"All men? Nein danke" is written on the stickers created by journalist/DJ Emma van Meijeren and DJ Fenna Fiction that appeared on posters for music festivals with male-dominated line-ups. BLUE spoke with Emma about the inspirations behind the project, the process and the following response, and the pressing issue of gender (in)equality.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired the creation of the stickers.
I’m Emma, and I am 25 years old. I write (mainly about music), and I also DJ a little bit. While I was doing my master’s, I was an assistant at the University and was helping with the organization of a big conference on digital humanities. I had to write the bio of the keynote speaker, and while looking through his website, I saw a note that said if he got asked to be part of a panel of four or more members and they were all men, he wouldn’t participate. That struck me as a really easy and cool way to make sure different events were not so male-dominated and got me thinking about ways to improve the situation beyond simply stating that you’re committed to gender equality. Around that time I also became more active in the nightlife and music scene in Amsterdam and increasingly annoyed by how many men were being booked. To battle this trend, I (and a lot of other women) post in festival events or on Facebook about the prevalence of men or white people; however, you end up being in constant discussions, and I was over that. I decided to create something that people could simply see, and that’s how the idea of a sticker was born.
What was the process of creating the stickers like?
I’m not a designer, so I didn’t know what the sticker was supposed to look like, and I was also unsure of what I wanted it to say. Then a girl named Laura here in Amsterdam made t-shirts with the same design which said “Heterosexuality? Nein danke.” I bought one of them, and the more I looked at it, the more I liked the passive-aggressive nature of the overall design, with the seemingly nice appearance of the sun accompanying the verbal message. I asked the network of women who work in music if there was anyone with Photoshop skills; Fenna (who DJs as Fenna Fiction) replied and changed the design. Finally, I printed the stickers.
What’s the inspiration behind the design?
The Smiling Sun is a very old design from the 70s that originally said “Atomkraft? Nein danke" (“Nuclear power? No thanks”). It was perfect because it had a history of being used for political goals. It’s such an impactful design, but its original creator Anne Lund maintained that she was an activist and not a designer. She has said that when she created the anti-nuclear badge, there was already a critical mass of people who were against nuclear power, but those from the left and the right still had differing political agendas. The aim of her campaign, therefore, was to urge people to join forces on this specific issue; and it worked. I was thinking about how this moment relates to the point in time when I decided to use the design and to my current views on feminism. On the one hand, I do feel there are enough people who recognize it’s not right for different fields to be so male-dominated; on the other hand, I disagree with the idea that we need to bring together people from opposite sides of the political spectrum since I believe true feminist ideals are always leftist and socialist. I also do not see this feminist future with more women in line-ups as some neo-liberal goal where the most important aspect is how much women would be able to make playing at big EDM festivals, let’s say. In that sense, there’s an interesting tension between where the stickers came from and there they are at now.
What has the general response been?
The response has been all over the place. In my own circles, I’m lucky enough to be around people who are supportive of such ideas and to be in a position where I’m in direct contact with those responsible for some of the lineups – whose reaction has actually been quite positive. There was also media attention which spread the message, but a lot of those who heard about the stickers from the news or the radio went back to the argument that there simply weren’t enough female artists; and that’s not what the stickers are all about. Others made a more structural analysis by saying that the problem was way too complex to be fixed by these stickers. However, the stickers are mainly about visibility rather than changing the whole system. The third main group consisted of people in my circles who were not so supportive of the initiative. There were very few of them, and some interesting discussions came out of it. As I said earlier, that was exactly what I was trying to avoid, but these real life discussions were more nuanced than ones I’d had online; they gave me the chance to express what I stood for and forced the other person to explain their viewpoint without simply dismissing the whole idea.
Is it mainly you who goes around and puts the stickers on posters, or do you distribute them so that other people can spread the message as well?
I’d say it’s mostly the latter. It was not my goal to be doing this on my own, and I’m still looking for ways to get more people involved. Putting the first stickers on posters felt empowering since I was doing something practical. At one point, however, it starts to feel like a chore; it’s a lot of work to do all on your own. Fortunately, there are many people who are eager to participate. They see numerous posters they want to put a sticker on, so I’ve been trying to make sure everyone can get the stickers - mainly by distributing them at parties and also occasionally by mailing them.
Original 1975 design by Danish activist Anne Lund
You mentioned some said there simply weren’t enough female artists. What is the actual situation like - how often do female artists get hired, do they get paid less, etc.?
It’s difficult to know all the details. The only number I have is the percentage of female acts being booked - especially at festivals. It was 9% in 2012, and it’s 18% now; it’s getting better, but it’s still not enough. These numbers also don’t take into account whether or not women are being booked as headliners (so whether or not they’re earning a lot), and whether or not they have good time slots if they are indeed on the main stage. Even though I don’t have the numbers, my hypothesis would be that even when women are booked more, they’re still in the margins - by not being on the main stage or by having a bad time slot.
Some more commercial festivals have begun adding more women because they know it sells and not because they necessarily care about it and want to give more women a chance. Sometimes that feels like the reason why this whole message has been getting more attention and has been gaining more critical mass.
How do you see this project developing in the future, and what message would you like people to take away from it?
The stickers have been a poke, a small reminder. They’re meant to urge people to recognize the problem and ask themselves why such an issue even exists. You need to acknowledge the existence of the problem before you can even start to think about fixing it, and for me – as someone who not only cares about this issue but has also studied it – this first step is more intriguing. Even if an organization has a female quota, they won’t be able to improve the overall situation without understanding why they’re taking these actions or why there is such an issue. Adding a few women to the mix would become the everlasting “solution,” but that does not create a permanent effect. This type of thinking, I believe, is why a lot of the women who are being booked right now are white, so there’s still racial segregation. There also needs to be more discussion about women of different ages and abilities; that goes for men as well since the issue obviously transcends gender. The goal is not to include three white women and be done with it; actually fixing the situation is going to be a very long and complicated process.
Is this the first project of this kind that you’ve done, and do you have plans for more?
I’m part of the Dance With Pride collective; our aim is to reunify queer culture and night life, so we organize radio shows and parties. I also make a podcast together with a DJ (who is actually male!), and we discuss similar issues through the lens of music, of politics, and of the two intertwined. And I definitely have plans for more!
Click here to listen to Emma and DJ Elias Mazian's podcast De Schemerzone where they talk about everything that has to do with nightlife: from gender equality to techno and from pop culture to politics.