[This one's a little old, as you can tell by the Salt-n-Pepa reference, but still relevant, I think. Sigh.]
Disc jockeys generally come in two sexes: male and female. So what, you may think, sex doesn’t matter. Oh but it does, so sad to say.
I used to deejay for weddings and other parties, and on any given night, one or two of several things might happen. For a long time, I never gave them much thought. But when all of these things happened during a single night, it suddenly seemed clear to me that all those hitherto separate things were, in fact, related. They were all related to my sex.
On the night in question, I had agreed to fill in for a friend, to do his regular gig at a basement bar. When I arrived early for a show-and-tell with his system, I was immediately struck by – size. Mike and I had started out as deejays at the same time: we went through the training together, we apprenticed with the same outfit, and then we each bought out our identical systems and started our own businesses. I had pretty much kept the same system – a couple cassette players, a search deck, a mixer, an amp, and a pair of 12″ x 16″ speakers on tripods, with a microprocessor. Mike, I saw, had added. And he’d added big: he now had two pairs of speakers, each 3′ by 2′, a second amp of course, and a couple CD players.
What is it with men? They get suckered in to the ‘bigger is better’ mentality every time. (And it’s not just immature, it’s dangerous: look around – continual growth is not good, we can’t keep expanding, getting bigger and bigger, using more and more.) I asked him if the smaller set-up wasn’t loud enough, if he’d gotten too many complaints. Of course he had to say no. But this looks better, he says. And that really pisses me off. Most people – most men – are stupid that way: they see Mike’s huge array of equipment, compare it to my little set-up, and figure he’s a better deejay. There’s no logic to it. And either Mike knows it and he’s taking advantage of it (and making it that much harder for the rest of us who refuse to be taken in by size) or he doesn’t know it and he’s just as big a fool as the rest of them (unknowingly at my expense).
Whatever, he walked me through and in a few minutes I was fine – unless I got a lot of requests. And this is another problem with more, more, more: there were at least four different places to look up a title – there was one directory for the old cassettes, a separate directory for the new cassettes, a third directory for the CDs (except for the ones which weren’t listed anywhere), and a fourth ‘hits’ directory. This is crazy, I thought as he left. I took some time to familiarize myself with what was where, and saw a ridiculous amount of duplication – there had to be at least a hundred songs I could find in at least two places. And altogether he had ten times more music than he could ever hope to play in a night.
Well, the requests started coming in at 10:00. The bartender told me to play Seger’s “Rock and Roll”, “Dance Mix 95″, and the “Macarena”. Gee, none of those would’ve occurred to me, thanks. Then the other bartender came up and asked for something. A little later I got a note with seven or eight titles on it. It occurred to me at that point that I was getting a lot more requests than Mike usually got. (He had said this gig would be a piece of cake.) And I wondered, is it because I’m a woman, so people think I’m more approachable? Or is it because I’m a woman, so probably I have to be told what to play, because I probably don’t know. (And half the time it is just that: I’m told, not asked, to play such-and-such.)
At around 10:30, this guy came up to chat. He opened with ‘So are you Mike’s helper?’ Excuse me? Mike’s helper? I told him no, I have my own business (I gave him my card), I’m just doing this gig for him tonight as a favour. The guy continued the small talk. I was trying to be polite, but I was also listening for the end of the piece, and trying to find at least one of the requested songs in at least one of the directories or boxes of music – and then it dawned on me that this guy was really trying to stretch out the conversation, he was, in fact, ‘hitting on me’. And I was, in fact, trying to work.
The same thing happened again later on. Only with the second guy, we got into this ridiculous competition of ‘I know more about deejaying than you.’ I’m sure you know the type, there’s one in every crowd who comes up to tell you ‘Yeah, I used to do this, how many watts do you have?’ But this guy really wanted to win – and it occurred to me that this man-woman thing was getting in the way again, it was complicating simple shop talk, he refused to lose to a woman. Listen, I’m trying to work here –
And then this third guy came up and said, ‘Play some rock, this stuff is shit.’ I smiled and said, ‘This shit was requested but I’ll certainly put on some rock for you.’ I did so within two songs. He came up again, and this time sat himself down in my chair, behind my table (I’ve never seen anyone do that to a male deejay). He told me he had been drinking since 2:00. He thought he was bragging rather than proclaiming how pathetic he was, and I realized, geez, he’s hitting on me too. ‘Play some rock,’ he said again. I said, ‘I’ve been playing rock, what specifically do you want to hear, what do you mean when you say ‘rock’?' ‘Any rock,’ he exploded, then insulted, ‘Anyone knows what rock is!’ He came up a third time, and said he’d taken a survey and no one wanted to hear this shit (“Dance Mix,” requested three times), play some rock and roll! By now, I was just trying to ignore him. I’d already played Seger, Springsteen, the Stones, Cochrane, and Adams; I’d played Tragically Hip and Pearl Jam; I’d played Hootie and I’d played the Smashing Pumpkins. This was one drunken asshole I would not be able to please. He persisted from the end of the bar, yelling ‘Rock and Roll!’ every time I put on some dance or country (also requested several times).
I almost lost it when at around midnight the bartender came up and asked me to play some rock and roll – ‘He keeps asking us to come up and tell the girl to play a little rock!’ Any man pushing forty would be, I think, insulted to be called a boy. Wake up call, guys: most adult women are just as insulted to be called a girl.
Shortly after, the first guy came back up to tell me he thought I was doing a fine job, he saw the shit I was getting from the other guy. Part of me wanted to take that at face value, that was a really nice thing to do. But another part of me was thinking ‘Yeah but he’s only nice like that because you’re a woman’: there’s a subtext of either making the moves on me or patronizing me. (Did he think I was about to burst into tears? Actually I was thinking about just hauling back and decking the drunk – but I didn’t want to have to pay Mike for damage to his equipment.)
The night finally ended and I left.
The next night, I had a wedding to do. And it was just like any other wedding I’d done, but after the previous night, well, it was just like that night…
‘I don’t think this is gonna go, you should play something faster,’ I heard someone say to me. I looked at him and wondered if he thought his being male and my being female gave him the right to criticize, to give advice to someone old enough to be his parent. Thirty seconds into the (slow) piece I’d chosen, the dance floor was full. Have I proved myself? Of course not – I just ‘lucked out’. ‘Again’, I mused sarcastically.
Another guy came up, walked around my table, and stood beside me. No, he didn’t have a request, he just wanted to introduce himself, say hi, how’s it going. He stayed, in my way, for three whole songs, oblivious to my suggestions that he join the party, it looks good.
A little later, an older guy, fifty-something, gave me a gentle warning, ‘You can’t please everyone, but just try a bit of 50s and 60s.’ ‘I know,’ I told him, not pointing out that I’d already done a 50s-60s set, ‘I’ve been doing this for over five years now.’ ‘Oh you have?’ He is so surprised. What, do I have ‘novice’ written on my forehead? Did the way I set up my equipment suggest that I didn’t know what I was doing? (Single-handedly and in fifteen minutes flat.) No – I’m female – so it just goes without saying that I probably don’t know what I’m doing.
I just wanted to be a deejay. But people, especially men, kept insisting by their behaviour, that I was a female deejay. Sex shouldn’t make a difference. But they make it make a difference. Do male deejays get questioned? Are they expected to chat pleasantly while working? Do they have to deal with a constant stream of guidance, advice?
Frankly, it’s irritating, it’s insulting, and it’s exhausting.
[Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist is a feminist blog, often radical feminist (radfem), always anti-gender and anti-sexism.]