhelmed and helpless in our quest to change this. However, an individual can make a difference and the pervading idea that inequality is just too big to handle is one of the reasons we lack progress in this industry, as we do in society. We need to reshape our perception of inequality to begin to see it as an individual responsibility, rather than a societal burden. There are countless small measures that men, and any person of privilege, can incorporate into their daily lives to support and foster those around them in marginalised communities. The first step is awareness: assess the situations and environments you find yourself in. Who do you surround yourself with? Are you predominantly surrounded by cis-white men? Do you lack diversity within your social circles and music communities? Question this. The next step is putting your money where your mouth is, both figuratively and literally! If you’re a young man in the industry and want to make change, it's as easy as actively supporting women, non-binary, queer and BIPOC people in the industry. Request their music on the radio. Listen to them and add them to your Spotify playlists. Share their music with your circles. Buy their music. Go to their gigs, book them for gigs, ask to collaborate with them. If you see questionable behaviour in your circles – CALL IT OUT. Just because they're your favourite band or a close friend, does not mean they get an excuse to be problematic. Stop getting the same cis-white friends on your trendy neo-soul line ups, we’re all so tired of seeing identical line ups every Saturday night. Branch out and demand diversity. Seek out BIPOC musicians and female fronted bands and demand representation. Until we see men actively using their voices to promote diversity, progress will remain largely at a standstill - we can’t do this alone! Make sure your gigs and events are safe for women and marginalised communities: Are the security guards trained in cultural sensitivity? Are there female and BIPOC people on staff? Boys club line ups promote boys club audiences, and we are tired of feeling objectified while trying to enjoy music. Most importantly – check in with your female-identifying, queer and BIPOC friends. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them feel supported, actively check your privilege and combat your bias. The truth is, inequalities are often weaponised and used to divide our society. The prevailing “us-versus-them” mindset only magnifies and reinforces our differences, when we should be forming a united front. The truth is, a diverse and equal music industry will benefit everyone. If all musicians are placed on a level playing field, we will see truly earth-shattering creations and performances within our scene. An inclusive and diverse music industry will allow all artists to create music with equal opportunity – which will have indescribable benefits for our creative industry and music economy. However, if we continue to be complicit in the cyclic prejudices which plague our industry, we will remain divided and unequal. Change can happen, but only if we work together. We already have the ball rolling, so let’s support each other to keep the momentum and demand change. Remember, to the privileged, equality always feels like oppression. What is there to lose? Keep up to date with Grace here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. Thank you dearly to Grace for writing this. ​ Article first published 20 August 2020. Photographs taken by Renee Kypriotis, Tania Jovanovic and Brendan Bonsack. Written by Grace Robinson with contributions by Kali Shanthi. Edited by Jake Amy, Rose Bassett and Michael Belchamber.

  • Maggie Zhu on the Hyper-Sexualisation of Dance Movement

    By Emma Volard, Jake Amy, Ella Clair, Rose Bassett, Kate Oldfield There is an inexplicable connectedness between music and dance. Mother and child, ecosystem and sunlight, dreams and experiences. An interdependency unparalleled and inextricably biological. Over time, the duality between music and dance has proven itself to be one of these enigmatic forces. Maggie Zhu, a Naarm-based movement artist, is breaking new ground between these artforms. Maggie talks on how her art has been moulded by internal and external factors that are closely linked to experience and subtleties of life. There’s much to learn from Maggie’s connectedness with self, others, society and her surroundings, and her “take-no-shit” attitude. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. In regards to gender inequality, what have you experienced as a female in the arts sector? I carry myself around in a certain way. People wouldn’t normally fuck with me. I’m pretty fucking tough and I know that of myself: I know how to protect myself. But still, one of the worst experiences with gender violence I have had was with a visual artist who’s really talented. We caught up the first time just to hang and we got along well. When we caught up for a second time they said, “I don’t know if I want to collaborate with you, because I’m under the impression that you won’t follow my instruction”. They wanted to control me. Apparently they had “a certain vision in mind” for our collaboration. I thought collaborations were meant to be mutually beneficial, but really, he just wanted a body to fit into his agenda. So frustrating. But I look back and I’m really happy with the way I dealt with it. Ever since, I’ve pushed myself to maintain creative control, rather than having discussions with arseholes like that. There’s always dickheads like that floating around and hitting on me. In the weirdest ways. But I don’t let them fuck with me. I feel bad for girls in the freestyle [dance] community who are just starting and entering their first battles - as a woman, it’s fucked. If you want to be in the industry, you’ve got to have really tough skin, because you’ll have to deal with all sorts of gender violence. And it’s shit you just don’t deal with if you’re a guy. It’s still a sad reality. As a dancer, do you feel that people hyper-sexualise your movement? Oh, fuck yeah. Don’t even get me started. The style that I perform is quite “feminine”. It’s called waacking and originated 1970s gay club scene in LA. It was more of a club dance about freeing people’s sexuality, and at that time, people just didn't have the opportunity to do stuff like that: moving past the binary and embracing the fact that gender and sexuality is as fluid as you want it to be. From a male gaze, it could definitely be seen as sexual, but expressing my sexuality as a woman does not invite you to have sex with me. That's not a sexual invitation to anyone. I’m just trying to be myself. I understand that it can be misinterpreted, but it’s a shame. I often feel sexually objectified, especially as an Asian woman. Due to its political/social history, do you feel that waacking impacts your creative performance choices? Waacking and its culture definitely impacts me as a creative artist. I think the dance is very much about performance, which is political in itself. Dance really encourages me to be sensitive to everyone - everyone has the right to be respected by this dance form - and it pays homage to every individual, no matter who they are. How did you develop your own unique style of movement? I’ve been dancing my whole life. I began hardcore ballet training when I was 6. My teacher… god, she was strict. I would literally have nightmares about my classes. Until I started waacking at 15, dance was just more of a hobby that helped me connect with people - moving together and having that sense of unity felt/feels really powerful. But looking back, I’m very grateful that I learnt in this way early on. My teacher gave me the awareness to control my body. Now it’s just part of me - it’s muscle memory. I've been doing freestyle ever since. For me, dance is about individual expression. I realise now that it’s inseparable with my experience as an individual. I see my experience and my dance as one. It’s just me. And I think that very much shaped my “style”. What are you inspired by? Artistic and creative wise, many things come into my mind. What really inspires me is everyday life. And humans. Humans are so interesting. It’s incredible how much inspiration you can get from them - I love people watching. Every little nuanced movement provides me with a new idea. I’m also constantly listening to podcasts, reading and researching online and finding new artists on social media (who are just mind blowing). [I get] inspiration from my heart, which evolves with time: my want to be in-touch with myself. What is my purpose? What is my intention? Who am I? I'm learning to find stillness and the power within that. On your Instagram, I noticed that you’ve labelled yourself as a “movement artist” as opposed to a dancer. Why? That’s a purposeful decision that actually goes back to what we were talking about earlier… from that shitty conversation with the visual artist. That moment was a turning point for me in establishing myself as an artist, rather than a dancer. I never want to be an accessory in somebody else’s project. I love collaborating but not in a manipulative context. So, for that reason, I changed my title. I think that’s essentially what I’m working to be. With that being said, I don't think there’s anything wrong with being called a “dancer”, but I do think it’s important to be consistent with what you believe in and your values as a human. I’m very much into the nuances: I want to make sure that I’m sending out the messages I want to convey. Could you touch on what being a multidisciplinary artist entails? I’ve always been really interested in art in general, and I think “art” is a very general term. I’m so fascinated in seeing what kinds of collaborations result in combining different genres together. In a way, artistic crossover doesn’t even necessarily have to be art-based disciplinaries. It could be interdisciplinary experiments. What would a creative and a scientist come up with? I think my recent practice has resolved around that. How are you coping with lockdown? At the start of the first lockdown, I was actually a bit relieved. I thought, “I can actually take a break”. I’d been working like a machine, burning myself. I think lockdown has given us more opportunities to collaborate with artists across the world, as we are all in the same boat. I was quite excited about technology’s role in COVID-19. There’s no distance in cyberspace. Communication is so quick and efficient. That being said, I think that live streams and other online gigs will never replace a physical performance. As much as you can try to (re)create an atmosphere online, with set design etc., you can never really experience that full vibration you get with people when you’re together in a physical space. In general, I feel that creatives in Victoria are all a bit scattered at the moment, because of this. I definitely feel quite uncertain and stagnant in terms of my own creativity. As an artist, I think I always have purpose, and that’s closely associated with who I am and where I’m at in my life. I think it’s good that we can break and explore different ways of creating, but I don't want to lie to myself - I miss being around people and their energy in the physical sphere. How does movement and improvised dance affect the visceral experience of live music? In live music, movement and dance definitely create more visual stimulation. For me, it’s about the interaction of the visuals with the audience and how human and non-human elements combine. What does “performing” mean to you? Honouring my being in that moment. If you think about it, performing is quite spiritual because there’s nothing quite like the experience of being in that moment. It’s a beautiful space where you let everything else go. You can do as many rehearsals as you like beforehand, but in that moment, it really doesn’t matter how prepared you are. E: How much of your performance is composed beforehand? I can do choreography, but it’s not really my thing. I'm a freestyle dancer. Pretty much everything I do is improvised on the spot. E: Is it reactionary to what you hear? Yes, there’s definitely a lot of interaction between sound and movement. But at the same time, there’s so much more than just reacting to each other. I feel that it’s more a chemical interaction on stage: feeling each other’s presence, creating an aura, being. And that’s between all the different artforms involved. "There’s always dickheads floating around but I don’t let them fuck with me." Are there any particular qualities you look for in an individual before you collaborate with them? Yes, there are. For me, I guess it’s not so much about what they do, it’s about how they do it. With collaborators, I’m really looking for truthful, honest people. As individuals, I think that’s something that we intuitively feel. It's about the vibe. In today’s day and age, how important is it to have dance at a live music event? As artists, we should all have the freedom to do what we want. I don’t really believe that having dance at a live gig is 100% necessary. It’s up to the artists - the music and its intention. At the end of the day, every artform should be respected equally, no matter what decisions are made. Any advice for emerging movement and multidisciplinary artists? It will sound a bit cliché, but I'm going to say it anyway: just keep doing you. It’s going to be a beautiful journey. You will have a lot of shitty times. But you will find those loved ones who will support you and your vision. At the end of the day, it’s your journey… yours and yours only. You’re the only one who should make the decisions and know where you’re heading. Keep believing it, even in the darkest days. The dark days will come (especially this year - they're coming quite often). Anything lined up for the near future? I am such a workaholic - I always have something lined up. Right now, I have a pretty chill schedule comparatively to “normal”, (which I am learning how to moderate). I’m constantly putting up material on Instagram. Keep up to date with Maggie here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.

  • Maggie Zhu on the Hyper-Sexualisation of Dance Movement

    Written by Emma Volard and Jake Amy There is an inexplicable connectedness between music and dance. Mother and child, ecosystem and sunlight, dreams and experiences. An interdependency unparalleled and inextricably biological. Over time, the duality between music and dance has proven itself to be one of these enigmatic forces. Maggie Zhu, a Naarm-based movement artist, is breaking new ground between these artforms. Maggie talks on how her art has been moulded by internal and external factors that are closely linked to experience and subtleties of life. There’s much to learn from Maggie’s connectedness with self, others, society and her surroundings, and her “take-no-shit” attitude. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation. In regards to gender inequality, what have you experienced as a female in the arts sector? I carry myself around in a certain way. People wouldn’t normally fuck with me. I’m pretty fucking tough and I know that of myself: I know how to protect myself. But still, one of the worst experiences with gender violence I have had was with a visual artist who’s really talented. We caught up the first time just to hang and we got along well. When we caught up for a second time they said, “I don’t know if I want to collaborate with you, because I’m under the impression that you won’t follow my instruction”. They wanted to control me. Apparently they had “a certain vision in mind” for our collaboration. I thought collaborations were meant to be mutually beneficial, but really, he just wanted a body to fit into his agenda. So frustrating. But I look back and I’m really happy with the way I dealt with it. Ever since, I’ve pushed myself to maintain creative control, rather than having discussions with arseholes like that. There’s always dickheads like that floating around and hitting on me. In the weirdest ways. But I don’t let them fuck with me. I feel bad for girls in the freestyle [dance] community who are just starting and entering their first battles - as a woman, it’s fucked. If you want to be in the industry, you’ve got to have really tough skin, because you’ll have to deal with all sorts of gender violence. And it’s shit you just don’t deal with if you’re a guy. It’s still a sad reality. As a dancer, do you feel that people hyper-sexualise your movement? Oh, fuck yeah. Don’t even get me started. The style that I perform is quite “feminine”. It’s called waacking and originated 1970s gay club scene in LA. It was more of a club dance about freeing people’s sexuality, and at that time, people just didn't have the opportunity to do stuff like that: moving past the binary and embracing the fact that gender and sexuality is as fluid as you want it to be. From a male gaze, it could definitely be seen as sexual, but expressing my sexuality as a woman does not invite you to have sex with me. That's not a sexual invitation to anyone. I’m just trying to be myself. I understand that it can be misinterpreted, but it’s a shame. I often feel sexually objectified, especially as an Asian woman. Due to its political/social history, do you feel that waacking impacts your creative performance choices? Waacking and its culture definitely impacts me as a creative artist. I think the dance is very much about performance, which is political in itself. Dance really encourages me to be sensitive to everyone - everyone has the right to be respected by this dance form - and it pays homage to every individual, no matter who they are. How did you develop your own unique style of movement? I’ve been dancing my whole life. I began hardcore ballet training when I was 6. My teacher… god, she was strict. I would literally have nightmares about my classes. Until I started waacking at 15, dance was just more of a hobby that helped me connect with people - moving together and having that sense of unity felt/feels really powerful. But looking back, I’m very grateful that I learnt in this way early on. My teacher gave me the awareness to control my body. Now it’s just part of me - it’s muscle memory. I've been doing freestyle ever since. For me, dance is about individual expression. I realise now that it’s inseparable with my experience as an individual. I see my experience and my dance as one. It’s just me. And I think that very much shaped my “style”. What are you inspired by? Artistic and creative wise, many things come into my mind. What really inspires me is everyday life. And humans. Humans are so interesting. It’s incredible how much inspiration you can get from them - I love people watching. Every little nuanced movement provides me with a new idea. I’m also constantly listening to podcasts, reading and researching online and finding new artists on social media (who are just mind blowing). [I get] inspiration from my heart, which evolves with time: my want to be in-touch with myself. What is my purpose? What is my intention? Who am I? I'm learning to find stillness and the power within that. On your Instagram, I noticed that you’ve labelled yourself as a “movement artist” as opposed to a dancer. Why? That’s a purposeful decision that actually goes back to what we were talking about earlier… from that shitty conversation with the visual artist. That moment was a turning point for me in establishing myself as an artist, rather than a dancer. I never want to be an accessory in somebody else’s project. I love collaborating but not in a manipulative context. So, for that reason, I changed my title. I think that’s essentially what I’m working to be. With that being said, I don't think there’s anything wrong with being called a “dancer”, but I do think it’s important to be consistent with what you believe in and your values as a human. I’m very much into the nuances: I want to make sure that I’m sending out the messages I want to convey. Could you touch on what being a multidisciplinary artist entails? I’ve always been really interested in art in general, and I think “art” is a very general term. I’m so fascinated in seeing what kinds of collaborations result in combining different genres together. In a way, artistic crossover doesn’t even necessarily have to be art-based disciplinaries. It could be interdisciplinary experiments. What would a creative and a scientist come up with? I think my recent practice has resolved around that. How are you coping with lockdown? At the start of the first lockdown, I was actually a bit relieved. I thought, “I can actually take a break”. I’d been working like a machine, burning myself. I think lockdown has given us more opportunities to collaborate with artists across the world, as we are all in the same boat. I was quite excited about technology’s role in COVID-19. There’s no distance in cyberspace. Communication is so quick and efficient. That being said, I think that live streams and other online gigs will never replace a physical performance. As much as you can try to (re)create an atmosphere online, with set design etc., you can never really experience that full vibration you get with people when you’re together in a physical space. In general, I feel that creatives in Victoria are all a bit scattered at the moment, because of this. I definitely feel quite uncertain and stagnant in terms of my own creativity. As an artist, I think I always have purpose, and that’s closely associated with who I am and where I’m at in my life. I think it’s good that we can break and explore different ways of creating, but I don't want to lie to myself - I miss being around people and their energy in the physical sphere. How does movement and improvised dance affect the visceral experience of live music? In live music, movement and dance definitely create more visual stimulation. For me, it’s about the interaction of the visuals with the audience and how human and non-human elements combine. What does “performing” mean to you? Honouring my being in that moment. If you think about it, performing is quite spiritual because there’s nothing quite like the experience of being in that moment. It’s a beautiful space where you let everything else go. You can do as many rehearsals as you like beforehand, but in that moment, it really doesn’t matter how prepared you are. E: How much of your performance is composed beforehand? I can do choreography, but it’s not really my thing. I'm a freestyle dancer. Pretty much everything I do is improvised on the spot. E: Is it reactionary to what you hear? Yes, there’s definitely a lot of interaction between sound and movement. But at the same time, there’s so much more than just reacting to each other. I feel that it’s more a chemical interaction on stage: feeling each other’s presence, creating an aura, being. And that’s between all the different artforms involved. "There’s always dickheads floating around but I don’t let them fuck with me." Are there any particular qualities you look for in an individual before you collaborate with them? Yes, there are. For me, I guess it’s not so much about what they do, it’s about how they do it. With collaborators, I’m really looking for truthful, honest people. As individuals, I think that’s something that we intuitively feel. It's about the vibe. In today’s day and age, how important is it to have dance at a live music event? As artists, we should all have the freedom to do what we want. I don’t really believe that having dance at a live gig is 100% necessary. It’s up to the artists - the music and its intention. At the end of the day, every artform should be respected equally, no matter what decisions are made. Any advice for emerging movement and multidisciplinary artists? It will sound a bit cliché, but I'm going to say it anyway: just keep doing you. It’s going to be a beautiful journey. You will have a lot of shitty times. But you will find those loved ones who will support you and your vision. At the end of the day, it’s your journey… yours and yours only. You’re the only one who should make the decisions and know where you’re heading. Keep believing it, even in the darkest days. The dark days will come (especially this year - they're coming quite often). Anything lined up for the near future? I am such a workaholic - I always have something lined up. Right now, I have a pretty chill schedule comparatively to “normal”, (which I am learning how to moderate). I’m constantly putting up material on Instagram. Keep up to date with Maggie here We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article. Thank you dearly to Maggie for your time. ​ Interview with Maggie conducted by phone on 13 July 2020. Article first published 16 August 2020. Photographs taken by Misha Dutkova and Athina Wilson. Written by Emma Volard and Jake Amy. Edited by Ella Clair. Contributions from Rose Bassett and Kate Oldfield.

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