Kentucky-born artist The Black Madonna this month joined Romanian Andreea Magdalina, founder of all-female network for GROOVE. The message is as simple as taking women seriously – and what can be done to change things when it doesn’t happen. It’s worth sharing that conversation – and please, listen to its entirety – for a couple of reasons.

First, I think we’re obligated to keep sharing this conversation and ones like it so long as it keeps prompting negative and defensive reactions, primarily from men. (Comment threads on social media are not at the moment the most flattering representation of human civilization, but there they are.)

It’s obviously touching a nerve – and the fact that it does so, frankly, points to just how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are. “Hey, there’s absolutely nothing sexist or misogynistic going on” is something said by non-sexist people sort of, um, never. Humans are naturally defensive, I think, meaning defensiveness is not itself an indication of guilt – but an inability to listen to female artists when they’re talking about their own experiences is more than that. It demonstrates something is wrong. And artists like The Black Madonna are arguing for this not just with evidence of sexism, but – this is really, really important – with evidence of great female-identified artists who deserve as much exposure and credit as possible because they’re amazing. That’s the message.

Second, if you actually listen carefully and reflectively to the content, there are some lessons to everyone – men involved in music very much included. I think this says something about being human in making music, not just about a particular political issue.

Marea starts the conversation by talking about role models, in an intensely human story.

That alone is reason enough to understand the importance of championing great artists in music who have been marginalized in the past. And I think the issue of “role model” can be reduced or misunderstood. If you really listen to her talk about her experience, this isn’t just “I saw a girl like me onstage.” She speaks specifically to a profound emotional connection with them as musicians and as people.

I think that ought to speak to everyone. This is what it’s about – and these are people who are so great at what they do, they become role models for everybody. Apart from having been personally inspired by The Black Madonna’s sets, I can speak to Honey Dijon, too (whom she talks about in this interview). Honey is the kind of person who can heal a dance floor; you can actually see people relate to one another differently. When we deny these kind of artists access to the club, everyone loses.

And they were – and are – routinely denied. Audiences don’t get to judge whether they’re good or not because too often they don’t get to hear them at all.

It’s not enough to identify a problem, though – and much of this conversation thankfully is about solutions.

From that point, the two talk about the practical matters of how to change a culture, and how to make sure people gain access who didn’t have it before.

The issue here is women, but I think it extends to any group that find they don’t fit in with the cool club – the people who look different, who come from different backgrounds, who have limited budgets, who make different kinds of music, who come from different places.

That’s another thing that puzzles me about defensiveness. Look, if these artists are right, and you’re on the inside of a system that’s exclusive, you should listen. If they’re somehow wrong, and the system isn’t exclusive, then … uh, why are you getting defensive? If these artists are right, and the system is exclusive based on gender, and you feel you don’t fit in for some other reason, then listen to how they’ve dealt with that and consider whether it might be relevant to your own experience. (Then again, if it’s simply that you feel you’re struggling as an artist and having more strong female artists will make that worse because they’ll take up more space, well … that’s a different problem entirely, but then it’s a chance to give yourself space and patience to grow rather than lash out at someone else.)

It’s also worth listening, though, to the importance of “co-conspirators” or accomplices. There’s really so much we can do to make music a richer place. That can be everyone’s problem, and everyone’s reward.

I think The Black Madonna also puts out the best argument for where female-only spaces matter – where they can be female-driven and “sacred spaces,” as she puts it. (She also notes that men should not be organizing in that same way.) I think it’s important that those of us who aren’t part of those spaces simply respect them, but this seems also an answer to female friends who have questioned them. Zuz Friday wrote about this issue for CDM in regards to an event she co-organizes, and also dealt with this question of public versus private space (and how to combine them). I can also imagine this could be a model for any group that feels like it needs its own space, whether it deals with a particular gender identity or sexual orientation or ethnic or other background. Those networks and spaces clearly have value for certain circles of people, and it seems that only enriches our larger music community.

I won’t say more, in that it’s better to listen to these two talk – it’s a genuine and honest discussion, and certainly the kind of conversation I hear a lot.

Anyway, I don’t want to ramble on too long, or also contribute to men exploiting this issue because it’s trendy, or getting defensive when called on it. I’m not perfect, either. So I’ll say to whatever extent I should also listen to criticism, I will try to do so without getting defensive. And I hope that we as a community do better – on gender, on diversity.

I hope that growing as humans ourselves and spreading music to more humans is part of our job – a job that never ends.

  • TJ Pallas

    this is a great article. excited to share it around. cheers to the dance music community in 2017 for finally getting busy about excising these demons.

  • lala

    Sorry, I fail to see how an all female network isn’t sexism. ^^
    I can see the need for sheltered groups, but this is paradox.

    • Travis Basso

      Actually it is considered “positive discrimination”. This very same sentiment is what lead Cuba, Bolivia, and other countries to enact laws that mandate a specific percentage of government positions to women. We shouldn’t be trying to poke holes in this conversation – we should be trying to find ways to support it.

      • lala

        This is not my taste.
        Not all males are chauvinistic pigs.
        Greetings from the LGBT community.
        Actually we got our shit together by stopping seeing us as separate groups of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender beings. Once we started seeing us as a group of non heterosexuals things got better.
        So much for inspiration tonight.

        • There’s actually still a TON of sexism in the queer community. Nice try, though.

          • lala

            Yes, but it got a lot better when ppl started to see that we are all dancing under the same rainbow. Don’t you think so?

          • No one in this conversation either a) suggested excluding men somehow (building a female-identified network hardly interferes at all with men making music) … nor b) suggests that all men are chauvinist pigs.

            And this idea – dancing under the same rainbow – is one of the things that The Black Madonna is specifically suggesting, I think, in talking about co-conspirators.

            The whole point is that men (LGBT or otherwise) can be advocates for female artists – not just *random* female artists, she’s talking about people you’d want to celebrate musically.

            I would also suggest that, if female additions to lineups weren’t still seen as novelty, male artists on the lineup would feel less tied up with the whole question, too.

          • lala

            to me it looks like you and your co-conspirators are having different ideas about what’s the right thing to do.
            From this article: black mamba notes that men should not organize this way ..
            You: I imagine that this could be a model for any group …

            I have read Zus Friday’s article with interest, I remember she edited it so it doesn’t sound so excluding as the first version that was online.

            Gender is a very touchy subject.

      • “We shouldn’t be trying to poke holes in this conversation”

        If the topic was supported with robust reasoning then “poking holes” into it wouldn’t be terribly easy.

        Right now, it’s made of rice paper.

        “Actually it is considered “positive discrimination”. ”

        Says the discriminator….

        • Travis Basso

          Ok first off – you got me. You are 100% correct. Any argument should be able to withstand rigorous analysis.

          So if it is rice paper thing – then how do we make it stronger? Gender inequality is a real issue, so what is a solution supported by robust reasoning?

          The term “positive discrimination” is used to describe measures taken by Cuba to strengthen female presence in government. It may not be a perfect solution, but they rank in the top 5 countries for women represented in government.

          I suppose to extend that idea here, a label could mandate they release tracks from an equal number of men and women (or whatever demographic identifier is preferred). Clubs could do the same.

          While not a perfect solution, it would have a positive impact by encouraging other women. Gender aside, when you see someone you identify with, doing something impressive, it can be an inspiring moment.

    • The problem here is because you don’t understand sexism as a power structure. Also, please Google “false equivalence.”

      • lala

        Gee, no I have read Foucault too. 😉
        I just don’t think fighting sexism with sexism is leading anywhere.

        • chaircrusher

          I have to keep re-quoting Harry Allen:
          “Racism has a sole, functional expression: White supremacy. Racism is not historical. It’s futuristic. It is not going away. It is being refined. It is weaponized through deceit, secrecy, and violence, in that order. It’s chief tools are not clubs, bullets, or nooses, but words.”

          And if that isn’t clear enough for you, what he’s saying is that racism is a power relationship. For racism — or sexism — to have any power it has to be imposed from a position of power; it has to be perpetuate the unequal power relationship.

          What he says about racism is true of sexism. And in fact, wherever you find racism you’ll find sexism, and vice versa.

          The idea of reverse racism — or reverse sexism — is to minimize that functional expression of oppression.

          If you’re mad about not being allowed into the women’s space, take comfort in the fact that EVERY FUCKING PLACE ELSE is men’s space.

          • lala

            Sexus isn’t binary and I don’t like the idea of building more unnecessary ghettos.

          • lala

            Looking deeper into your ideas of reverse racism/sexism makes me want to vomit. A black racist is as uncool as white rasist and a sexist woman is as dumb as a sexist man, in case you didn’t get the message.

          • Okay, at this point this doesn’t merit a response … I don’t think anyone in this thread is suggesting discriminating *against* men or trying to ghettoize any gender.

            The argument was very explicitly compatible with what you’re saying, that is, building networks and support that tried to *undo* that (dumb/uncool, as you say) sexism in the system.

            Look, if you disagree with the method, that’s fine, but … let’s not get carried away here, as at this point I’ve no idea who you’re arguing with.

          • lala

            Yes I disagree with the method and I won’t further comment on it. I said what I had say.

          • lala

            I hope that gives some food for thought for further actions. Following what happens with interest.

          • chaircrusher

            I get your message, but I think you’re wrong. Have a nice day!

  • Travis Basso

    Amen! In a world of increasing globalism (with all its backlash) it is too easy to forget that our most transcendent discrimination is still Sexism. It permeates every aspect of our human life (at least it does in America), and sometimes even being aware of the issue is not enough to stop thinking or acting in a sexist manner. Even the word ‘woman’ has man in it – even ‘human’ still says man. We need to be aware and actively participate in the social conversation. Change will only come through difficulties, challenges, and even a fight. Stand up for women’s rights!

  • Paul Munro