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Recording Academy President Actually Believes Women Must "Step Up" for More Opportunities

“[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”
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The first step on the path to social justice begins with recognizing inequality, but the second step is certainly not to blame the subject for their own repression.

Following some dismal losses for women in music at last night’s 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards—where SZA was denied a single victory for any of her five nominations, Alessia Cara was the only woman to be presented a televised award, and Lorde was the only Album of the Year nominee not offered a solo performance—Recording Academy president Neil Portnow briefly spoke with Variety about his take on the #GrammysSoMale campaign.

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” Portnow explained. “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”

To suggest that women alone are responsible for their lack of presentation is to ignore decades of women being undercut financially, and silenced, harassed, and abused to the point of being unable to produce music. Look no further than Kesha and her horrific battle with Dr. Luke, who was accused of sexually, physically, and verbally assaulting her, to see the gruesome reality for women who must “step up” in order to get justice in the industry.

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Portnow’s statement also implies that women simply have a lesser desire to participate in the industry, that the onus is on their lack of gumption, or moxie, or zeal. This antiquated, gatekeeping thinking ignores the myriad visible and invisible barriers to entry that women in all professional industries, not just music, must scale in order to reach the same starting line as their male counterparts. This is Victim Blaming 101.

Assuming women “would be welcome” is a nice sentiment, but does little to address the systems currently in place barring women from the front door. How can anyone feel welcome in an industry whose president just blamed them for their dearth of opportunities?

Perhaps ever so self-aware, Portnow quickly doubles back and adds: “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”   

Despite sounding less than genuine, Portnow makes two worthwhile points: he has no idea the hardships women in the music industry face, and that the culture at large is responsible for reshaping the industry into a safe and productive environment for everyone involved.

Women do not need to “step up”; the industry and anyone who agrees with Portnow needs to take a long look in the mirror.

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