I’ve been avoiding writing this post, mostly because I didn’t want to admit I needed to.
But, I do.
Today was the day it all boiled over.
This post starts about two months ago.
My husband and I were in the car listening to an NPR piece about Pandora Radio and how their algorithms work.
I commented that I found it strange that Pandora’s algorithms created so many all male stations, and as far as I could tell – no all female stations.
My husband gave me a quizzical look.
I explained how out of all 50 or so Pandora stations that I have set up to choose from, on roughly half of them I can play the station continuously for days and never hear a female lead, just the occasional backup vocals. But I have yet to find a station that only plays women.
“Maybe there just aren’t enough women to fill a station?”
He wasn’t trying to be sexist or to say that women don’t rock – he was just trying to give Pandora the benefit of the doubt.
The (first) problem is – there are plenty of great female led bands in almost every genre.
The second problem is that on my Civit station, for example, I’ll get regular doses of H2O, Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion… But none of those stations play Civit.
My Florence and the Machine station is about 40% Mumford and Sons and 25% other dude bands – which leaves very little time for other female led bands similar to Florence.
Just to test my theory, I created a Mumford and Sons station. I’ll give you one guess how many female leads I heard in two days.
Yeah, that’d be none.
Not even Florence and the Machine.
And that’s the real issue – it’s not that there are dudes on my chick stations, I like dudes – it’s that there aren’t any chicks on my dude stations.
It’s that there isn’t any reciprocity.
If Mumford and Sons and Florence and the Machine really belong together, shouldn’t they belong together on BOTH stations?!? If H2O, Dropkick Murphys and Social Distortion are related to Civit, then surely Civit is also related to them…
This is an issue for a couple of reasons.
One, because it leads otherwise reasonable men in my life to believe that maybe there just aren’t worthy female musicians and vocalists out there to choose from.
Two, because just as I like the occasional dude on my chick stations, I also like the occasional chick on my dude stations. I like hearing women’s voices, women’s stories, women’s truths just as much as I like hearing men’s. And, even more – I like hearing them together. It reminds me that we are not in fact separate species, but co-habitants in this crazy circus.
It reminds me that women and men enjoy doing a lot of the same stuff and do it equally well.
If we want equality, we need to promote equality.
So why am I writing about this today? Why not months ago? In fact, why am I writing about it at all?
Today it spilled over for me.
Today I needed some chick time. Maybe it was because the last time I turned on the radio in my car, as I was driving my young daughters home from Karate, a male DJ cut in with,
“Here’s today’s 5:00 comedy, or should I say, 5:00 PSA”
Then the male comedian’s voice comes in, “Is your daughter a slut?” *Laugh track*
Maybe it’s because despite living in a female dominated household, the vast majority of voices I hear throughout the day are male.
Roughly 70% of speaking roles in movies are male. Meanwhile 80% of radio DJs are male. Late night (comedy) news is dominated by men – Bill Maher, Jon Stewart (and his stand in John Oliver), Steven Colbert… The majority of the music I hear on the radio has a male lead. Men’s voices, stories and music fills the airwaves.
I do listen to NPR a fair amount, where half of the hosts are female (for which it has been called a “Hotbed of female journalists” because you know, gender equality clearly favors females!?!) However, it’s worth noting that in media interviews across the board, only 14 – 20% of guests are women.
(The upside is that if you read obituaries, it also turns out that only men die!)
Whatever the cause of my angst, today I just wanted one hour of girl music.
I decided to give Pandora a final test. I put in the girliest station I could think of – Enya. And I got 3 whole songs in before a male band cut in. Sarah “Estrogen Incarnate” McLachlin made it 4 songs without a man crashing the party. I tried my daughters’ girl-pop stations, none of them made it more than 3 songs before a guy interrupted the feminine flow.
I figured if those ladies couldn’t keep out the men, there was nothing for it and I may as well listen to music I actually enjoy.
Amanda Palmer made it 4 songs before a guy came on, I let it slide. As I said, when push comes to shove, I like dudes. However, 5 songs later I realized I hadn’t heard from another woman. Amanda Palmer’s station had been taken over by people with penises.
Which takes me to my final problem. It’s not just that dudes show up on my girly stations, it’s that when they do – they take over.
Today it pissed me off.
If what I really wanted was a station that only played babes, and I had a day – a week – a month? to train Pandora, I could have it.
Of course, Pandora only lets you skip or dislike 6 songs per station before they tell you to suck it up and they start playing all Nickleback all the time. So if I’m trying to train my station and they switch from Amanda Palmer to dude after dude after dude after dude after dude… I never get back to the place where I can “Thumbs-up” the women – because there aren’t any left on that station. 4 songs in and Pandora is out of women to play on my chick channel.
The other issue is that I didn’t have to train my man stations to not play women – they did that all on their own. As if it was the most natural thing in the world for dude stations to not play “chick music”.
And this is where I begin to wonder about the people behind Pandora’s algorithms. I wonder if they have fallen prey to the popular social lie that women will watch/listen to/read about men and male stories, but men won’t watch/listen to/read about women and female stories.
I wonder where the women are at Pandora, because, all the women I know would put bands together a little more consistently. If band X plays on band Y’s station, then band Y should show up on band X’s station – because they’re music buddies. And, if the algorithms aren’t picking up on that – why not?
I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t.
I tried to avoid writing this post, really I did. I didn’t want to play into the angry feminist stereotype.
I decided what I needed was some laughter. I needed to crank up a good female comedian. I needed tampon jokes and detachable pussy jokes and a reminder that the best response to lazy sexism is to simply point and laugh.
So, I popped over to Netflix.
Netflix recently did me the favor of creating a standup comic subgenre. “Funny Ladies.” It made it easy to see that I’d already listened to all 13 available lady skits. (Apparently Netflix didn’t get the memo about the plethora of awesome female comics currently rocking the stage.)
Lucky for me they had plenty of awesome new sketches from clever dudes who opened with witty things like,
“Is your daughter a slut?”