I pose a bold question in the title. Right off the bat, you’ll notice that I am suggesting EDM (electronic dance music) culture is broken. I mean it. Coming from someone who respects and enjoys EDM and, as I’ve previously written, believes in the principles of the culture, this isn’t something that’s fun for me to say. However, I think that the PLUR (Peace Love Unity & Respect) narrative surrounding EDM/rave culture puts on a dangerous facade that conceals some really deep-rooted issues.
Probably the first thing that pops into your mind when I say “issues” is drugs. There’s already been a ton of discussion about drug use in EDM culture, especially as of late with giant EDM festivals popping up all over the place and the inevitable security crackdowns. I don’t want to discount the importance of those conversations, but I do believe that there’s more to the story. I want to talk about a different part of the culture—one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, in my opinion. (That said, to talk about any aspect of EDM culture without considering the influence of drug use would be extremely nearsighted.) On a broader level, I’d like to bring a gendered lens to the (sub)culture. On a more focused level, I want to shed light on something I see as an issue in the scene: the objectification of women.
As part of my sociology curriculum, I spent last semester studying EDM culture. The project started as a curiosity about the commercialization of EDM, but as things moved along, I became more and more fascinated by the gendered behavior of fans at EDM concerts. I began to see some really striking patterns. If you’ve never been to an EDM show, I created this infographic that lays out some of those basic patterns. (Note: the demographic at these shows tends to be college-aged, white individuals.)
At its core, EDM culture is a masculine, heteronormative space. (In fact, I’d argue that it’s just a microcosm of mainstream society.) Men control the narrative from every angle, production-wise and audience-wise. The EDM experience is tailored to the male. A good example of this is the go-go dancers you’ll see on stage. Wearing next-to-nothing, they’re up there for (mostly) male entertainment purposes.
So, where does that leave women? This is where it gets tricky. As the infographic shows, young women get really dressed up for these shows. The norm for women at raves is to wear skimpy outfits, such as bras/bandeaus, booty shorts, fishnets, sometimes just tape or “pasties” over their breasts. The outfits can also get really costume-y and creative, but almost always with a sexy-kitten-or-schoolgirl feel. Obviously, this style of dress aligns with male-defined notions of beauty and attractiveness—show as much skin as possible, play up your female parts, get dolled up, etc. It’s catering to the male gaze whether the young woman admits it or not. The same goes for the general style of dancing among women (which tends to be provocative and sexual)—as well as increased displays of PDA and sexuality with males—at EDM shows. Of course, drugs often act as a social lubricant to facilitate these behaviors.
One of the major findings of my research was that young women do not classify any of this as sexual objectification. Rather, they see it as a matter of personal choice. (i.e. “I’m choosing to dress this way, so it’s not objectification because I’m in control of my body.”) For them, it feels liberating to be able to wear sexy outfits without being judged.
That’s where I see the root of the problem.
The unfortunate truth is that no matter how much an individual feels empowered by wearing revealing outfits, that sense of liberation is internal and doesn’t really have a structural impact on gender relations.* And, really, it’s not EDM culture to blame for this. It’s bigger than that—it’s society. (Welp, here comes the soc major.) We live in a culture where gender inequality is pervasive and gender roles are deeply embedded. The EDM scene isn’t just its own entity; it is shaped and influenced by those ideals and, in turn, reflects them.
So that brings me back to my original question: How can we fix EDM culture? I don’t have a magical solution or anything, but I think that a larger female presence in the EDM industry would be a first step. We need more female DJs up on stage; we need more women running production companies. We need more female voices, more female role models in EDM. If society isn’t ready to break the mold just yet, why can’t EDM culture do it first? It is, after all, a subculture that serves as an escape from the mainstream. It’s already a space where conventions are challenged and rejected. So, let’s take it a step further: I’m proposing that we add gender relations to that list. If rave culture wants to continue calling itself a utopia of “Peace Love Unity & Respect,” it’s time to live up to it.
*I am not in any way questioning the right of females to dress and act the way they want. No slut-shaming going on here; I’m just trying to be honest about the implications.
Interested in reading my full research? Please email me or fill out the contact form below. I’ll send you a copy as soon as I can!
The abstract of the paper is as follows:
Drawing on interviews and observation of a local Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene, this article explores gender in EDM culture and the ways that young women in the scene develop alternative femininities. In this paper, I find that female EDM fans take advantage of this subcultural space, and its promotion of party culture, to release themselves from the confines of conventional, culturally validated femininity. They actively shape their deviant EDM identities through adopting a sexualized style of dress, engaging in drug use, and exposing their sexuality. Temporarily shielded from the outside world, they are able to express this alternate femininity in an environment where they are relatively free from the stigma they might incur for displaying such behavior in mainstream society. Further, I find that in their performances of hyper-femininity, they apply a master narrative of liberation and empowerment to downplay and sidestep issues of sexual objectification. I argue that while these young women are successful in resisting legitimate femininity, any wider attempts to disrupt the gender order are limited due to their use of a strategy that ultimately reproduces the systematic oppression of women.