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Published: 07 March 2014

Comment: Audio inequality?

What's the state of gender equality in the world of DJs and radio? To mark International Women's Day 2014, English Literature undergraduate Lorna Salmon shares her unique experiences.

At the end of my second year at Surrey, I received a call from BBC Radio 1. I had recently submitted a video to the station as part of a national DJ talent search, and they were contacting me to tell me I had made it through to the final six. I would be going on air.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, I’ve been taking into consideration how my gender has potentially impacted on my Radio 1 experience and my time at university, and what this could mean for my career prospects.

With me in the final were four men and one woman, most representing a mixture of House and Techno music, with me representing Bass. Each morning, Chris Moyles would set us our challenge for the day (including mixing, remixing and MCing). Following that, we would discuss the potential successes or failures of our challenges with either Fearne Cotton or Scott Mills. Finally, the day would culminate with Greg James revealing who would be leaving the competition. The grand prize was the opportunity to open Radio 1’s Ibiza parties that summer; so needless to say, the pressure was on.

I received a call from BBC Radio 1. I would be going on air.

Despite my fears, I made it through to the final three, alongside the youngest DJ in the competition (Elliott Kay) and Hannah Jacques, who went on to win overall. I was blown away by the support I had from Surrey Students' Union; from not only my close friends, but societies and teams texting and tweeting their support. It was incredible to see, and gave me some much needed faith in my abilities. However, when you're laid bare to the public in this way, it can’t be ignored that you’re also at the mercy of more vicious comments via social media.

Radio is, undeniably, a multiplatform industry. This meant that as well as speaking on air, we had our photos taken and shared on the Radio 1 Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as on the website. Unsurprisingly, some of the comments we received weren’t directed towards the music we played. On my photos, I received comments such as: “Most deffinately would” [sic], and more general “why won’t she shut up” variations. Some statements were more graphic, but for the most part, these comments focused around sexualisation of the competitors.

With equality in mind, it only seems right to address the fact that it wasn’t just Hannah and I receiving lewd comments throughout the competition. In fact, the comments that the men received were just as bad. Statements such as “ummm, I can’t facebook stalk Jonathon if you don’t give me his last name”, and “can we have the blokes topless?” cropped up across my fellow contestants' photos. As a feminist, it is my personal belief that men and women should be treated equally. Consequently, it infuriates me to see comments like that directed towards both men and women. From my perspective, if you get angered when a man wolf whistles at you but you’ll happily ogle a man bending over, you lose the right to be so furious when the same behaviour is directed towards you. It’s all about equality.

For me, the crux of the issue is that we need to get more young people interested in careers that have previously been geared towards the opposite sex. This extends beyond the world of audio, and into the realms of all the courses offered at universities and colleges across the country.

We need to get more young people interested in careers that have previously been geared towards the opposite sex.

Undeniably, this means that change has to be made in our education system; from primary school through to Higher Education. I spoke to Danielle Platt, a first-year undergraduate, about her experiences on a course where males outnumber females. She said: “I think there are a lot of stereotypes about subjects like computing, maths, engineering and other sciences, about the type of people that take those courses. I think a lot of it starts in late secondary school through to sixth form, in that there’s a lack of awareness about the truth of these subjects. If this was enforced at a younger age - that these stereotypes aren’t necessarily true - you’d get more women in them.”

Personally, I was lucky enough following my time at BBC Radio 1 to be taken on for my Professional Training placement year by Eagle Radio, the UKRD station based here in Guildford. Many of my colleagues took me under their wing at Eagle, letting me try my hand at producing on-air promotions and coordinating events. Being given such big responsibilities so soon after starting my placement strengthened my confidence, and showed that there are plenty of companies out there that will get an intern doing more than just making tea.

I’m now even luckier, because following my PT placement I am combining my final year of English Literature studies with working as a freelancer within the company as a presenter, producer and broadcast tutor.

Through my experiences of being a female English Literature student trying to make it in the big bad world of radio, I know how important it is that gender equality is addressed.

Working there for the past two years has been a stellar example of gender equality in the workplace, and as with all my experiences to date, has affirmed my career choice. It has also affirmed to me that gender doesn’t have to be an issue in terms of your career aspirations. In reality, it’s all down to your strength of character, determination, and encouraging changes to be made to the gendered representations of careers far earlier in education.

Through my experiences of being a female English Literature student trying to make it in the big bad world of radio, I know how important it is that gender equality is addressed. It shouldn’t be ‘female’ DJ. It shouldn’t be ‘male’ DJ. It should be ‘DJ’. I know a lot of DJs and broadcasters who get frustrated by how they’re labelled as a ‘female DJ’ or ‘female presenter’, and how they’ve even been accused of succeeding purely on their looks. Various members and alumni of GU2/Stag Radio, including me, have been personally accused of only getting jobs because we are women.

This has to stop.