If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” the pop icon said, standing strong with her microphone straddled between her legs.
“You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world.”
Harsh, fiery and largely unfiltered, Madonna’s acceptance speech for Billboard’s Woman of the Year Award was the highlight of the annual Women in Music ceremony. She was honest as she delved into her experiences with sexual harassment, and she was blunt as she described her frustration with another feminist. But though Madonna was the one to deliver the speech, her pro-woman words came from a place that resonates with women everywhere. She brings to mind the highly publicized obstacles that women in music faced throughout the year, from sexual assault to blatant neglect.
As in previous years, it’s clear that women in music drew the short end of the stick in 2016. Headlines once again echoed the types of misogyny outlined within Madonna’s speech. In one prominent case, we witnessed a New York court refuse to release Kesha from her contract with Sony, where her former producer and alleged rapist, Dr. Luke, continues to work. The public struggled to watch the scandal unfold, knowing that Kesha hadn’t even gone as far as filing charges against the producer; she simply didn’t want to be affiliated with him. “I feel stuck and I feel sad,” Kesha expressed, while accepting the well-deserved Trailblazer Award at the Women in Music ceremony. During her months-long court battle, Kesha’s fans, fellow musicians and others came together as a massive support system, with Zedd offering to collaborate with her. As the support of millions behind her keeps on growing, the pop star remains as resilient as ever.
Another bewildering moment for women in music this year centered on DJ Mag’s neglect to include any women on its 25th anniversary cover. The issue was meant to commemorate dance music pioneers from the last two-and-a-half decades, but it was apparent that the British magazine didn’t find any women at all worthy of being considered leaders within the genre. DJ Mag went on to comment on the gender disparity of dance music: “The final list of 25 was the result of much debate in the office, and you may notice just from glancing at the cover that there are no women in the 25 — a fact we’re all too aware of at DJ Mag. Is there anyone we should have included? And if so, in place of who?” Immense backlash ensued. Carl Loben, editor of DJ Mag, soon issued a mediocre apology via the Huffington Post, in which he claimed that artists more deserving of the title as “pioneer” would have to be kicked off the list in order to accommodate spots for women. But with this coming from a magazine notorious for excluding women from its annual Top 100 DJ list, we are hardly surprised.
Despite the setbacks thrown at us this year in regards to gender equality, we also saw progression. Music festivals, whose lineups consisted of mostly men in 2016, showed their first steps to leveling out the playing field. Allison Wonderland and Anna Lunoe each became the first solo female artists to headline the main stage at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. But performer line-ups aren’t the only aspects of a festival that need improvement, with thousands of female attendees desiring inclusivity and experiencing harassment on the dance floor. Organizers at Shambhala, Electric Forest, and Glastonbury recognized their attendees’ needs for a safe space, so they each introduced women-only areas within their festival grounds. And finally, in one of the bigger milestones of 2016 – and serving as somewhat of an antithesis to that other magazine’s ideals – Mixmag christened The Black Madonna as its DJ of the Year.
Anderson Cooper said it best: “Madonna is Billboard’s Woman of the Year, but as far as I’m concerned in terms of music and impact and culture, she’s been the Woman of the Year every year since she released her first single ‘Everybody’ in 1982.” It’s easy to see the truth in his statement. Madonna spent the last three decades helping to pave the way for women in music, and it’s our inherent duty to walk it all the way through. 2016 proved to us that although we are making progress, we still have quite some work to do.