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Do we value men’s art more than women’s?

By February 2, 2023No Comments



The BRIT awards seem to have forgotten that female Artists exist entirely. It prompted Cassie Delaney to examine the gender gap in creative industries. 

In news that will surprise exactly zero women, the gender-neutral BRIT Awards have shortlisted exactly zero women for Artist of The Year.

Th decision to remove gendered categories happened in late 2021 when non-binary icon Sam Smith urged the organisers to “celebrate everybody, regardless of gender, race, age, ability, sexuality and class”. And though well-intentioned, it seems that the forgoing of a Female Solo Artist category, has resulted in the forgetting of women entirely.

Artists qualify for the longlist if they have had a Top 40 album or two Top 20 singles in the eligibility period – a criteria that Mabel, Florence and the Machine, Charli XCX, Becky Hill and Rina Sawayama each meet.

Naturally a spokesperson for The BRITs was disappointed to see the homogenous shortlist but directed the blame to the wider music industry.

“While it’s disappointing there are no nominations in the Artist of the Year category, we also have to recognise that 2022 saw fewer high profile women artists in cycle with major releases as was the case in 2021,” said the spokesperson.

“These trends based around the release schedule are a feature of the music industry, but if, over time, a pattern emerges, then this puts the onus on the industry to deal with this important issue – and the BPI is already carrying out a major study to identify barriers that may inhibit more women becoming successful in music, so that there can be solutions that result in meaningful change.”

Gender inequality in the Arts is nothing new. In fine art, female artists earn dramatically less for their work. More than $196.6 billion has been spent on art at auction between 2008 and the first half of 2019. Of this, work made by women accounts for just $4 billion or about 2 percent.

The reason? Well according to researchers from Oxford University, it’s as eye wateringly simple as societal bias.

Author of Is Gender in the Eye of the Beholder? Renee Adams writes “There is also no evidence that women produce art that is systematically less pleasing to art auction participants. In fact, we hypothesize that one cannot infer the gender of an artist by looking at a painting. This makes it difficult to attribute the price difference in paintings to biology. Since auction price differences are higher in countries with more gender inequality, we argue that the price difference identifies a pure effect of culture on economic outcomes for female artists.”

In (heated) discussions online it is argued that access to the Arts has been stunted for women – it has therefore taken longer for the art to appreciate hence the lower value. And while access to creative industries is still complicated for women, the above argument cannot explain the disparity that persists in contemporary art, music and the creator economy.

As Greg Allen wrote in The New York Times in 2005,  “asking why women’s art sells for less than men’s elicits a long and complex answer, with endless caveats, entirely germane qualifiers and diverse, sometimes contradictory reasons. But there is also a short and simple, if unpopular, answer that none of those explanations can trump. Women’s art sells for less because it is made by women.”

So do we just value the output of men more than women? Looking at the creator economy, a creative industry that has exploded in the last decade, the answer is a resounding “HELL YEAH, BRUH.” Research from 2021 reveals that even though women make up 83% of the creator and influencer economy, male creators make, on average, 30% more per deal. Male creators are twice as likely to earn more than $150,000 per year so even in an industry that women dominate, men come out on top.

The move by The BRITs to eradicate gendered categories is a step in the wrong direction. Gender quotas and positive action may be a point of contention with naysayers arguing that quotas result in unqualified candidates taking positions away from qualified ones, but this belief is rooted in assumptions of what a qualified candidate might look like. Gender quotas work. They expediate opportunity in response to the injustice of the past.

Studying the impact of gender quotas in business, evidence has shown that the more diverse a board, in all forms, the better an organization performs overall. A recent study published in the American Journal of Political Science, shows boards with quotas for women create more gender inclusive and equity-oriented policies that have a meaningful impact not only on women’s working conditions, but also on the men they work with. These companies are less prone to stock instability, demonstrate increased investment in development, and see higher ROI for investors.

Appling gender quotas to the music industry and the Arts has a whole requires systemic change on every level. Schools, grants, programmes, private organisations, record labels, radio stations and platforms need to commit to equal access, equal air time and equal deals being signed. And when parity is achieved in access and opportunity, perhaps then we can finally celebrate everyone regardless of gender, race, and class.

In the meantime The BRITs may consider adding an additional category that represents those they typically forget. Not Men would be my suggestion but I’m just a radical feminist trying to crawl my way into a boardroom – what would I know? And for the naysayers arguing that gender quotas are unnecessary remember, typically those who oppose a change in the status quo are the ones who currently benefit from it.