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  • Writer's pictureLeevi Räsänen

Equality in music

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

To give this text some context, it was originally written as a motivation letter to a composition competition. Once I had started writing my thoughts on the subject, it turned out I had quite a lot to say. Having spent so much time and effort to put these thoughts into words, it seemed silly to just leave the text to dust in the depths of my computer. This is by no means the first article to introduce these themes, however, I hope that this text would make these phenomena more easily approachable to people working or otherwise affiliated with classical or contemporary music.

What does equality in the field of art music actually comprise? In Finland, some immediate and blatantly visible cases include e.g. the gender distributions of conductors’ performances, both living and dead composers’ works performed, as well as players in the orchestras — these are all heavily male-dominated. The past can’t be changed but instead, history can be researched and rewritten. New editions can be made of works by minority composers and oppressed composers works. On top of that, the work of all living composers can be supported equally and their conditions for working as a composer in Finland can be enhanced.

Some instruments are noticeably gendered and the attitudes towards gendering of mentioned instruments are reinforced from music schools to professional art music institutions. Gender sensitivity in art music is still far from its respective counterparts in the fields of contemporary art or the dramatic arts. There is still a difference in the wages of male vs. non-male professionals of art music: a very concrete example is that one doesn’t gain an annual increase during maternity leave.

In this essay, I will be delving into the underlying causes and phenomena behind these problems and proposing some solutions to them. I will also be observing the concept of equality in the field of art music from different angles and analysing what is the current state of it in Finland — what has been interfered in and what is being ignored, perhaps.

The subjects of equality, diversity and especially gender studies and the problems relating to them in various fields of arts have become increasingly important and close to me by the year. Perhaps the biggest influence has been the discrimination and offensive language that I’ve had to encounter myself, as well as listening to far too many horrible and wrongful experiences that my friends and colleagues have had to go through. I am sick and tired of listening to the same excuses year after year and I will not be one of those who silently accept abuse, inappropriateness, microaggressions or discriminative behaviour.

Safety and creating a safe space

I strive to contribute towards a world where every music professional can work in an environment they feel safe in. This fundamental idea extends all the way from music pedagogy to audiences of art music. The realization of equality strongly affects each and every one’s experience of safety. What could we even accomplish or how would it be to work as an art music professional if we don’t feel that we are safe? Even if the field of art music today is male-dominated, it has been even more so in the past. The insecurity experienced by female presumed composers, musicians, conductors, and other art music professionals in the past serves as a cautionary example — when a group of people don’t feel safe and don’t have ample representation inside of a field, it further discourages the representatives of that group from participating or engaging with that field. We should acknowledge that that is how the gender distribution of the institutions known by the public stayed the same for a very long time.

What are the factors that create safety, then? An overall feeling of being accepted, being taken seriously might be one of the biggest creators of safety and is significantly harder to achieve than one would think. A working culture where it is acceptable to crack inappropriate jokes or laugh off abuse is very harmful in the long run since it effectively suppresses the problems. Abusement might mean the denial of racial reality, the denial of inequality experienced by a group of people, or other kinds of indirect suggestion of oppression, for example.

This kind of behaviour might be called a microaggression. Microaggressions are behaviours, actions, or statements that convey subtle and indirect discrimination or prejudice against members of marginalized groups or minorities whether intentional or unintentional. There are numerous kinds of microaggressions relating to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and ability that the majority of people even in the field of art music disregard totally.

This could be changed by a change of attitudes towards remarks about sexist, racist, or ableist comments: if everybody felt safe pointing out these indignities, these behaviours might start to change eventually. However, if the general response towards these kinds of comments is questioning, being offended and even starting to further discriminate, change won’t happen. The kind of culture of gossiping where the motives of the remarker are being speculated creates further separation between different attitudes and slows down the progress towards safety.

Sharing knowledge to better understand each other

In an ideal world, everybody would feel safe and secure to make remarks about improper language but to also receive them and have the courage to change their own thinking where necessary. Marginalized groups are the best experts in the inequalities experienced by them and thus it is the majority of the population’s (i.e. people who don’t belong to any particular marginalized group or minority) job to try to understand it and take measures against it to the best of their ability. It is possible and what is more — even easy for each individual to spread this culture around.

This kind of positive behaviour has slightly increased in Finland in light of the recent Black Lives Matter -movement that originated in the US. But still, after remarking, too often I bump into defensive attitudes or people who make endless excuses after being inappropriate. In reality, a simple apology and ”Thanks for the remark” would be the right course of action. It is also important to acknowledge that it is not the marginalized people’s job to point out the inappropriatenesses and misuses of language. On the contrary, it should be everyone in the majority of the population who educates themselves and each other on what is correct and what is not: how to address each other and specific marginalized groups especially, which phrases are microaggressions that should be avoided and that people’s genders should not be assumed, for example.


What is thought about feminism reveals a great deal about the reality we live in and explains why feminism is so hard to accept for some. My dream, towards which I try to contribute as much as possible, is that everyone could proudly state they are feminist or intersectional feminist. But why is it so hard? I would be surprised to hear somebody state that they genuinely think they were more important and more exalted and thus deserved more than somebody else.

So what is feminism? The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as ”Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this”. This definition only includes the equality of genders whereas I believe it would be increasingly contemporary and probably more relatable to start talking about intersectional feminism. Here is where we come into a rather curious speciality of Finland: the discussion around equality in the Finnish art music circles has focused almost solely on the equality of genders. As mentioned at the beginning of this text, the list of problems is quite extensive and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But we have to talk about other kinds of discrimination too! People face discrimination every day based on race, ethnicity, culture, age, sexual orientation, wealth, ideology and many other factors in addition to gender. Recent studies have shown that Finland is one of the most racist countries in the EU. That is something to seriously think about.

Intersectionality – there is more to equality than gender

Intersectional feminism considers all these different factors – actually, it rather states that these factors cannot be disregarded. The term was introduced in 1989 by the American professor of law, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who recently explained it in an interview with the TIME magazine: ”It’s not identity politics on steroids. It is not a mechanism to turn white men into the new pariahs. It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”, she said in the interview.

In its definition for feminism, The Finnish Institute for health and welfare further explains intersectionality as referring to a point of view in which many factors are considered to be simultaneously influencing the identity and positioning of an individual in social power relations. Singular factors, such as gender, social class, age, ethnicity, ability to function or sexual orientation cannot be analysed separately from the others. Achieving equality requires that the impact of different factors are considered in relation to each other as well.

Its definition of feminism also takes into account that there are many kinds of feminist movements and thus when talking about feminism, we should actually be talking about ”feminisms”. This is important to realize when analysing the public image of feminism and feminists — e.g. anarcha-feminists and queer feminists, in addition to items specific to their agenda, might also have the very same items on their agendas, just in a different order. They might also manifest via different channels and means.

I believe that with increasing emphasis on intersectionality, feminism can also be made more approachable for everyone. One of the major perks of it, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t emphasize the importance of gender over other factors and in this way doesn’t create a dichotomy between ”losers and winners” — that is, those who are oppressed and deprived and the other way around. One very practicable solution to restoring equality has been to introduce quotas and/or restrictions in selections, recruitments and other such events. The way many people have seen this is that the previous majority holders, i.e. the male presumed, end up as the sufferers when gender balance is sought to restore. Even better, some may go as far as to think that the quotas grant the female presumed opportunities as if for free, with worse skills than them, when in fact the exact opposite is the case. Due to distorted systems, glass ceilings, and attitudes encountered by female presumed and male presumed art music professionals, in fact, these opportunities have been given fraudulently or under false pretences to the male presumed.

Some time ago, there was an excellent picture circulating the internet describing the position of the female presumed and marginalized groups in the art music industry. Pictured is an apple tree bent so that the top is rampant to the left. Standing on both sides of the tree are two people on ladders of the same height. It is clear that since the tree has bent to the left, for the person on the left of the tree, picking apples is seemingly easier. Based on the picture, you could say that both should do just as well, as they have been given the same equipment. In reality, the person on the right, from whom the top of the tree is farther away, is forced to make an effort, reach with all their power, while for the person on the left, picking the apples easily.

What would you do if you were in the position to make changes to the set-up? The easiest would be to just watch as the person on the right tries to find alternative routes, uses various equipment and in general does significantly more work than the person on the left. Couldn’t they just be handed a taller ladder to stand on? The taller ladder represents quotas, rules and restrictions set by different institutions to try to restore the balance of genders. When the whole system, namely the apple tree, is fundamentally distorted, it is the responsibility of institutions that are a part of the art music industry to ensure that all those working in the industry have the opportunities to act equally within it.

Preventing isolation

As mentioned above, it is also of paramount importance who stands up for whose rights. There is a danger in feminisms that when predominantly female presumed people strive to develop gender equality, a dichotomy arises between females and males, where males might feel that their rights are being trampled on, when in fact there is a genuine effort to achieve equality.

If feminist politics and feminist discourse are only practised by non-males, then those opposed to the cause or indifferent to it will drift further and further. If decision-making and activities in different art music institutions involved equal representation of all genders, I feel that such ambivalence around equality work as well as the increasing dichotomy in attitudes would be reduced, and we could make the journey towards equality faster.

Social constructionism: text and speech as creators of reality

The words we use create the reality we live in. Words really do matter. We discern the world using our words, we describe things using them — what if there was no word for me? How would I feel? How about you being constantly addressed with the wrong words or pronouns, words you don't experience as your own? How would that make you feel?

It is essential not to make assumptions about anyone’s gender or their pronouns. Therefore, when talking about people, their works and their practice, we should be using the words ”male presumed” and ”female presumed” more because the truth is that even if you felt like you knew somebody, you can’t always know their gender or pronouns. Also, the usage of pronouns they/them should be made more common by using them in all situations where the gender or pronouns of someone isn’t absolutely clear. I don't want to hear any more seminar introductions or read any more blog texts that address people they don't know or unspecified people with the weird monster of a pronoun ”he or she”.

When the working language is English or Swedish, for example, a very good practice to prevent misaddressing anyone is to start all new projects with new people by going through everyone’s pronouns and rechecking that you are correct when you aren’t sure. This, among many excellent procedures for creating a safe working environment, is mentioned in the ”Clear expectations — Guidelines for institutions, galleries and curators working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists” that was compiled by artists Spence Messih and Archie Barry in 2019. A Finnish translation of the guide ”Selvät sävelet — ohjeita kuraattoreille, gallerioille ja instituutioille työskentelyyn trans- ja muunsukupuolisten sekä muiden sukupuolivähemmistöihin kuuluvien taiteilijoiden kanssa” was made by Feminist Culture House in 2020. Links are provided in the end of this text. There is clearly a need for a widely distributed similar document in the art music industry since practically none of the good practises and procedures mentioned in the guide have been adopted by the institutions I have been in touch with along my practice as a composer.

Music has no gender?

One also has to understand who has responsibility and power. One simply doesn’t have the power to decide how to talk about a minority group that they don't belong to themself and whose experience they can't possibly comprehend. Marginalized groups have to be listened to and the majority of the population has to conform to how they want themselves talked about. Just as they conform to a world built for the bulk of the population. It is equally important to abandon the microaggression of claiming that there is no “us and them” and that everyone was part of a big ”us”. This denies the existence of the identity of minority and/or marginalized groups and ignores the discrimination or inappropriate treatment they face. By saying there is no them and us, the existence of them is being denied. By saying that marginalized people have equal access to everything with the majority of people, you only expose your own ignorance and the fact that you don't see the glass ceilings and obstacles they have faced over the course of their lives and are limited by them from the possibilities that you have taken for granted.

The most typical example of this phenomenon is the claim that ”Music has no gender” — a comment I have read numerous times in columns of various magazines and newspapers from the mouths of several male presumed music professionals, but once again I have not heard the same comment from any female presumed art music professionals. Thus, it seems that the ones the problems don’t apply to, deny the existence of the problem altogether. The starting point for a career in western art music is without exception distorted in favour of the male presumed since how the history of western art music has been written is immensely male-dominated, as has been the practice until the last decades.

Although the attitudes of young musicians are typically more feminist or at least more in favour of feminist attitudes, and more actively paying attention to the problems and inappropriatenesses in the art music industry, there are still a lot of middle-aged white cis men in charge of institutions in the music industry and surprisingly many conservative views which still prevail — including the aforementioned comments “we don't have a problem with equality”, “there is no problem” and “only quality matters”. Nothing changes by simply complaining and gossiping about the problems in equality, but not actively seeking to change and solve them ourselves.

Speaking out

Personally, I always want to talk frankly about topics that have been largely avoided in the art music industry or which have in some ways been perceived as an invasion of privacy. I want to talk about memberships in organizations, positions of trust, current projects and money, for example. I have no problem in openly discussing the commission fees of new works I have been commissioned and would like to see this kind of openness spread more widely. For me, there’s no shame in talking about which percentage of my income comes from benefits and how much debt I have — what do I have to lose in terms of this? I simply cannot lose my face or experience any harm because of it, rather quite the opposite. My belief is that an open discussion of, for example, contractual practices and money in everyday life will lead us towards a more egalitarian and improved art music industry where people are better informed about their rights and less likely to be exploited.

I want to speak out about what I am composing at each given time too — to colleagues, friends, family and audiences too. I have come across strange obfuscation here too — of course, I understand that sometimes contracts, and publishers, in particular, may require a certain degree of discreteness before the work is announced, but I don't see why in most cases freelance composers couldn’t tell their colleagues, say, that they are entering a competition or composing a new work for some ensemble or player, as it simply does not offend or harm anyone — even the composer themself. As I see it, the goal of composition competitions is to seek relatively unknown composers and give them opportunities and publicity — and to offer this opportunity equally to a wide range of people. Secrecy about competitions among composers fights against these goals.

Languages uniting and isolating

It also matters which languages are used in the messaging of institutions or other quarters whose communication should reach a wide variety of target groups. This concretely delineates people beyond activities and communities or brings them into their inner circles. A good example of this would be universities where in the early part of the 20th century the main part of the teaching staff was Swedish. This limited a big amount of Finnish-speaking students from studying at a university-level altogether — let alone further in Finnish history when you could not even study in Finnish. These days, we take it for granted that everything is communicated in Finnish and English — but what about groups that do not, for one reason or another, know either language?

Finnish is a special language in the sense that most of us seem to think the Finnish language isn’t very gendered since it does not have grammatical gender and our pronouns are not gendered. Once you start thinking about it, you can find a huge number of, e.g., words for different professions or positions ending in the word ”mies” or that have gender implied in some other way. Beyond that, there are plenty of established sayings in our language involving gender such as “Hänessä on munaa” (They’ve got balls.) or “Siinä on mies paikallaan.” (That’s a good man.) You wouldn’t be surprised to find newspaper titles saying “Kuusikymppinen naiskoomikko naurattaa ympäri Suomen” (A female comedian in her sixties makes people laugh around Finland) or ”Nuoren naiskapellimestarin näytön paikka ei mennyt hukkaan” (Young female conductor’s showcase didn’t go to waste) The previous, as well as the following examples are inspired by Mila Engelberg’s excellent book ”Miehiä ja naisihmisiä – suomen kielen seksismi ja sen purkaminen” about the sexism in the Finnish language.

As mentioned in the previous examples, the prefix ”nais-” — referring to someone being female — is used in the Finnish language as a prefix for many professional titles or other titles, which reveals them to be generally considered male-dominated fields. The same is true the other way around, hearing somebody talking about a male nurse or a male sex worker, for instance, wouldn’t draw our attention, but for example, hearing the term ”female nurse” might raise suspicions, because we already assume that the nurse is a woman.

How many times have you heard the phrases “female composer” or ”female conductor”? Compare that with how many times have you heard “male composer” or ”male conductor”? Such gendering and unnecessary emphasis on gender are so commonplace in Finnish language and journalism that they go past most people's perception without a thought. However, once you start paying attention to gendered language, the glaring abundance of it in every context begins to dazzle.

The foundations for equality in adulthood are set during childhood

The roots of inequality are set as early as childhood education, as well as the attitudes of every child’s or young person’s family and other related people. The discussion on “Music has no gender” can also be reflected in early childhood education and the gender-neutral upbringing debate which has, for many years, been a hot topic in the school world. What does the quest for “gender neutrality” actually even mean? Isn't the effort to specifically consider everyone as individuals and let each one grow and act exactly as they are? This cannot, however, be truly gender-neutral; it is necessary to consider different sensitivities of different people at different age stages without categorizing them by gender. For example, we should let and encourage all children to do things traditionally thought of as specifically girls’ or boys’ if they so choose but also not restrict them from doing something else.

The same phenomenon can be seen, e.g., in elementary schools’ music lessons. An example: a boy presumed children might be itching to get to play band instruments. The teacher lets him choose what he wants to play. All instruments are taken and the rest of the pupils will sing — in fact, there might’ve also been a girl presumed pupil of a different temperament who would have liked to play band instruments just as much, or a boy presumed pupil in the middle of puberty who is experiencing discomfort due to his changing voice and therefore would not like to sing at all. Here it is the job of pedagogues to take people's sensitivities into account and it can best be done by systematizing, for example, shifts, so that everyone can try everything, and the content of the subject’s curriculum is also better realized.

The average professional musician sets out to build their career at school age when they have comparatively little knowledge and very little influence over what kind of influences affect their path as musicians. Exclusion from certain educations, certain fields and some programs therefore already occur in childhood. This might be affected by things such as economic situation, location within the country, family attitudes towards music as well as other adults in the children’s lives.

Although the Finnish music school system allows for relatively inexpensive music education for many children, it is not free to study at the music schools, and not all parents who can’t afford to pay for their children’s music hobby are aware of cities’ scholarships or the support available from different foundations. For a 7-year-old child does not know how to apply for a scholarship themself! Alternatively, let’s think of harp playing, for example: harps are expensive instruments that several music schools don’t even have at all. How many families can afford to make a purchase costing tens of thousands of euro at best when a child is under school age?

We can make as many changes and corrections at the professional level, but, in fact, as long as the parents, acquaintances and relatives of the young aspiring musicians reinforce stereotypes, gender and possibly misgender them and actively refute the good work being done in the music industry, discrimination and inequality in towards the young musicians will happen.

A large percentage of people are really blind to their perceptions of what is true, and which conceptions are stereotypical. Some can’t even fathom to question their way of thinking. It would be a really significant thing to make every parent think whether they are doing this for the best of their children, or because they personally want to?

Again, I return to the analogy of a tree representing the unequal world of possibilities; here too, we can stand by as the underprivileged child or the child who is more prone to discrimination reaches towards the apple tree, seeks circuitous routes or gives up, or then we can build a higher ladder for them.

However, a large proportion of Finnish music school teachers are female presumed — is there so much internalized misogyny in our field that it prevents female presumed teachers from encouraging their students enough or even prevents them from questioning established sexist practices and from seeking to change them?

And it is the pedagogy which makes a huge difference to what kind of paragons young people and children receive — if, for example, 15 years, music composed by white men is played, what kind of example does it give to a non-binary student or girl presumed student who dreams of composing?

A problem within music education in Finland also exists in the fact that since we are a small country and the settlement is unevenly distributed, so is expertise and education in certain disciplines. Arguably, the most reformist and contemporary pedagogues live in metropolitan areas and/or big cities, where the freelance field is also livelier and there are more like-minded people — this puts the children living in these neighbourhoods in a privileged position. The more visits and Finnish tours could be executed in education, the more young people and children would receive positive influences and different insights into their music studies.

Representation and the power of example — solution to equality in art music?

There is a pressing need for more female presumed as well as transgender and non-binary idols and role models in the art music scene. In the field of visual arts, it often seems as if the majority of young artists weren’t cis men but still, the music industry as a whole is very male-dominated. Where does this gap originate and why does it still exist in the first place? It the field of art music, it seems, until the recent years, gender has been a talking point that has been effectively evaded and dodged by many.

The statements of various music institutions that reinforce the feminist agenda and convey the message that all forms of abuse are denounced by them and that the issues around inequality and abuse are being addressed also play an important role. I cannot stress the significance of these statements enough, because these values are not something to be taken for granted and which many institutions seem to disregard as meaningless. By saying so, they effectively nullify the experiences of those who have experienced abuse and discrimination.

Those statements affirm to even the most insecure people the truthfulness of this message and reinforce their confidence and positive feelings towards the art music industry — for why would anyone even seek to be a part of an industry whose attitudes they despise? This is something I have wondered many times too, although thankfully year by year, as a result of the work of both my own and others in the industry, attitudes change for the better.

Also, the way those statements are shaped and what is added or left unsaid is of paramount importance. E.g. The Sibelius Academy of the University of Arts — which is, by many, seen as a major public authority in Finland — has communicated about its cases of abuse and harassment in mixed wording of administrative jargon and failed to say that as a result of the University of Arts’ handling of the harassment cases, there has been only one dismissal of the teaching staff even though there have been dozens of cases of abuse in total. Furthermore, misrepresenting and mitigating things with wordings like “we take seriously” or “this is a serious issue” or bragging about what kinds of preventive action has been taken instead of admitting that it has failed as an institution, is truly offensive to those who have encountered abuse and also shifting responsibility away from the institution itself.

Concrete actions are needed

One very concrete means is also to provide training for the management and leadership of institutions in relation about equality and diversity. Among others, e.g. Seta ry provides training in the professional encounter of hlbtiq-minorities. An investment in this kind of thing would really be relevant to every single cultural organization – even to those who already consider themselves ”up to date” so to say, rather than stating ”Only quality matters!” at the board table year after year and letting the same wheels continue to roll.

The most concrete solutions that many institutions and groups have already adopted are quotas and restrictions or other rules that secure a certain proportion of representatives from, for example, a certain gender. Also, rules that disable a certain person from holding a position of power or trust for too long, are very effective. Another method in common use is anonymization, which is a very good way in organizations as well as calls for works, for example.

One of the best rules to be adopted is that when two candidates in any situation are even, the one representing the minority in the organization is chosen. Let’s imagine a situation, where eight female presumed candidates have already been elected to the board of an organization. The last member of the board is yet to be chosen because of a tie between a female presumed and a male presumed candidate. Therefore, the male presumed candidate would be chosen for the position of trust, since the board is female-dominated. However, problems arise when this principle is interpreted intersectionally, including ethnicity, for example. However, as a basic principle, this is, from an equality point of view, more morally sustainable than throwing a coin to determine who gets chosen.

A recent study reveals chilling results

A recent study entitled ”Tasa-arvo, yhdenvertaisuus ja monimuotoisuus musiikkialalla Suomessa” (Equality and diversity in the music industry of Finland) conducted by Music Finland in 2018 clearly shows, that these principles for restoring equality aren’t being understood correctly. The research was conducted via a questionnaire that was sent to 169 people in positions of power or trust in the music industry, of which 62 answered. I was shocked to read some answers that the report included: “I don't even want to think I'd have to employ someone who can’t do their job, just for the reason that you have to be equal.”, commented one of the answerers. To think that someone like them, perhaps, is in charge of my own and my colleagues’ salaries, and takes part in decisions that might have long-term effects on the careers of art music professionals…

This comment, too, regrettably, contains the assumption that an applicant belonging to a marginalized group of people or a minority group inside the industry would automatically be inferior and less worthy than an applicant belonging to the majority of the population. That comment and the likes of it can even be interpreted as straightforward chauvinistic or racist if you know what the discussions in the art music industry were circulating in 2018 and still are.

This anomaly in our field raised by the research, perhaps rather self-evident to many feminists, is very important to be aware of: The study emphasized that in recruitment situations and when making decisions, for instance, attention is too often focused only on the applicant's competence, 'goodness' and suitability, professionalism, musical merit or, for example, qualifications.

However, for example, the so-called glass ceilings are such obstacles that may have contributed to the acquisition of musical merit. The study did not take a position, for example, on the influence of anonymity in recruitments or on the effect of culture or ethnicity that can be inferred from the applicant's name, which has also been found to cause a significant amount of discrimination in Finland.

One of the most fundamentally problematic attitudes in our field is the aforementioned “Only quality matters” -attitude. According to the survey conducted by Music Finland, such an attitude is present in numerous people and organizations that manage executive roles in the music industry as a whole. The aforementioned citation wasn’t the only bad news — some more quotes I would rather not have read include “Gender is a completely irrelevant thing at all levels of operations. Only quality matters” as well as ”The weight in those cases is not in the quotas or how much is given to understand. We don't have to emphasize equality. Only competence makes or breaks.”

In the music industry, as in many others, the lack of equality and diversity has been sought to address by encouraging organizations as well as institutions to make equality and diversity plans — that is, written organisation-specific documents which have considered the very occurrence of mentioned problems in that organization and blind spots and further, how they could be tackled either with long-term goals or with the smallest gestures seen in everyday life.

I quote the research conducted by Music Finland (2018) here directly: ”The majority of respondents to this survey did not yet have a written equality and diversity plan (56% of respondents). However, many respondents doubted the necessity of such a plan. Some quarters report that issues of equality and diversity are tackled in a way other than by writing them specifically in any document. Many also felt that there was no need for a plan because it was such a self-evident thing. The same was thought by those who saw raising the issue of gender as unnecessary, for example. The answers also show that often issues of equality and diversity are only identified as related to gender and not, for example, race, ethnicity, language or culture.

The lack of an equality plan was commented on, among others, with the following comments: “We haven't experienced the need for this” and “Equality is a truism, there’s no need for a plan”.

What does this say about respondents and organizations then? I think this conveys a clear message and the signal that the respondent’s organizations don't even know or want to see what could obscure their own decision-making, or what patterns of behaviour based on stereotypes or wrong habits they might have within themselves or their own organization.

Moreover, the second and perhaps the more important phenomenon that emerges from these results is that if the existence of inequality isn’t accepted and identified within the institutions and organizations in the art music industry, that also means they don’t see the obstacles faced by minorities or groups of people of lesser representation during their careers and lives.

In effect, this means that they assume work towards equality only takes place at the primary level, but do not see the effects of the inequalities of the past. Such influences may include, among others, social class, age, ethnicity, ability to function or sexual orientation. In addition, attitudes that should be critically considered in these situations include racialization, hetero- or cisnormativity and examination of differences in ability.

In the study, even such attitudes that there was no equality and diversity plan because it is a negligible issue, was present. The issue is negligible? How can equality be unimportant in any organization? This is something to be truly taken seriously — such attitudes simply cannot be accepted in the 2020s.

Luckily, the survey revealed some good examples too:

“Many respondents report that their operations are driven in many ways by the diversity of gender and age structure and regional parity. ”In selecting candidates for councils or juries, we seek to take the above points into account. In addition to gender balance, it is essential to observe regional and age-related equality. Similarly, we try to take into account the fact that people who moved from abroad to Finland would become more prominent in Finnish music life.” one respondent answered.

The study also states that ”Inclusiveness is promoted by paying attention to the accessibility of premises and the accessibility of services. Some respondents reported that they intervene in all forms of discrimination, abuse and behaviours that undermine equality. Attention is also paid to the inclusion of special groups and the diversity of the visitor groups (immigrants, mental health rehabilitators, young people). Some also intervene in ableism, that is, the attitude that regards non-disabledness as normative.” Ableism can be seen, e.g., as discrimination in favour of the non-disabled. What was also interesting about the study was that it shows how unorganized the evaluation and actively working towards better equality and diversity are in the respondent’s organizations. ”Related matters are in several ways “on their mind”, “being reflected upon”, “given attention”, “given emphasis”, and “observed” and “reported upon”. Based on the observations, efforts were also made to “correct the missteps.”

“We constantly observe and contemplate the starting points and patterns of our expression, and we note and correct the mistakes.” said one of the respondents.

Personally, I would call such a pattern of action an escape from responsibility: many organizations say they commit to who knows what kind of acts of equality and write who knows what kind of papers, but in real life it falls to the level of scrutiny and thoughts and thus no concrete change will happen. The work towards equality demands more concrete actions and brave new initiatives made true by the music institutions seen as major authorities. Maybe the good examples set by some smaller festivals, for example, could lead the way?


So what is the outcome or goal of the debate around equality and diversity and the work towards them?

Ultimately, the goal of all this work and discussion is to prevent abuse on so many levels, be it linguistic, physical or systematic discrimination or any other form of abuse. I dream that equality in music comes to fruition. What does that mean in practice then? It means that everyone feels they are in a good place, in a state where their rights are fulfilled, and they feel that their chances of advancing on their careers as well as their chances of being heard are equal with the people who surround them, whomever they may be and wherever they may be.

In such a situation, this debate over equality no longer needs to take place. Can we trust such a system to sustain itself? The more equal the leadership of music organizations and institutions become, the more I can trust it. Right now, we are still a long way from that.

According to Music Finland's 2017 survey, 59.6% of the total jobs in the music industry in Finland are occupied by men. Pretty egalitarian, you might think? Let's see: the higher up the ladders of leadership, and the more influential you go into positions, the more male-dominated the distribution becomes. 72.7% of the board seats, 84.4% of the chairpersons of the boards, 64.5% of the editorial and executive directors, and 68.2% of the intendants or managers, and as many as 88.2% of the artistic directors are male. This distribution is harsh to read and equality is far away from it.

The statistics are further distorted by record label statistics, which are particularly male-dominated, but looking at the results of the ”Festivals” and ”Orchestras” categories, in which art music is emphasized, the results are chillingly male-dominated except for orchestra managers, of which 63.3% were female. And in a country the size of Finland, that difference isn’t very many people.

However, even if all the executive positions were divided completely equally, we cannot be lulled into believing that the situation remains that way. Let's consider the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — while this treaty exists, not all comply with it — not even our very own “ideal” Finland. To that end, a human rights tribunal is required. It then decides on the measures and sanctions that may be imposed on those who violate the common treaties. It would not be an impossible idea for the music industry, that long-term quota agreements could be phased in, on increasing percentages, which could be tied to, say, government funding.

In conclusion, as has already been noted very, very extensively, it seems that equality will never be quite completed. Meanwhile, we intersectional feminists have a very clear goal towards which we move, one action and one debate at a time — and for so long until equality is complete.


Chambers, C. (2013). Feminism. In M. Freeden & M. Stears (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. Published online DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0010

Finnish institute for health and welfare. (2020). Tasa-arvosanasto. Retrieved December 7, 2020 from

OED Online. (2020). ”microaggression, n." Oxford University Press, September 2020. Retrieved 7 December, 2020.

Seta ry. (2020) Sateenkaarisanasto. Retrieved December 7, 2020 from

Steinmetz, K. (2020) She Coined the Term ‘Intersectionality’ Over 30 Years Ago. Here’s What It Means to Her Today. TIME, Retrieved December 8, 2020 from

Rimpilä, I. (2017) Esiselvitys sukupuolijakaumista työ- ja luottamustehtävissä musiikkialalla. Retrieved December 7, 2020 from Music Finland.

Rimpilä, I. (2018) Tasa-arvo, yhdenvertaisuus ja monimuotoisuus musiikkialalla Suomessa – kyselytutkimuksen tulokset. Retrieved December 7, 2020 from Music Finland.

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