What comes to mind when you think of country music? Ah yes, the sweet twang of the guitar and good ole southern accent. Dolly Parton and two-stepping. Misogyny and white supremacy… And that my friends is when the fight for intersectional feminism in country music comes into play.
Yes that’s right, as much as everyone loves Dolly Parton’s honey-sweet vocals and big hair, country music has a diversity problem – and not just the lack of women, but the even greater lack of people of color and queer folks. Basically, the farther away you get from being a cis-het white man, the less likely you are to be represented in country music.
Just 10.8% of songs played on American country radio between 2014 – 2018 were by women, according to a study by Dr. Jada Watson. And of that, 0.06% were women of color, far less than the 2.3% represented by BIPOC artists.
But who cares? Radio is insignificant in comparison to streaming, right? Not in the world of country music. Dr. Watson’s studies also find that country radio is the biggest factor that leads to success for country artists – think Grammy awards, record deals, publicity.
This week we’re breaking it all down to understand how country music has come to represent such a deep divide of American diversity. And we couldn’t do it without a true expert – Madeleine Molly, gender studies scholar at the London School of Economics and country music host at W!ZARD Radio.
As it turns out, country music’s roots are not that different from the origins of rock and roll– white artists playing music created by black musicians while segregating those same musicians into separate charts. The charts became “hillbilly music” (read: for and by white people) and “race music” (read: for and by black people).
And while Johnny Cash and many other early country musicians used country music as a vehicle for political activism and working-class struggles, the genre has evolved into a forum for conservative values.
From The Chicks and Marren Morris to Kacey Musgraves and Mickey Guyton, we’re taking a closer look at the women who are knocking down doors to create a more diverse space.
Sources for The Fight for Intersectional Feminism in Country Music
Uncharted Country: New Voices and Perspectives in Country Music Studies (Journal of Popular Music Studies, 2020)
Redlining in Country Music: Presentation in the Country Music Industry (Jada E. Watson, 2020)
Gender Representation on Country Format Radio (Jada E Watson, 2018)
Dr Jada E Watson Twitter thread on Whiteness (March 12, 2021)
Country Music Excludes Women, Especially Over Age 40, Study Finds (NPR, ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, 2019)
Remember When Natalie Maines Criticized the President? (Taste of Country, Billy Dukes, 2021)
Carrie Underwood: ‘I’d put on a happy face, then go home and fall apart’ (The Guardian, Laura Barton, 2019)
When Carrie Underwood Was Asked Who She Voted For, Her Answer Was Priceless (Country Rebel)
Carrie Underwood Calls Out ‘Politics and Prejudice’ in New Song ‘Love Wins’ (Rolling Stone, Joseph Hudak, 2018)
With Her First Grammy Nomination, Mickey Guyton Is Changing the Face of Country Music (Vogue by Emma Specter, 2021)
Mickey Guyton Takes on the Overwhelming Whiteness of Country (The New Yorker by Amanda Petrusich, 2021)
‘Black Like Me’ Singer Mickey Guyton Wants to ‘Open Doors’ for Black and Brown
Girls in Country (Billboard, Heran Mamo, 2021)
Country Music Is Changing, in Spite of Itself (Pitchfork, Natalie Weiner, 2021)
Meet the Young Black Women Making Country Music – and Finding Success On their
Own Terms (Billboard, Andrea Williams, 2021)
Why Kacey Musgraves, who keeps winning awards, still can’t get a country radio hit (The Washington Post, Emily Yahr, 2019)
Kacey Musgraves: from liberal misfit to country’s biggest star (The Guardian, Kate Mossman, 2019)
Following Kacey’s Arrow: Do We Still Need Queer Country icons? (Country Queer, James Barker)
Maren Morris on how she hopes to make country music more open to black artists (Today, 2021)
Maren Morris Says Capitol Coup Images ‘Hard to Shake’ as She Calls Out Country Wives for Trump Support (People, 2021)
Maren Morris Speaks out on Festivals Still Allowing the Confederate Flag (Outsider, Jacklyn Krol, 2021)
On Morgan Wallen, Reckless White Men, and America’s Imperiled Future (Medium, Marcus K Dowling, 2021)