Female Canadian musicians struggle for respect

Published On January 29, 2015 | By Lindsay Newman | Arts
Music journalist and author Andrea Warner will release her upcoming book We Ought Know: How Four Women Ruled the ‘90s and Changed Canadian Music in April. (Photo courtesy  of Andrea Warner)

Music journalist and author Andrea Warner will release her upcoming book We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ‘90s and Changed Canadian Music in April. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Warner)

By Shoynear Morrison

Canadian women in music deserve a little more respect.

That was one conclusion by Vancouver-based music writer Andrea Warner who will release her book We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ‘90s and Changed Canadian Music in April 2015. The book delves into the careers of female Canadian artists who have dominated the music industry.

With the release of the 2015 Juno nominee list, news of the book raises the subjects of competition and struggles that female Canadian musicians face while trying to reach icon status.

Respect for women in the industry is definitely better today than it has been in previous years, said Warner. “The ’90s did change the active role that women played in music especially in Canada … but female artists still face stumbling blocks based on gender.”

“Based on the Canadian musicians I’ve spoken to, (struggles come) from very basic things like going to a club and the sound guys assuming that none of the women play instruments, and they’re only there to sing or for decoration,” she said.

Warner’s motivation for writing the book was to display the success of Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Sarah McLachlan, who have been some of the best selling Canadian artists.

Today all four women are either seen as a joke or their careers are attributed to men. “I don’t think that they get the respect that they deserve from most of the country, if not the world,” said Warner.

“Women are circumscribed in terms of the industry. They tend to be vocalists … they tend to play piano or acoustic guitar and they tend to work in the pop world,” said York University Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Rob Bowman.

“We have a number of Canadian women who are successful or are becoming successful, but whether they become mega super stars remains to be seen,” Bowman said.

But Warner said “it’s hard for a woman’s success just to be a woman’s success … everyone claims it, or takes it apart, or attributes it to something else.”

For example many people assume Celine Dion was primarily successful because she married an older man who helped her achieve her goals, and not necessarily because of her voice, she said.

“Many people want to chip away and qualify a woman’s success … I think it stems from an idea of ownership,” said Warner.

The struggles that female Canadian musicians face are the same battles that most women in face in general, said Warner. “Gender bias, sexism and objectification are just a few.”

Warner said she hopes the book creates “a lot of conversation about what it means to talk about women in all industries.”

“I really owned up to a lot of negative thoughts I had about two of the artists. I would like the readers to consider the way in which we critique people and to recognize what we are doing to perpetuate and be complicit in sexism and gender bias,” she said. “Even if we identify as feminists.”

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Lindsay Newman

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