1st March 2024

Why sex, gender, identities and assumptions matter in Music Education

New hate crime statistics released by the ONS reveal that England and Wales continue to become a less safe place for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.

Often EDI work around the topic of gender, identities and sexual orientation gets overlooked due to people (e.g. students and music teachers) not always being as visibly identifiable as other minority groups.

We have found that many LGBTQ+ educators find themselves in situations where they feel a need to negotiate their own identity to fit into what many would consider heteronormative communities, and are fearful about disclosing identity fully, and worried about misconceptions.

There is a lack of research concerning this community in the field of music education which is why this is an important topic to cover.

UK ONS census in 2021 recorded the following statistics around gender, sexual orientation and identities:

  • 51% of UK population identify as women
  • 49% of UK population identify as men
  • 0.5% of UK population transgender
  • 3.1% of UK population aged 16+ identify LGBTQ+ as their sexual orientation

However, those facts and figures look very different when we compare them to the music industry.

The Be the Change Study (2023) stated that:

  • 49% of those surveyed identified as men
  • 45% of those surveyed identified as women
  • 3% of those surveyed identified as women
  • 3% of those surveyed were other gender expansive individuals

They also reported that…

  • Women and nonbinary individuals are more likely to see gender discrimination as a problem.
  • Mental health is a prevailing issue in the music industry for women, nonbinary, and trans individuals. Women (76%), trans individuals (82%), and nonbinary individuals (89%) are all more likely to report struggling with their mental health
  • Women are +25% more likely to report being told that their gender is not a good fit for a job. Nonbinary individuals are +200% and transgender individuals are +250% more likely to report being told the same.

Other interesting stats from the study include data that links into our other network meetings and intersectionality:

  • 37% identified as having a disability
  • 30% were LGBTQ+
  • 22% were a racial or ethnic minority in their country

Research conducted by Spotify and PRS also noted that:

  • Only ​​30% of the 160 artists on the Billboard Hot 100-year-end chart in 2022 were women
  • Across the seven years examined, the percentage of women producing or writing Billboard hits has been almost non-existent.
  • Across the 500 Billboard songs analysed, only 2.6% were produced by women and just 8 out of every 1,093 production credits went to women of colour.

However, there is good news, this trend is starting to increase year on year as noted by PRS and the spotify research.

Creating Inclusive and Safer Spaces for All – what can we do?

By understanding these stats and identifying this as a key area of EDI work, we as music leaders can start to support and work with the next generation of musicians. Being the grassroots movement for change whether that’s in primary or secondary schools.

Representation matters (a recurring theme across all of our Inclusion Network meetings) – are we including a diverse range of musicians, composers, teachers that help to affirm and celebrate our students identities? Stepping away from the hetero-normative bias in music education. We also need to look at our teachers, is the workforce diverse and inclusive.

It’s important to move away from stereotypes and gender bias with instrument choices and music making opportunities, for example, male / female only choirs.

A key point raised by our panellists at the meeting on 5th February was “be the curator of your music space!” As music leaders we need to show up as allies in a proactive way – it’s one thing to say we are an ‘ally’, it’s another to take action! Can we have a LGBTQ+ poster or flag to show we are a safe space? Will we call out negative sexist, LGBTQ+ and transphobic behaviour? Will we listen to our students and work with them collaboratively? Our aim is to create a safe space and inclusive culture for all in our classrooms.

It’s also important to know that it’s ok to not always know how we can best support and / or use the right language. We as music leaders can learn and grow from our students, by being approachable, empathetic and humble in our lessons, and/or by reaching out to the wider community.

To summarise, the panellists at the meeting talked about the following:

  • Enabling expression and true equity of opportunity for all young musicians.
  • Teachers championing LQBTQ+ musicians.
  • Challenging inappropriate language and behaviours.
  • Recognising and addressing stereotypical biases (eg instruments, concert dress, vocal ranges / choirs).
  • Respecting intersectionality.
  • Including pronouns in introductions.
  • As teachers, don’t be scared to ask questions if you are unsure.

We have also been made aware by the panellists that the Department for Education recently released a draft guidance for ‘Gender Questioning Children‘. They’re taking comments on the draft until 12 March, and it feels really important that they hear the input of educators especially. We ask that you share your thoughts and respond to this as soon as possible.

Article compiled by Emma Hughes and Julia Falaki