Girl Power?

Just how well is equality bearing up in the capital?

A recent poll of the top 100 DJs of the year featured seven women amongst its ranks. That’s right, just seven. Out of a hundred. While DJing is still a mostly male-dominated preserve, one would hope that in a poll voted for by the general public, at least 10 women would make the list, making up 10% of the total. In a bid to redress this terrible inequality, a new trend seems to be developing in the capital in the form of women-only events, created to raise the profiles of female artists. From writer’s nights at the Poetry Café to female DJ battles, these events aim to highlight their talents and put them on an equal playing field with their male counterparts. But will they achieve this?

So keen are some organizers to ban men from their activities that London currently benefits from film directing courses and photography walking tours just for girls. Ironically, this surge in women-only ventures is not reflected amongst the lesbian community, in particular the nightlife, as lesbian bars are few and far between compared to the abundance of male gay bars and clubs. Furthermore, many lesbian club nights operate on a monthly basis only, whereas Vauxhall’s discotheques pump out house music every night of the week.

Segregating the sexes is hardly a new thing; gentlemen’s clubs first started to appear in the 18th century around the West End. The purpose of these venues was not only gender-divisive, but representative of status. Attendees were upper class members of society, often with aristocratic links, and would usually become affiliated with one club or another because of their predilection in terms of politics, literature, sport, travel and motoring. There were rigid limits on numbers of members per club as well as very stiff entry requirements; despite this they became so popular that by the 1880s there were over 400 of them in London.
Not willing to be outdone, women followed suit roughly 100 years later and began to set up their own, seeing as they were not permitted entry into the men’s establishments. One of these, The University Women’s Club, still operates today, maintaining the same strict selection process it had in the 19th century, open to “academics, lawyers, scientists, writers, psychologists as well as executive and professional women”. Now that women and men are allowed to mingle freely in polite society, what entices a prospective member to join? According to their website: “check your emails, indulge in a little networking, have a light lunch or delicious dinner, shower and change before an evening out”, all for a mere £548 per year.

Two centuries ago single-sex clubs existed to highlight social standing, thankfully today most people with an iota of common sense would call this snobbery. Nowadays it is claimed the reason for banning men from the classroom or the stage is to give women the chance to shine. Rock the Belles, a new club night due to start in the new year at East Village in Shoreditch, will be hosting “the hottest female DJs, bands, designers and creatives”. The monthly night will feature DJ battles, live acts and… a nail boutique. Does this not seem like a strange juxtaposition of events for what should be, in the organisers’ own words a “genre-defying monthly celebration”? Statistically speaking, women are more inclined to wear nail polish than men, but is this the appropriate time to start dishing out manicures?
The marketing employed by those seeking to promote/exploit (delete as appropriate) female talent often leaves a lot to be desired too. The top 100 poll results are appalling, but they’re no surprise given that a certain London-based agency representing female DJs chooses to call itself “Shejay”. It is of course a matter of opinion, but one wonders whether their website’s flowery background - not to mention the downright cringeworthy name – isn’t just slightly off-putting for a club owner, promoter or punter looking for credible disc jockeys.

Herein lies the problem, whilst it’s all well and good to promote women in the arts, surely the way to be taken seriously as a writer, singer, artist or DJ is to be good, not to be female? Separating the sexes simply gives the impression that women cannot compete with men - the only place where this notion is acceptable is in the sporting field, as men’s and women’s bodies are built very differently. Referring to women-only literary competitions, writer Lionel Shriver wrote in a recent article for The Independent, “Let’s up our game, not exclude men”. Creating a divide, and then throwing in nail boutiques, handbag crèches, shoe pools and other feminine clichés into the mix at events of this kind doesn’t defy genre, it enforces stereotypes, making a complete mockery of the cause. There is far more to a woman than being female.


Author: Leila Hawkins