The ARIA Awards Has Introduced Gender Neutral Categories — So Why Are 64% Of The Nominees Men?

Photo by Giulia McGauran
Tash Sultana
The 2021 ARIA Awards is doing things differently this year, scrapping its two gendered categories at music's night of nights.
In a bid to be more inclusive at a time when diversity is at the forefront of industry discussion, the Best Male Artist and Best Female Artist awards have been replaced by a single award for Best Artist.
Intended to better reflect the diversity of the Australian music business, ARIA's decision to go gender-neutral has been applauded by many who've said it allows non-binary artists to be properly recognised.
"The time for separating artists based on gendered categories that exclude non-binary artists altogether has passed," Annabelle Herd, ARIA Chief Executive, said in an official statement.
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"The music industry is demanding a more equal, inclusive, safe and supportive space for everyone and ARIA is working hard to achieve that across the ARIA Awards and everything we do."
Celebrating musicians within their respective genre groups without the limitations of gender is definitely progressive, and must be applauded. But has the introduction of the new Best Artist category inadvertently come at the detriment of women and non-binary artists?
In order to keep the number of artists recognised consistent each year, the number of nominees for Best Artist has increased from five to 10. Usually this means there would be five in the female category and five in the male category.
However, this year's fresh category only features four females (Amy Shark, Kylie Minogue, Ngaiire and Tones and I) up against six males (Genesis Owusu, Budjerah, Keith Urban, Masked Wolf, The Kid Laroi and Vance Joy) for the coveted award.
According to data provided to Refinery29 Australia by ARIA, overall 64% of all 2021 ARIA Award nominees are male, 35% are female and 1% are non-binary. Non-binary artist Tash Sultana was nominated in the Best Soul/R&B Release category.
The ARIAs' new stance is commendable but are we at the point yet where women and gender-diverse people can truly benefit from these changes? With much work to be done to deconstruct years of male bias in the entertainment world, I wonder if these single categories will only result in male domination, i.e. more men scoring nominations.
In just the past year, we've been reminded of the gender issues within the Aussie music industry, with the rise of its own #MeToo movement. Musicians have called for greater gender equity within the business, with some such as Jaguar Jonze speaking up about her own experience of sexual assault in the biz.
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The singer chose to go public with her personal experience to highlight the seriousness of the issue and to hold the industry accountable.
She's since joined forces with several professionals in the music industry to create the Temporary Working Group, which strives to evoke cultural change amid the #MeToo movement.
"We hope that it leads to a national consultation strategy to truly understand the systemic problems that plague our music industry," she previously told Refinery29 Australia of the group's core objectives.
"To be able to create change, we need to hear from everyone and grow awareness of the issues that are actually at play. To deliver a national consultation strategy that is fair and able to hear from everyone is so difficult. It has taken a lot of time to ensure it is a thorough and democratic process."
It will take several structural and cultural changes across the board, from gender equity in leadership roles to equal pay and artist promo opportunities for the music industry to truly move the needle when it comes to inclusivity.
Making nomination categories gender-neutral is just one piece of the puzzle and I only hope that expanding the nomination pool gives a voice and platform to those who've been marginalised, without the risk of being overshadowed by men.
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