Electro Feminisms: I Bet You Look Better on the Dancefloor
One of the questions that's really bugged me in my time in electronic scenes is, how do the same dynamics keep occurring over and over? How come almost every new micro genre seems to repeat the same arrangement of male center and female margin, male dominance and female exception? The question of how men keep power is one feminists have wrestled with forever, but it seems particularly noticeable when you're talking about scenes that may only be a few years old. How do you get an old boys' network before you even have any old boys?
One answer I think is perhaps the way that space is utilized, who has access to what in a given space. I've spent a lot of time in dusty, underground record stores scouring the bins for imports, and they were always very hostile to women. I think there's also the matter of knowledge transference to female DJs—men hitting on you rather than taking your opinions on records seriously. There's definitely a certain kind of male DJ who sees women one of the perks of the job, and if you're a female DJ you go from being a prize to being competition. This is in some ways changing with digital culture, but as with any form of interaction in “neutral” online can get pretty unpleasant if you're known to be a woman.
The recording studio itself can be another thing. Often owned and run by men, male engineers, male musicians. Making a record—whether you use analog or digital gear—is a distinct skill from playing an instrument or composing. These are a discrete set of skills from how to set a microphone to how to use Ableton to mixing down the track, and like every skill, much easier if you're taught. I'm increasingly seeing women's music festivals including sessions in how to make electronic music to get around this education gap.
And then we get to the club. DJ booths are often situated above the dancefloor, looking down on patrons from on high. The DJ is in a position of power—both spectacle and voyeur. Promoters, labels, press etc. often exert a pressure on women to sex up their images, to privilege the spectacle part of the DJ performance, which is much different than the many men who disappear into the music they play.
In contrast, the dancefloor is profoundly gendered female. It's certainly not unusual to be groped on the dancefloor, and the implication at straight clubs can be that you're there to pull, that you're dancing for a male audience. That you're available, fair game.
The idea that women would be dancing for themselves, for their own pleasure, is not something het club culture has much space for—something I think signaled by the hostility I've seen in some clubs to hen's nights (bachelorette nights, I think Americans call them). Even a carnivalesque, inherently limited phenomenon is a repurposing of the dancefloor from the usual heteropatriarchal arrangement of space.
The questions, therefore, as with other feminist questions about public space, are, how do we take up space confidently and safely, and how do we access the forms of knowledge that circulate in the spaces of electronic music scenes? Creating our own cultures to circumvent the bloke-y atmospheres of the recording studio and the club is a tough, but necessary, job.
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