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Country Music and Cannes: Blaming Women for Sexism

Country Music and Cannes: Blaming Women for Sexism

At first glance,
country music and the Cannes Film Festival couldn’t appear more culturally
different. And yet, recent events reveal that some high-profile individuals
associated with these communities hold startlingly similar attitudes regarding
women and the value of their artistic contributions.

In a May
26th interview with Country
Aircheck Weekly, a trade publication for country radio, consultant Keith
Hill advised readers, “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take
females out . . . The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a
smaller female component . . . Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve
got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is
Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes
of our salad are the females.” Hill reasoned that female listeners are heavy
listeners of country radio and “women like male artists.”

Not surprisingly, Hill’s
comments generated a flurry of comments from artists such as Miranda Lambert, who
appropriately and unambiguously tweeted, “This is [t]he biggest bunch of
BULLSHIT I have ever heard.” Subsequent articles on what has become known as
“SaladGate” focused on country music’s woman problem. A recent survey conducted
by and published in Country Aircheck early
this year found that women sang just 18% of singles in the Top 100 songs of
2014, fewer than in 1989 when women sang 21%. Moreover, a survey conducted by
Mediabase 24/7 and published in the same issue found that female-voiced titles
in the top 100 current and recurrent songs accounted for just 14% of all titles
played by radio stations in the country genre, higher than in the rock genre
(10%), but lower than the numbers for urban stations (19%), top 40 stations
(31%), and adult contemporary stations (35%).

In partial defense
of his position, Hill told a Washington
Post reporter, “If women want to get played on the radio, produce better
records.” This statement sounds uncannily similar to one articulated by Thierry Fremaux,
the director of the Cannes Film Festival. In response to repeated criticisms of
the lack of films directed by women screening at Cannes in 2012, Fremaux stated,
“I don’t select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white,
black, young, an old man . . . I select films because I think they deserve to
be in selection . . . It wouldn’t be very nice to select a film because the
film is not good but it is directed by a woman.” Translation, if women made better films, they would be included in the
festival.

Hill
and Fremaux live continents apart and work in markedly different media industries,
yet their comments regarding women are remarkably similar. They both locate the
problem for women’s under-representation in their skills and talents rather
than in institutional practices and/or personal biases that may disadvantage
women. In his interview with the Washington
Post, Hill claimed he’s just doing his job. “I have no acrimony toward
woman . . . I share this information, and just because it doesn’t fall into the
natural break of the gender that populates our country or the globe, seems like
that’s an issue.” Using this language, Hill positions himself as a neutral
bystander, simply reporting the facts.

Similarly,
Fremaux assumes a gender-neutral posture and uses deflection to deal with
criticism of his festival. During the recently concluded 2015 festival, he
commented
, “Cannes is but a mirror” of the global film industry, suggesting
that critics “attack the Oscars, not the festival” and that “Cannes is part of
the chain, not the only ring.” 

There
has been much talk lately about the role unconscious bias plays in women’s
on-going under-representation, both on screen and behind the scenes in film. Perhaps
both Hill and Fremaux suffer from this affliction. Hill appears unaware of or
unwilling to admit that by advising country radio stations to cap women artists’
representation at 15%, he is helping to ensure that women will never exceed
that limit. Fremaux also seems to be unwilling to consider that there may be
aspects of the film selection process, such as cronyism, that chronically
suppress the numbers of women filmmakers displaying their work at the
prestigious festival.

At best, assuming a gender-neutral stance and deflection
are short-term strategies to deal with increasing pressures to
create more gender-equitable industries. At worst, they are tools that stymie
forward social movement.

Who knew that
Cannes and country music had so much in common?

Dr. Martha M. Lauzen is a nationally and internationally recognized expert on the employment of women on screen and behind the scenes in television and film. She is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. 

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