CIU111.3 (1/3): Inclusive Design
WARNING: May contain white privelage
Firstly, I would like to start by clearing something up. I am a white, middle class, able-bodied, mostly heterosexual male, with only the slightest tinge of a criminal record. So, now that I’ve explained absolutely everything you could possibly need to know to make a decision as to whether or not my opinion is valid or not, I shall continue. I feel better for having gotten that off my chest.
Every week, SAE Creative Institute provides us with a blog post centred on the weekly theme of our CIU class via online blogging platform, Medium ("Self-Directed Practitioners", 2015).
I have found these to be really awesome and hugely informative. I always enjoy disappearing down the rabbit-hole afterward reading them and filling my brain with all manner of subjects and ideas that I otherwise would not have. The topic of the blog for week eight was inclusive design ("Week 8: Inclusive Design", 2015). Although we did not cover this extensively in class due to it being largely directed at the gaming students, out of curiosity I decided to give the blog a read anyway. It starts out by explaining that as creative practitioners, we have a responsibility to make sure that the content in which we produce is accessible to people from all walks of life. The article concerns itself with accessibility awareness, including vision; design considerations for people with impaired vision or colour blindness, hearing, mobility; physical disability, race and gender. It points out quite evenly where we are succeeding and where we are behind as a community, and references several other articles and talks from people within the design world. Obviously not all of this is relevant to the music industry, which I as an audio student am primarily concerned, but it is incredibly important and valuable information to think about all the same, especially in the context of a critical thinking module. The lines between the creative disciplines are so blurred these days that it is important for me as an audio engineer to have at least a vague understanding of the other artistic realms. Furthermore, it is not just the physical design that should be concerned with accessibility, but the subject matter, message, and emotion of the art also. In this way, it is incredibly relevant to my craft and so I really enjoyed reading about it from different viewpoints. When I got to the sections in the blog about mobility and gender however, I felt instantly involved on a personal level. I no longer felt like a student reading a blog post, but a participant in an intellectual and political shit storm that I have been weathering my whole life. I had to write about it.
The reasoning for my emotional response to reading about mobility and physically impaired people in the creative world was clear to trace. For some time now, I have worked in my capacity as a professional actor with a theatre group in South Yarra called Roller Coaster Theatre. It is a not-for-profit ensemble of actors with disabilities from a wide range of backgrounds ("Profile - Rollercoaster Theatre", 2017). From the moment I started working with these incredible artists, I couldn’t help but question why I hadn’t seen more artists with disabilities in my time working in the industry. This only became more of an anomaly to me once I started to see not only how talented and able they were as performers, but how in many cases, their so-called disability had left them with none of the egocentric, self-obsessed, self-consciousness that cripples so many apparently ‘normal’ performers.
I started to see a clear division within the creative industry and it confused me, upset me, and most importantly, made me feel responsible. But of course I was not responsible. Or was I? Well, I opened up the conversation with everyone I knew, the liberal art actors, the academics, the right-wing conservatives, muslims, monks, atheists, anyone I could find. Interestingly, I kept ending up at the same conclusion; the problem was the industry itself. But how can I blame an industry? An industry doesn’t have feelings, or thoughts, or a capacity for evil. Then it became all too clear, it’s the people who run the industry who are responsible. Thankfully, this was not me. I definitely did not run the industry. Phew! Only, they were never referred to as the people who run the industry, they were referred simply as ‘the white men’. “Damn, that’s me”, I thought.
How could this be? How could it be that by simply being a white male, I was responsible for all of the injustice and inequality in the creative industries? The kinder folk in my friendship circle took the time to comfort me and assure me it’s not all white males, just the majority. Great!
When I got to the section of the blog discussing gender inequality in the music industry, I was emotionally triggered in a big way. The moment I read the first sentence I was in defence mode. After some self reflection, I realised this response was from years of heated conversations with my artistic, liberal, left wing feminist friends about this very subject. Now, I will not spend hours trying to put the subject to rest here, but I would like to at lest look at this topic a bit closer, and try to figure what my emotional reaction was all about.
The blog links to an online article by Ruth Saxelby (2014) titled 13 Women On How To Change Male-Dominated Studio Culture. It has many interesting points and is worth a read, even if it is completely biased and somewhat irrational at times. There are most definitely more males doing audio engineering and/or producing for a living, with only 5% being female, according to Saxelby. One only has to look at my current audio engineering class at SAE Melbourne. It is heavily male, with only a small handful of female students. This article by Saxelby seems to suggest the rational explanation for this lack of females in audio is that the music industry, like every other industry, is sexist (Saxelby, 2014). The thing is, I don’t know that it is. I mean, it is sexist, but is that really the reason why there are so few females? To reiterate, I already stated in the beginning that I am a white male, so some people would claim that I am in no position to comment on such things, as I am blinded by my 'white privilege', and this is something I have personally been told on countless occasions.
What Saxelby’s article doesn’t consider is that perhaps a lot of the female population doesn’t study or work in the audio engineering profession because, well, they don’t want to. I mean, SAE certainly doesn’t discriminate in terms of gender when accepting students, and yet there are practically none, and, as anecdotal as it may be, I can’t think of any males I’ve ever worked with across the years that would actually have some deep, personal issue either working with or working for a woman in this industry. In fact, I would say many, including myself, would prefer to have input from another gender in an attempt to make the product and work environment as broad and interesting as possible.
There are a million possible explanations for the lack of females in the industry other than patriarchal control. That is not to say that the patriarchy has nothing to do with it, but I don't know that I believe it is the sole explanation. One other possible explanation is discussed earlier in the inclusive design blog itself. The blog references a book by Uri Gneezy and John List (2014) titled The Why Axis. The book looks at a study they did on gender specific competitiveness, in a hope to find out if the apparent lack of competiveness in western women was innate, or a result of social conditioning. I personally do not think their study was nearly extensive enough to be conclusive, but this lack of competiveness in women could be, at least in part, an explanation for women steering way from careers in audio. The music industry is surely one of, if not the most, competitive business' in the world. If there is a predisposition in some women to avoid highly competitive environments, socially influenced or otherwise, then diverting away from this industry is completely understandable. Another insight into why any industry would be more heavily occupied by one gender, race, or group, rather than a mixed bag, could be to do with a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is the so-called ‘love’ hormone that influences humans to invent "us" and "them" groups wherever they look, whether it's on the basis of sex, race, nationality, class, age, religion, or hair colour, and to have a preference for our mothers and people we know and trust over strangers. I’m in danger of going off on a massive tangent here, so I’ll allow renowned neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky to explain in the video below.
I want to be very clear in saying that I can totally accept that sexism exists in a big way in the creative industries, and I am fully behind any movement that aims to change such a culture and hold accountable each and every one of those responsible. These responsible people, as far as I am concerned, are not white, and they are not male, they are assholes. I want there to be a clear distinction between assholes and everyone else. Assholes are genderless, non-race specific, and are easily controlled (most of the time). The problem I feel when someone says that patriarchy is the problem, is that I instantly feel that, as a male, I am unable to help. If I am the problem, I feel powerless to help solve the problem. I think a lot of people feel this way. Now, imagine the non-asshole white males were on side with women struggling against this issue. Imagine how quickly we could smoke out these few bad seeds and send them packing. But we need to be included on the side of good if we are to help at all. And believe me, we want to help. Another thing that concerns me is that I feel that young women do not benefit from having such a concrete excuse for failure already set out. If I fail at something professionally, or am bettered by a colleague, then I only have my own incompetence to blame, and therefore I work harder, get better, smarter, stronger. I don't have the luxury of thinking, "I didn't get the job because of my penis". Even as a male, I myself have experienced professional setbacks because I would not conform to sexual advances from my female superiors on more than one occasion. What I did not do was demonise every white female in the world, but rather recognise that those particular ones, were assholes. I think that having such a set-in-stone, monstrous, uphill battle already laid out in front of them would deter anyone from pursuing a career. Again, I do not deny the fact that this is a male driven, unequal industry, but I just feel it can’t solely be the fault of 'white males', because I am one, and I don’t give a fat rat’s ass if you’re a man, woman, both, neither, or any other version, as long as you bring the bloody goods.