dani miller surfbort
[Courtesy of Dani Miller]

Op-ed: Surfbort’s Dani Miller examines gender bias in music on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is March 8, which just so happens to be my birthday. I want to take a moment and share my thoughts and personal experiences with gender bias in the music industry. The thing about bias is that it hides in dark corners and isn’t always the most obvious. In my career, I have often been treated weirdly or not taken seriously. I feel it’s because I am perceived as a woman. Ironically, I don’t identify as male or female; I’m somewhere in the middle. Yet, I am perceived as, and therefore treated like, a woman. Not adhering to “traditional feminine roles” makes it much more challenging to navigate my career as a working musician.

Sometimes, it feels like I don’t fit anywhere. Not to mention, women in general are treated differently and less fairly across the board in the music business compared to our male counterparts. On the performing side of the industry, a 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) and Princeton University found that, in a survey of 1,227 musicians, over two-thirds of female musicians have experienced sexual harassment. 72% have experienced discrimination based on their gender.

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I’m happy to say that it feels like things are slowly changing as more women speak out and shine a light on the darker side of the industry, but we still have a long way to go. Gender bias has always been there, but now with social media, it’s easier for fans to see what’s really going on behind the scenes and help stand up for equality, such as the #FreeBritney movement. 

I love embracing both the feminine and the masculine sides within me. However, I am not an easily commodifiable sex symbol. It feels like most big record labels look for the “classic woman.” It seems fucked up to even exist sometimes without truly being seen, and that makes it much harder to put myself out there. 

But enough about me. There have been so many great women who have helped pave the path for future generations, myself included. You can really tell in old press interviews with Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Cher that the interviewers tried to oversexualize and devalue them as credible artists by asking questions about their looks or love interests vs. their art and the music itself. In her own heroic words, Debbie once said, “I wasn’t going to be told by my record company how to look.” I love that. These women continue to inspire me and the way I approach everyday bias in music.

In current times, my friends who are POC, as well as transgender women, deal with even more intense bias and struggles. It’s a freakin’ weird, spooky world. We should all support each other. I try and hold up all women and femme-identifying, nonbinary people to spread the wealth, whether that’s putting them on the bill or helping get the word out about their music, passing paid gigs on to them and amplifying their voices however I can. We all play a part in promoting love and acceptance and need to take action, no matter how small, to lead by example and make this world a better and more equitable place for everyone.

One time someone came up to me after a show. They were like, “You would be cooler if you were called the Party Sluts.” I’m thinking, “OK… It would be one thing if I was a self-proclaimed party slut, but being put into a box with that title just because you are perceiving me as a woman and that equating to being oversexualized and looked down upon is so lame and disenchanting!” We’ve all heard stories of women being paid less or being expected to perform sexual acts when working with a producer, and it’s so wrong. It’s hard enough to be an artist, but to have this bias on top just because of someone’s gender is beyond messed up. Women and humans deserve respect in the workplace, in the creative space and even in the crowd. 

If you are reading this, think of ways you can make things safer and way more chill for all the women in your life. And when I say women, I don’t just mean cis white women. I mean all women!

I’d like to shout out some badass women who have inspired me and deserve to be celebrated this month: Debbie Harry, Poly Styrene, Patti Smith, Wendy O. Williams, Cher Strauberry, Emily from Niis, Alice Bag, Beyoncé, Billie Holiday, Mz Neon, Linda Perry, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Peaches, Cher, Fusion Babiez, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Nina Simone, Lzzy Hale, Hayley Williams, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, Kim Petras and so, so many more! Thank you to Alternative Press for providing me with the platform and opportunity to speak freely about something so prevalent and important in the music world and to me.

Live. Laugh. Love.

Dani Miller

This op-ed appeared in issue #404 (The Modern Icons Issue), available here.