by Kelsey Butterworth, Policy & Communications Intern
There was a simpler time, not too long ago, when Jimmy Iovine’s most egregious sins were peddling Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones, Weezer’s 2008-2009 oeuvre, and the whiteification of hip-hop. Following an illuminating interview on CBS, we can now add “smarmy mansplaining” to that list. Here are a couple of things that Iovine publicly stated that he believes:
“Women find it very difficult at times — some women — to find music.”
Perhaps that’s why Apple Music points us confused, directionless chickies toward Huey Lewis’ deep cuts? Music is more available today than it has ever been in human history, but not for women, because we’re dumb. Also:
“Girls are sitting around talking about boys, right? Or complaining about boys . . . when they’re heartbroken or whatever . . . They need music for that, right? Not everyone has, you know, the right list . .. or knows a DJ.”
Yep, not a single serious thought enters this brain during waking hours. I usually only think about whether a boy likes me, or why that one boy didn’t, and men are from Mars, am I right ladies?! Perhaps that’s how Iovine came up with the concept for an Apple Music ad featuring Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, and Mary J. Blige, three incredibly talented women who I’m SURE don’t know a single DJ between them.
The internet backlash was immediate, and Iovine issued a short next-day apology. But his attitude toward female music fans will stand, and considering his stature in this business, it’s worth examining in detail.
Jimmy Iovine is one of the most powerful players in the music industry. His recording resumé includes John Lennon, U2, Stevie Nicks, and Bruce Springsteen. During his ongoing tenure at Interscope, Geffen and A&M, he’s had a hand in an astounding number of platinum careers. He co-created a multibillion-dollar brand that controls almost half of the headphone market. And he helped bring interactive streaming to Apple, the biggest tech company ever, whose former leader Steve Jobs once said, “I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful. “Iovine is one of the most profitable and successful executives in the history of music, but during those decades of accomplishment he seemingly hasn’t encountered a woman who cares about music in any real capacity. Furthermore, he hasn’t encountered a woman who understands how to browse iTunes, or how to find a CD store, or how to tune a radio dial.
Iovine is not evil, and in this regard, he is not special. And sexist gaffes like this offer an opportunity to correct misconceptions below the surface. All of the industry women I know have stories about workplace sexism, and I am no exception. There is the constant sneering, patronizing, skeptical questioning of my taste in music. There was the time in high school when, while setting up my lead guitar rig for an award-winning jazz band, a (male) hired audio hand grabbed gear out of my hands, intoning that there was no way I understood how to hook up an amp. There was the time in college when I worked as an unpaid festival volunteer, and in doing a much better job of checking wristbands and keeping a steady door count, I enraged one of the venue’s (male) fulltimers into childishly acting like he couldn’t hear me as he continued to give incorrect information to showgoers. There was the time recently when, during an over-the-phone job interview, my prospective (male) employer spent a minute of my time telling me that one of my former supervisors was a product manager (no, he wasn’t), not a project manager (yes, he most certainly was), and I was just confusing the job titles, and he would know, because that’s how they did things during his time at Interscope. (How telling.)
These microaggressions are small by nature, and easy to write off for anyone not experiencing them on a regular basis. But they are also snapshots of wider and deeper attitudes toward women in predominantly male industries. Every woman who dares to exist in a space that men want to own understands this. Our opinions, likes, dislikes, and authority (not to mention manner of dress) are always on trial. It’s enough to drive us out of the business altogether. Less than 5 percent of all audio engineers—the gig that gave Iovine got his start—are women, a number reflected in other STEM disciplines.
Going to a concert alone or with a few female friends—e.g., unaccompanied by an authoritative male guardians—probably means dealing with unwanted come-ons and generally gross harassment from drunken dudebros in the crowd. Female musicians at the top of their game, especially women of color, are still reduced to sexual objects on the covers of leading music publications and in plenty of album artwork. Top 40 music consistently features lyrics that either tacitly or explicitly condone misogyny and violence against women. We are infantilized in language and in image. Bands whose lineups feature any number of us are turned into novelty acts, “female-fronted” “girl” groups requiring special classification. Artists who cater to tween and teen girls, like One Direction, are considered lowbrow and stupid. When Condé Nast acquired Pitchfork, the press release expressed excitement about the “very passionate audience of Millennial males” CN could now access. A group of white men playing rock ‘n’ roll is the music world’s baseline assumption. Music is male until proven otherwise, and if it is at all female, it is not to be taken seriously.
None of the above examples are symptoms of girls and women not caring about music, they’re symptoms of longstanding sexist ideas about who is allowed to care about what. Funnily, most well-to-do women throughout the last several centuries were subjected to quite a lot of music education—think piano practice getting sandwiched between Latin lessons and Debutante class. But until recently, it was considered scandalous and improper for women to appear in public without a male companion, much less play to an audience. And during the evolution of 20th and 21st century popular music, as women have pushed against that perennial (stage) barrier, the status quo has pushed back. At best, attitudes like Iovine’s are well-meaning but out of touch; at worst, they’re rooted in the fear that they may have to share the stage.