Being a sound guy as a girl…

As I write I question myself if this is necessary, who are the ones who are going to raise eyebrows, what jobs will I be missing in the future. This might upset some people and I’m sure to be hearing anytime soon that maybe I could have been more discrete. Oh screw that, alright? The trend response I have been seeing in this kind of articles is either an effusive support, both by men and women, or a terrible and painful outrage. Any professional in the audio business knows it’s tough for all of us, regardless of gender and I believe we all acknowledge that. But women still face discrimination – yes they do. I believe that often is due to an old rooted system that almost instantaneously makes us think of women in tech as less competent. Perhaps also a little more “quiet” (you are welcome to read submissive) then men – things like “behaving like a nice girl” or “not proper behaviour for a girl” have been present even in my own childhood.

Due to these surroundings, I know it takes time for many of us to completely step away from pre-conceived ideas that we haven’t even questioned so far. In this post, there will be some stories I and others I know faced as being women in the audio industry; some of these instances have been perpetrated by other women. So I promise this is not a war on men. I don’t hate you, men. I wish we can reflect upon these sad episodes and make an extra effort to undress our cultural prejudice.

I have been pretty much a tomboy for all my childhood playing football, videogames, wanting to play electric guitar, I suppose due to my elder brother, so I was always comfortable around boys and thought many times that girls were boring. It didn’t help growing up in a male chauvinist religious community – something I only came to realise  many years later. Ask me about the subject 10 years ago and I would say discrimination is on one’s mind. And possibly that “my male peers treat me as if I was one of them”.

education

I attended  a music production BA and we were 3 girls and about 15 guys in the class. Later on I had to stop to work full-time but I enrolled again one year later where I was the only girl within 18 or 19 guys. I had good colleagues, I was friends with some. In both periods, however, sexual jokes were flying the classroom every 15 minutes or so. I didn’t really understand the problem then, but I remember that one of the girls showed herself really disgusted on one particular guy who was particularly … verbally explicit… and she became a serious victim of name calling and adult bullying. I’m saying this again: she expressed her dislikes of not finding constant sexual jokes in the classroom decent and was name called the entire program. The other girls were objectified on a single basis. Oh, how glorious it was to have some girls attending but only if they were treated with absolute respect. Same for the only female teacher: her sexual life was discussed almost everyday among students and of course that was also attributed to her position as a teacher. I suppose all her knowledge and completed academic degrees didn’t mean a thing. There was a girl from another class who was very pretty but (or “and”) the times I heard she was dumb and stupid really blurred any other comment. Last time I checked she was rocking at her sound job.

I felt some condescendence once in a while from teachers, and one once actually put forward a way to embarrass me in front of the whole class by asking me something he was apparently sure I didn’t know the answer. Very pedagogic, right?

Now a disclaimer & an opinion: a girl does not have to be a good student to be respected. I was not a good student. I lacked motivation and was very lost with what I really wanted (I also had a very shitty life situation). Having sympathetic grades to pass the courses does not help. On the opposite: this kind of condescending attitude will aggravate the situation! But support from the school system – teachers and colleagues – and being open to go an extra mile to help out in one momentary unpolished skill could help out a lot, in particular those girls who are dropping out school so quickly, due to the lack of a working support system. So just to be clear, a couple of teachers were very supportive of this system and both straighten me up when I was going through a low performance in school and one of them made time to help me individually.

professional life… or… “so, where are you studying?”

What follows is a series of real-life tales I have lived mostly in the latest 4 years of my professional life. Perhaps all of them are not related with my gender, with my looks, with my age. But maybe they are.

Many of the places / companies I provide work for a period of time (could be one day or months) seem to be very happy to have a girl in the premises. I often hear how cool it is, there should be more, etc.. I agree. I don’t see that many and think it’s great to encourage more of us to have visibility.

BUT

one of these companies I started on asked for my rate. Being new, I even asked for the opinion of an experience colleague and presented a very average price. They compared my fee to the other sound girl’s fee to be able to negotiate a lower price. I’m guessing that women are payed a different rate?

on one job as a production sound mixer I asked the line producer to contact the equipment’s rental company to replace one of the microphones that has been damaged the day before by being exposed to humidity for too long. This was even after I brought it home and did tests to see what were the damaged parts. He later asked my male assistant what happened to the microphone.

on the same project, one of the props guys was responsible for mounting a stand for a street DJ performance thing. With me just there, he asked my male assistant what cables he would need.

as production sound mixer again, one Sennheiser on my kit died. Then it went on for a few minutes and went totally off again. Once more, I checked every component on the chain I could and once I returned to the office I communicated by email, with a post-it, with a phone text to the responsible, detailing everything that happened. They never came back to me, but I found out later that they were saying I forgot to turn the phantom power on.

on a similar job, I spent over two months hearing from a male DOP things like: I should instead be working in the studio, that there is no need to record that because they will add it in post, that once he had a stereo microphone on his camera which had such great sound that it did the job, that I needed to hurry up, that there was no time to take atmos, that they won’t use the sound, that I needed to get used to sound being unimportant, that he would use the camera microphone, that I needed to do my best because apparently informing beforehand of very noisy locations and suggesting an alternative is not my best; he questioned my practices all the time: if I placed the microphones well, why was I not using this microphone but the other, that the producer needed to agree that it was too noisy to take dialogue in the middle of a street square with operating construction machines all around and a big water fountain, that by tradition I needed to carry his part of the gear. Later, I sadly confessed this to a colleague who told me “sounds like he’s mansplaining you”. I never heard about the term. I read about it and was later criticised about defending the term and the existence of the treatment. “I shouldn’t be angry about it”.

i was hired for location sound again because they want to bring women in the industry. They didn’t want to pay the preparation day or all the hours on the schedule. They said there was no more budget. They said I couldn’t earn more than the DOP. They said I charging a lot. All were lies and they didn’t re-hire me despite the directors’ will to do so.

they hired me but the hired boys were doing the fun parts of the job

he asked me what I did for a living (I was working and assembling my kit in front of him)

he asked me if I was going to enrol a school program (I was 28)

they referred to me as “him” and “sound guy”

they indicated me for a regular non-paid student project,

they indicated me for a junior-entry job

they gave me advice on how to start a career (I was in for over 5 years)

he said women unquestionably do the best work but he didn’t really let any woman in

he approached me talking about saving money and said he wanted to replace his former (“whining”) female dialogue editor by me

he wanted me to work for free to prove my worth

 

 

So, your thoughts? Men and women? What can be done?

A warm hug to all women who have to deal with this anytime in their lives!

6 responses to “Being a sound guy as a girl…

  1. In the 1970’s and 80’s, I worked in lighting design and execution, sound design and execution, and set construction. At the time, while it was we wonderful to do, I also received constant put downs and condescension from the men. I’m sorry to see it hasn’t changed.

    While I went into a different arc than the arts (my mother was an actress/director; my father was an electrical engineer) – I ended up in computer science – my daughter is currently majoring in theatre. I’ll pass it on to her.

    Good luck. I had an equally difficult time at first in comp sci.

    • Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience. When the representation in technology is equal (and by that I don’t mean sexualised pictures of girls with microphones) and kids grow up with it, I believe much of this will start to happen. Just my hopes though.

  2. Thank you very much Melissa for your article, I think the industry/art/craft I work in and whom I’ve dedicated most of my life has a BIG debt regarding gender equality.
    This exposure with terrible examples of mistreatment are necessary to keep awareness of the problem and to remind colleagues that we must do better.
    I’ve been following your blog for the last 4 years (since your UDK tutorials) and not for a second I would imagine someone calling you “sound guy”, it’s just saddening.
    Wish you the best, you deserve it.
    Eduardo

    • Thank you for reading and sharing! While these are very negative examples, I had unfortunately seen a lot worse happening to female peers. Now that I look back and see all this I don’t have any problem whatsoever to speak about it – even if it’s going to cause me some job loss which I honestly expect -, but not every woman is in the same situation. The huge response this post has been having shows how several women identify with this. Thank you for acknowledging the situation and put it under some light!

  3. This is a real problem that never gets enough attention. Good to see you’re stepping up and sharing these things. Keep up the good work, hopefully a time will come when all this will only be bad memories.

    • Thank you George! Many times it gets attention and is fiercely attacked either by a strong ridiculous patriarchal boy’s club or a so-called liberal thought that fails to recognise an entire background that has been perpetuating the situation. I believe in educational resolutions and a balanced representation of genres which will hopefully make next generations think the current situation as of something of a past. I assisted a talk recently that pointed out a correlation between women’s enrolling in computer science dropping out drastically to the advent of advertising home computers with boys and men only. This was early 90’s in Canada. I am hoping this biased representation will soon be over, but not a lot can be done with current generations, I’m afraid.

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