Open Letter to Retro Instruments, Sylvia Massey and Various Publications

posted in: Letters & Spiels | 0

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 6.57.53 PMMarch 24, 2015

We write in regard to the recent ad featuring Sylvia Massey endorsing a Retro-Instruments product.

One of the reasons Pink Noise exists is to foster dialogue with the aim of bringing the pro audio profession forward toward being a more inclusive and professional one for all people. Pro audio is still at a mere 5% women, a staggering figure when you consider other professions: architecture 30-40%; photography 40%; doctors and lawyers up from 10% in 1970 to around 50% now; various engineering fields up from 1% (!!!) in the 70s to over 20% now, etc… These increases in other fields were due to many complex factors, but one of them was intentional de-sexualization of the professions in order to make them more appealing, comfortable and…well…professional for people of all genders and sexualities. Those fields have reaped vast and important benefits from having so many women included.

As you already know, desexualization of the workplace has been law in most places for decades. Clearly we at Pink Noise are not inventing these issues. We’re just raising them a little more noisily in a field that’s lagging behind the times.

As we see it, the issue at hand isn’t sex, or being sexy, or wearing revealing or tight clothing, or even fetishizing breasts along with compressors, or whipping your consenting client’s bare ass while they’re bent over an SSL listening to a double-kick-drum-assault at 120dB. Whatever blows your hair back!  Everyone should be totally free to do as they please always, no matter what.  Want to femme-up for work?  Yes!  Want to x-dress?  Sure!  You want to make love to a Studer A80 at 30-ips? Have at it! (But please clean the heads when you’re done.)  Be sexy, uptight, asexual, trans, femme, butch, macho, a blend of them all, whatever you want.  Freedom of expression is priority #1, a self-evident truth, a human right.

However, when a profession sustains sexualization as the norm, benignly tolerated, “in the air” and promoted through its culture, then an individual’s freedom to operate within that profession without that sexualization is jeopardized. When heterosexualization of the female body is the norm within a profession that’s been sustaining a very low 5% women for decades, we have a more specific problem. Pro audio is anachronistically heterosexualized. We are decades behind other professions in this regard.  We’ve got a culture problem.

Because pro audio has become so consumerist in the past 25 years or so (due to the proliferation of small and home studios), marketing and advertising have become major contributors to pro audio’s culture. Ads are visual and rhetorical culture, giving shape to the norms of the community they’re targeting.

Everyone knows the rack-joke, and a woman making the rack-joke about her own breasts is, perhaps, uniquely self-aware and ironic. We also understand that humor can be the fall-back position when concerns are raised about sexualized and/or objectifying content. Claiming that those who raise concerns lack a sense of humor, or need to lighten up, is an easy way to brush off the concerns and those raising them. Something can be both funny and troubling, and the best comedy usually makes us uncomfortable as we crack up.

But this ad isn’t really cracking us up. We’ve even wondered, since that’s a 500-series module, if perhaps this marketing team missed a more racy set of puns around ‘slots’ and ‘boxes’.  Now that would have been funny! It would have pushed the humor and revealed the absurdity of sexualizing electronic equipment. But, of course, the ad you made and chose to run aims to sell gear to an existing target-market, and so it operates comfortably within the norms of that market. It’s the same old joke.

We think dialogue can be healthy. By posting the ad to social media, we set some dialogue in motion to see what would happen. We saw highly predictable backlash, humor-as-fallback-positions, concerned parents, feminist arguments, and there was even talk of the benefits of digesting goat placenta.  We’ve blocked some belligerent and insulting people who were dominating and downgrading the dialogue. We’ve also listened to interesting and intelligent points-of-view come up against each other, including Sylvia’s. If that’s all that happens from our raising this dialogue, then mission accomplished.

But we also have some specific questions of our own that were largely unaddressed in the dialogue. We ask these in light of the fact that we’re still at 5% women as a profession, and in light of the fact that sexualization and objectification still carry strong-enough currency in our profession’s culture to make it through the pipeline from marketing conception to publication.

The following are sincere questions:

As seasoned professionals, marketeers and publishers, we have power to disseminate messages. Do we have a responsibility to use that power to help shape our profession’s culture in new ways?

Should we consider ourselves as role models and mentors for young people?

How will young people just learning about pro audio as a career process this ad?

Was this endorsement a missed opportunity to send a more progressive message about being a woman in pro audio?

How can we all come together to find ways to help our field catch up to other professions by making sure we’re all free to operate free of sexualization and objectification?

How do we get to the point where the joke cracked in this ad can just be kind of funny, rather than underlining a pervasive problem in our profession?

We don’t have the answers, but we do have these concerns. We sign off with hopes for intelligent and respectful dialogue around these topics.

Editors – Pink Noise