Women in Nightlife: The Patriarchal Setbacks of Being a Female DJ
© Illustration by INJECTION - Laura Alvarez-Holtslag
Interviews in safety, comfort and stereotypes: sharing women’s experiences as DJs and why there is still room for improvement.
A typical night out in London always consists of clubbing, music and booze. A wave of carefree party-goers are dancing to the beat of one person - the DJ, who creates the party under laser beams and strobe lights and provides exactly what the people need.
Despite DJs (literally) being the life of the party, there is an intense and dangerous aspect of the job - for women in particular. INJECTION Magazine had the opportunity to speak to three female DJs about their comfort and safety on the job and what they believe will make the nightlife industry safer for them.
© Photography by Hannah Barrett | In frame Rowena Alice
Rowena Alice is a DJ and broadcaster based mainly around Shoreditch, specialising in rock and indie music. The first thing she mentioned was how difficult it was to start out as a female DJ and actually be recognised for her talent.
Rowena started her career as a model and has ‘dabbled’ in various industries. The similarities in both the modelling and music industries gave her more of an idea as to how women are generally treated by those of higher authority, and how her identity exacerbates the problem, even when it comes to trying to get booked in the first place.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” explains Rowena. Men with less experience will be booked without trouble, whereas women have to prove they’ve worked at gigs, broadcasted, and have a plethora of accolades just to get in the same position.
Rowena shares what a promoter’s thought process might be for booking a DJ, “it’s just easier to get a man in; they feel safer,” - as men are significantly less likely to be sexually harassed and in danger than women. As a freelancer without an HR team, Rowena looks to other groups, such as the Sound Girls Facebook group, for moral support and advice on getting booked.
© Drawing by Leilani Howlett
Following a conversation with another DJ, who wishes to remain anonymous, the problem became clear to be widespread and interdisciplinary. Being a freelancer who has been working in clubs and bars since 2013, she explains that as a woman in the industry, she finds it can be beneficial - admittedly because she ‘fits an aesthetic’ that the industry finds palatable.
She continues to explain that, “Western ideals of beauty, being cis-gendered, being not overly dark-complexioned, and not having overly black features,” seemed to aid her career by fitting into archaic standards that agencies, unfortunately, find more attractive. Conforming to gender stereotypes is, however, the way that a lot of female DJs can look after themselves when security is not always there for them.
“Agencies keep hiring white men on the roster. It’s important to have a varied roster. We can’t keep having ‘Gary from Stockport’ playing R&B and bashment; that’s not a good look.” These barriers that are currently in place are actively inhibiting opportunity, diversity, and representation.
She also explains that she feels safest at queer parties, where she is "less likely to be harassed by men" - an unfortunate and common phenomenon among female DJs that can rarely be avoided. She aims to dress in a more genderfluid way to move away from stereotypical heterosexual standards to minimise this harassment and also make herself feel comfortable and safe, especially when security cannot always be there for her.
© In frame El Conchitas
The third and final DJ, El Conchitas, spoke mainly of her favorite nightlife experiences. El Conchitas, who has been in the industry for almost 20 years, has previously worked for Gaydio, Shoreditch Radio and DIY Radio. She stressed the importance of being in the right place for yourself and your needs.
El explains that having a comfortable booth, a good atmosphere and respectful management is essential to a good experience whilst at work. As a sober DJ, for the reason of enjoying her experience and connecting to people more, El is aware of the dangers - such as “the usual drunk person hitting on you” - but turns to security when in need.
There is clearly still a lot to do when it comes to the safety of female DJs at work. Given the limited support for the issues they face, it is important to bring the treatment of women in the music industry to light and be aware of how we can help ensure their safety when on a night out. Looking out for harassment and mistreatment directed towards female DJs can help them to safely do their job and show them that their struggles are acknowledged.
To follow Rowena on Instagram: @rowena.alice To follow El on Instagram: @djelconchitas For the Sound Girls Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SoundGirlsOrg/
For general DJ career help and empowerment: @femaledjassociation