Women in the DJ Industry: Moving Up for the Wrong Reasons

Susan Sontag was right in saying that “beauty is a form of power. And deservedly so. What is lamentable is that it is the only form of power that most women are encouraged to seek” (119). When you hear the word “DJ”, it is no coincidence your mind immediately connects it to the male gender. Your subconscious is feeding your brain images of male DJs as being portrayed by the media. You may think of the most popular DJs such as Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse), Skrillex or even The Chainsmokers without realizing that your list will consist of all males. This is indeed a male-dominated industry, and while the presence of women in this profession is gaining momentum, it has its drawbacks. The media feeds us deplorable images of what women DJs should be. Instead of focusing on their skills, women’s beauty and bodies are the main attraction. As long as the female DJ has a good physical appearance, her skills become irrelevant. There’s the illusion that women’s role in the DJ industry is improving because they’re using their beauty as a power source to move up the ladder of success, but it’s actually negatively affecting those women who would rather be accepted for their skill set rather than their physical characteristics or their gender alone.

Sontag wrote in her article titled “Women’s Beauty: Put Down or Power Source?” that beauty to the Greeks was seen as “a virtue: A kind of excellence”. To be beautiful, in Greek times, meant you were intelligent and very talented. Fast-forward to the past two centuries and beautiful is not a word often used when describing anyone who is deemed intelligent or even capable of doing anything that requires a skill. It’s easy to see why female DJs, who are attractive, are automatically assumed to be using their beauty as a power source to move up the ranks in the DJ scene and why they’re easily dismissed as actual DJs. This assumption is justified because there are many aesthetically pleasing women out there who are currently performing as DJs but lack the knowledge or the experience to be considered skilled in the field. Paris Hilton, for example, is one female DJ who performs for a fee of thousands of dollars per show while playing a prerecorded mix to the unsuspecting audience. But how can she get away with it? It’s simple. She’s famous and beautiful. But ironically, her fame came from a sex tape scandal because of her name association with the corporate industries of the Hilton Hotels and her role as a supermodel. She is a prime example of how women can use their physical appearance as a power source for the wrong reasons. Smoke and mirrors.

Is it a big deal if female DJs use their beauty as a way to finally break into a scene that is predominantly geared towards the male gender? Absolutely! Using beauty as a power source to move up the ranks of the DJ industry negatively affects those women who take the DJ craft seriously and have dedicated countless hours honing their skills. Sarah Gates wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “Breaking The Myth Of The Female DJ In Electronic Dance Music” in which she emphasized some of the problems encountered by talented females. In particular, Gates talked about Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf of the group Krewella originally consisting of the sisters plus a male member who resigned in 2014. According to Gates, the sisters have been “mistaken for dudes” quite a lot while striving to be taken seriously. There are plenty of people who assume the Yousaf sisters dressed up in skimpy bikinis, faked their performances, and used their appealing looks as a power move to get to where they are now. But that’s far from the truth. As you can see, “excelling in what is notably a male-dominated world is not without difficulty” (Gates).

The media has a negative influence on the way people perceive female DJs, even when they have the expertise and skill set in their craft that surpass the majority of male DJs. This influence is continuously feeding people with negative stereotypes. For instance, a digitally altered image of a CD player that resembles a stovetop circulated Facebook and Twitter accounts with a caption that read, “Thanks @PioneerDJ for finally developing a CD-J suitable for women.” The credit for this demeaning jab at female DJs goes to Spinnin’ Records which is an international Dance music label and “while the label issued an apology to those it had offended, the damage had already been done” (Gates).

Up to about a decade ago, to be a DJ always required a skill. Those who proudly called themselves DJs had been practicing their craft for years. Most DJs were not allowed to perform publicly until they’d proven themselves in their bedrooms or private studios. Advancements in technology have allowed just about anyone to be able to pursue the dream of becoming a DJ while at the same time the media fueled its popularity as something worthy of fame and fortune. You see DJs in TV commercials and movies but, alas, the vast majority are males. Here’s the kicker: the women who are often portrayed in the media as DJs are just gorgeous models who flaunt their almost naked bodies fueling the constant negative stereotype towards the female gender. This is exactly why DJs, both male and female alike, rejoiced when the documentary film Scratch featured DJ Shortee as the only female DJ appearing in the film who rightfully made it into the film particularly due to her skill set and not her gender or physical appearance. DJ Shortee is a turntablist, a DJ who uses turntables with outstanding precision, and DJs of every gender look up to her.

Why don’t female DJs conceal their identity using vague monikers to gain ground in the DJ industry? Well, they do, and it has no positive effect. In fact, Lyndsey Havens wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune titled “EDM is a big, lucrative world, but not for female DJs.” In her article, Havens points out how most festival lineups are overwhelmingly dominated by male DJs. Genderless monikers haven’t helped women at all. Most big name DJs already use vague monikers and the ones who dominate the industry are, you guessed it, males. Havens goes on to describe how female DJs in Chicago in the ‘80s encountered a lot of sexism much like they do today. A female DJ, going by the moniker Bristol, told her story of how she auditioned for a bar using the exact same records a male DJ friend of hers had been using at the same place for months. When her audition was over, Bristol was denied the position because her set was “too progressive”. Ironic. Isn’t?

While women have gained some ground in the DJ industry, it hasn’t been easy considering all the backlash female DJs face as a consequence of people who don’t care much about the craft. Disappointedly, women contribute to this negative stereotype, like Paris Hilton whom parades her body and beauty on stage without a care in the world as long as she gets paid. This does not create a positive image for the rest of the women DJs. A lot of men don’t help the cause either because they have a tendency to disregard women entirely as soon as the title “DJ” is mentioned. Instead, both men and women should support each other equally and concentrate on elevating the art. If women DJs are to be respected, they need to make their skills a priority. Only then, will they make meaningful progress in the DJ industry.

Works Cited

Gates, Sara. “Breaking The Myth Of The Female DJ In Electronic Dance Music.” The Huffington Post, 19 Sept. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com. 23 Mar. 2017.

Havens, Lyndsey. “EDM is a big, lucrative world, but not for women DJs.” Chicago Tribune, 26 Jul. 2016, www.chicagotribune.com. 23 Mar. 2017.

Scratch. Directed by Doug Pray. Palm Pictures, 2001.

Sontag, Susan. “Women’s Beauty: Put Down or Power Source?” 75 Readings Plus, 9th ed. McGraw Hill, 2010, PRINT, p. 117-19.