After 15 years of reporting on underground and independent music, Pitchfork asked their readers to rate the top albums they’d reviewed since their inception. The poll wasn’t distributed solely to get a read on which records had stayed with indie listeners the longest, although that was its primary goal. It also served as a meter on the demographics of Pitchfork’s readership. When collecting votes for their top records, the publication noted the age and gender of their voters. And despite the claim that their readers come from a variety of backgrounds, Pitchfork seems to have a solid grip on one primary demographic: young men in their 20s.
A total of 27,981 people voted for 116,009 albums in the People’s List poll. Of those voters, an overwhelming 88 percent were male. Only 3,360 women–12 percent–showed up to cast their vote.
The biggest question of the People’s List (yes, even bigger than why on earth In Rainbows beat out Amnesiac) becomes this: why the gender discrepancy? Why did an overwhelming majority of men show up to declare their favorite records while the women stayed silent?
Women certainly aren’t a minority among music fans. Eyeball the crowd at SXSW and you’ll see a good 50-50 gender breakdown. Women listen to music, love music, blog about music, buy records and go to shows and are active supporters of their favorite bands. So what’s up with Pitchfork, and why are they apparently such a boys’ club?
It doesn’t take a keen eye to see that the bands voted into the List reflect their voters’ demographics accordingly. There are no exclusively female artists in the top 10 bands on the People’s List. Of the top 10, only Arcade Fire includes a female member (we can count Sufjan Stevens’s touring lineup if we’re being generous). Kanye West, at number nine, represents the only top artist of color. Scroll down the list and the trend continues; Pitchfork’s readership is overwhelmingly selecting white male musicians.
Should this surprise us? While female artists have been making rock music since rock music first emerged, mainstream media has historically rewarded those bands that exclusively comprise white men. You can list the greats from Elvis to Radiohead and the streak looks pretty much the same as the pre-Obama presidents. The way we reward artists follows the narratives of white patriarchy. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s paying attention.
What is surprising is that the fantastic music that’s come from female musicians over the past 15 years hasn’t been enough to knock Pitchfork out of music journalism’s vicious cycle of men praising men. While the publication’s coverage has recently become more balanced with the inclusion of brilliant solo women like EMA, St. Vincent, Grimes, and others, its participatory readership remains stuck in a time when only men seemed worth writing about. Pitchfork’s top 10 records of the year 2000 were produced exclusively by men; their top 10 albums of 2010 at least saw Beach House and Joanna Newsom among the boys, while 2011 ranked PJ Harvey and tUnE-yArDs up top. Twenty percent is hardly balanced, but at least it’s not zero.
Once you look at the way Pitchfork covers music, the 12 percent begins to explain itself. If only 20 percent of music produced by women is worth ranking in the top 10 records of a given year, only about 20 percent of women readers will feel inclined to participate in a 15th anniversary poll. Women read Pitchfork, but the poll numbers indicate that they don’t identify with it. They’re listening; they’re just not talking back. And when the work of women artists isn’t sufficiently represented, why should they?
Like the actual albums on the People’s List, the number of responses from women is unfortunately to be expected. When Pitchfork says “people,” they still, apparently, mean young men. Maybe we’ll see Portishead and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Neko Case top the website’s 25th anniversary poll, but until we actually see more women artists praised the way men are, we can’t expect to see women participate in what they know to still be a gentlemen’s club.