The preponderance of all male panels - “manels” - at leading international music conference MIDEM last week were easy to mock. But they’re keeping the music business from moving forward, writes music industry consultant Cortney Harding.
Last Friday, a photo started circulating of a MIDEM panel about the next fifty years in the music business. At first I thought it was a joke -- all the people on stage were male, white, and middle-aged; not at all representative of what the next fifty years will look like in an ever-more diverse and global industry. But alas, it was all too real, and now joins the infamous “all male panel on gender equality and tech” and “all male panel at an international women’s summit.” The trend has even sparked an all male panels Tumblr page.
At least one person at MIDEM noticed that preponderance of all-male panels; unfortunately, he did so by stating that he hoped there would be “more girls on panels” the next time around. For accomplished women who were shut out, this was quite possibly the biggest slap in the face of all -- booking all male panels could have been seen as an oversight, but that sort of attitude from the stage just drove home that women weren’t welcome.
I was once told I was
“too cute to be a panelist."
I’ve been on the conference circuit long enough to have dealt with plenty of sexism. Usually it’s the “softer” sort - I’m the only woman on the panel, yet again. But often it’s more overt - I was once told I was “too cute to be a panelist;” another time an organizer indicated a male colleague was only including me in his panel pitch because he and I were dating (we weren’t). I skipped out on a conference this year because another male organizer responded to constructive criticism with threats and intimidation. And that doesn’t even count the times I’ve been talked over, dismissed, or had the business man-splained to me.
Eventually, it wears you down. You get sick of being ignored and dismissed, so you stop going, and then you wind up with all white men discussing the future of the business. Being in a space where you feel excluded sucks. It reinforces all the old, gross, negative stereotypes of the music business, a business many of us love and want to make better for artists and creators. But you can only push a boulder up a hill for so long before you finally want to bail.
I’m not going to bail, but I am going to offer conference organizers a challenge. In order to move the business forward, we need to eradicate the all-male, all-white, all-Western panel. No more manels, and if you see a manel, call it out. This means that women, people of color, people from the global South, and allies need to offer solutions, recommend people, and in some cases step aside and let someone else take the mic. It means conferences need to offer more financial support to make sure those people can make it in the first place. It means calling out sexism when you do hear it on panels.
A Wake Up Call
MIDEM should serve as a wake up call to those of us who want to make sure the music business moves forward and includes diverse voices. The more people events include, the more different perspectives are shared, and the more creative solutions can be reached. This is good for everyone. Join me today in ending the manel.