By Cindy Yu
“I went from having a really good year in 2014, started to make a small kind of gain to winning awards and initiatives, which then exposed me to what can only be described as online harassment within a 48-hour period of winning that award.”
Sarah Connor, an Australian hip hop artist, was on a rise to success after winning the $10,000 Hilltop Hood Initiative in 2015, which is the highest possible achievement for an emerging Hip Hop artist in Australia, as well being a feature artist on Triple J Unearthed.
However, in just two days after the announcement of her winning the Initiative, Connor began to receive sexually harassing comments and cyber abuse on her social media. “That included comments saying it was an atrocity that I won the award, the only reason I was played on Triple J was because I fucked the Triple J players, the only reason I won additional awards was because I literally sucked off the judge for that,” she says.
The imbalance of female representations and sexist attitudes towards women within the Australian Hip Hop scene is, according to Connor, “a really notorious issue to talk about.” When asked whether the recent #MeToo movement has decreased the level of sexism within the industry, Connor replies that it has “put a spotlight on the problem,” however she continues, “It’s always too early to tell in Australia…These things will not happen overnight. For me it’s not just a band-aid solution.”
Early this year, Jumanji Festival received major online criticisms on their all- male line up. Midas Gold, one of the Australia male artist in the line- up, also expressed his disappointment about the lack of female representation in his Facebook post, “I do feel the need to say something, silence in compliance, I don’t think this it is a fair representation of our scene and rap music globally. Something I do feel strongly about on different levels.”
In the organizer’s apology, it explained that, “Several high profile international female artists were approached and were either unavailable or not within our budget.” However, several female artists found it difficult to believe that they were unable to find other female talents in Australia. Alphamama, a R&B and Soul singer in Sydney, laughs, “I think they’re full of shit.” She continues, “I can put myself in their shoes and kind of see from their perspective if all they consume is male hip hop music. Well that’s what they consume so that’s what they know. Whereas if they listen to the music that women are making, I just don’t think they will feel that way.”
On the other hand, MLBRN, another Australian male artist in the line- up, believes that artists should be booked irrespective of their gender in his message response, “Festivals aren’t obligated to make sure there are female AND male artists supporting the line ups? Whatever fits their bill at the end of the day, is who they select and no one else has a say I believe.”
In an interview with a male promoter, he too believes that the skill level of the artists is more important than ensuring that there is a balance gender representation when he’s organizing a line up.
Alphamama responds to this by saying, “It’s like a hidden attack at the skill level of the women who are in the hip hop scene because if you say I only booked men because I look at skill and talent, well then you are saying that the talent or the skill level of the women in that genre is not as high as the level of men, which is totally utter bullshit.”
This male promoter later asked for his interview to be pulled out of the article.
While she agrees to a certain extent, that she would not like to be booked just to fill the gender quota, “I think sometimes a lot of men and the music industry can’t even see past their own biases and their own filters because it’s so deeply engrained in them,” she say. “How are women going to have the confidence level and how are we going to feel welcomed unless we are included and thought of.”
In the ARIA Music Awards there have only been three female artists who were nominated for the Best Urban Album over the past five years. Krystel Diola, a DJ and the founder of Behind the Front, explains that the issue of the lack of female representations goes deeper than just the music industry itself, “I do believe it stems from the social construct of how we view our men versus women; how we raised our children to live in such a patriarchal society. It’s deeper than music. It’s more about the mindset.”
Laird also raises the issue that women’s knowledge in technical know-hows are underestimated in the industry. After recording, she asked for her individual tracks of her session from the man who manages the studio, in which he responded that, “it would be pointless because I would not know what to do with them in terms of creating a mix of my own. It was my own beat that I created but somehow, according to him, I wouldn’t know how to make my own demo.”
As well as having their skills underestimated, Alphamama points that strong confident women in the scene are often uncelebrated and unsupported. She explains that there is a sense of tall poppy syndrome in Australia as they, “love the underdog and love the undiscovered, humble talent.” She continues, “So for me, if you’re a strong woman then we’re not going to give you opportunities. But if you’re gentler or maybe you fit in a particular role that we like then we will help you.”
Despite of this, like any strong independent woman would do, she decided to create her own path of opportunities, “well fuck it, I’m going to create my own and not just create the opportunity for myself but create the opportunity for other women who probably feel exactly the same way that I did.”
Alphamama runs one of the very few mentoring programs for female hip hop artists in Australia, “I mentor, I coach, I teach, and I share the opportunities,” she says. “I don’t keep cards close to my chest and maybe that works against me, but at the same time that’s how I live.”
In order for female artists to have equal opportunities and representations within the hip hop industry, Connor believes that males from the hip hop scene and industry should support female artists for change to take place, “This is not something that women can do on their own,” she says. “The only way we can really do this is looking into at trying to create a platform for both policy changing and cultural shift.
Although Alphamama agrees that male artists should demonstrate support by recommending fellow female artists and sharing opportunities and resources, she says, “It doesn’t mean like holding the door because I’m not able to open the door myself. But at the same time things need to change.”