Sarah Gee reflects on the Misogyny in Music Report

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In January, the UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committee released their report concluding the inquiry into the extent to which misogyny exists in the music industry. The committee concluded that women in the music industry face ‘limitations in opportunity, a lack of support, gender discrimination and sexual harassment and assault as well as the persistent issue of unequal pay in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances’. They stated that these issues are endemic, and further intensified for women faced with intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination.

Spitalfields Music’s CEO Sarah Gee was one of the many voices heard as evidence to the committee. Here, she shares her reflections on the significance of the report to the world of classical music.

Sadly, this was personal for me. Being one of few females in a brass section since the age of 11, I’ve definitely been on the sharp end of some horrendous comments, sexist assumptions and far worse over the years. The fixer for amateur orchestras who stopped booking me after he made a pass and was rebuffed (you’d think the engagement ring might have been a clue?). Being told at music college that there was no point in giving me the juicier horn parts because “women only leave and have children, while the guys become real musicians”. The fellow horn player who on being told the dress code was long coloured dresses for women, told me to “Just wear one of the many bridesmaids dresses you’ll have”. The night I found a folded music stand was pretty effective to defend myself from wandering and invasive hands. I could go on, and on. But I really shouldn’t have to.

So when I saw the UK Parliament’s Women & Equalities committee were calling for evidence into misogyny in music, I felt it was important to share challenges faced. Although I had plenty of tales, I didn’t want this to be all about me so I appealed on social media for other examples that I could share on behalf of sisters. I was inundated. Senior male composers offering to help emerging female artists in return for sex. Women being belittled at music college or in the workplace to the point where anxiety attacks impacted their ability to perform, or in some cases meant they left the profession. In the confidential evidence session I attended, the comments of a Grammy-winning artist rang in my ears: “You’d think it would be classier in classical”.

At Spitalfields Music, we take seriously our role to showcase work by minoritised creatives to aim for the balance of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and indeed the demographics of wider society. We don’t always get things right, but we try. This summer’s festival has a cornucopia of works by women, from lesser known works by Imogen Holst to commissions from Anna Pool, Emily Levy and Electra Perivolaris, alongside other artistic work by Dr Rommi Smith and Kirsty Matheson.

Come and celebrate with us. We like to be the change in the world.

Read the Women and Equalities Committees full report here →