Everyday Sexism: “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record”

October 15, 2016

With the Trump trainwreck unfolding in slow motion, I’ve been thinking a lot about how sexism and misogyny gets transmitted and reinforced and how things have changed from when I was young! One great thing is that there is an established (if contested) framework for hearing and interpreting things like accusations of sexual assault. The fact that accusations may not come out for years or decades no longer results automatically a dismissal of veracity. People still try the move, but they have to work it pretty hard and lots of people and institutions push back.

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this victory, esp. when it feels like we’re slipping back. But it truly is amazing. Thanks feminism! It’s up there with the idea that unwelcome sexual activity is wrong or that women don’t exist for the sexual pleasure of men.

However, I was thinking about how things get transmitted and how implicit biases are formed. I’ve been watching bits and pieces of A Hard Day’s Night on Netflix and I remember this McCarteny quote from a book about The Beatles I read when I was in high school: “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” (I recall it as a reaction to Yoko Ono, but haven’t been able to verify that.)

Now, prima facie, this is just ridiculous. I mean, how stupid a criterion could you have? Especially for the Beatles who experimented with a wide range of genre’s and songs and made plenty of use of falsetto. If the voice sounds interesting, why do you care if it’s attached to a woman?

But I didn’t recognise the rank, casual sexism of it at the time. I was busy hero worshipping the Beatles and trying to learn everything about them. I worked hard to make that make sense because that’s what you do. We  interpret stuff from people we like in ways that are flattering to them.

Even after I rejected this sentiment (which came, thankfully, pretty quickly)…it’s still there. I remember it. I’ve no doubt it affects some of my implicit biases.

And this is a good reason to fight everyday, casual, “harmless” sexism. It’s not the only reason, but it is a really good one. Even “ironic” sexism (and racism and…) seems to feed into bias formation.

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