My name is Maren Hancock, aka DJ Betti Forde, and I’m a PhD candidate in Gender Studies at York University and a professional DJ for over fifteen years now. I’m currently in the midst of writing a dissertation on the subject of female DJs in Canada. My data includes a survey I conducted which was completed by one hundred and twenty female DJs in Canada, as well as in-depth, personal interviews with twenty-five female DJs in Canada. To say that the topic of female DJs in Canada is one that I’m interested and invested in would be a vast understatement. Also, for the sake of full disclosure, to say that Rhiannon Rozier, aka DJ Rhiannon, is one of my closest and bestest friends would not be a vast overstatement.
DJ Rhiannon, her sister Amy Rozier aka DJ Veronica, and I are deeply concerned with DJ Rhiannon’s portrayal in the teaser for Amplify Her. Amy has already voiced her concerns to you via Facebook, and therefore DJ Rhiannon and I would like to share our specific concerns as well in this open letter, in hopes it will inspire discussion and perhaps even some positive changes in the way female DJs (and females in general) are portrayed in the media. I have composed the first part of this open letter, and DJ Rhiannon composed the second part.
A fellow female DJ first alerted me to the teaser for Amplify Her, and so of course I watched it with great interest and anticipation; however, I was left feeling perplexed and totally p*ssed off. Outraged, I immediately sent the link to the teaser to DJ Rhiannon, asking if she knew about it and if she had been contacted for permission, as I highly doubted that she had been, given what I had just seen. Of course, DJ Rhiannon confirmed my suspicions, replying that she had never been approached by anyone involved with Amplify Her, ever. Now, anyone who knows DJ Rhiannon personally knows that she’s an anal-retentive workaholic who reads all of her emails and is extremely on her game, so I immediately knew that something was not OK.
Firstly, and this cannot be overstated given the intense irony at play, the footage of DJ Rhiannon was used in the teaser without her permission. Secondly, as mentioned, DJ Rhiannon appears in the teaser but she’s not been interviewed nor even contacted about the project. Yet, you position Rhiannon in the teaser as though she is also a subject along with the other women with whom you actually spoke to and (I assume) received permission to portray. DJ Rhiannon has no voice in a teaser for a doc that seeks to give a sympathetic portrayal of west coast female DJs and purports to portray them as subjects. DJ Rhiannon is clearly being objectified – and by extension, vilified – in the teaser.
I find it tired and sad how DJ Rhiannon is juxtaposed as an “opposite” or “other” to the other female DJs portrayed in the teaser. I challenge this simplistic view of female DJs as tokens or gimmicks, virgins or whores, good women or bad women. It’s not that simple. Pitting us against each other only perpetuates patriarchy. And of course, the implication is that DJ Rhiannon is somehow not a phenomenal DJ. She absolutely is, and so to judge and/or dismiss her for using her mainstream-society-sanctioned-hotness to market herself, or to set her up as opposite to “the rest of us”, is a complete distortion of the real story. Obviously, the real story is far more complex, and therefore it takes “more” to tell DJ Rhiannon’s story, or my story, or the stories of the women whom you seek to “amplify” in your doc. Can we not amplify ourselves and support our peers?
Thankfully, DJ Rhiannon will soon receive the intelligent and balanced media portrayal that she, and every female DJ, deserves. She’s the subject of a NFB short called “Rock the Box”, a documentary about a day in the life of DJ Rhiannon, directed by Katherine Monk. I’m grateful that this doc is coming out shortly, as we will need it as an antidote to Amplify Her‘s so-far essentialist, sexist and simplistic approach. Check out a description of “Rock the Box” here: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=869719
Lastly, DJ Rhiannon is also bothered by her portrayal in Amplify Her, and the unpermitted use of her footage of course. The rest of this open letter therefore consists of DJ Rhiannon’s thoughtful words.
DJ Rhiannon: I’m addressing the Amplify Her teaser because I am not ok with how I am represented in it. It is a negative portrayal of me, which may adversely affect my ability to obtain work in Western Canada and nearby regions, or any region that has access to the teaser, which is available on the worldwide web to anyone with an email address. When a promoter/booker sees the Amplify Her teaser, s/he is given the message that I am an unskilled DJ who relies only on my looks to get gigs. It implies that by hiring me, the promoter/booker is a sell-out and/or a fool. It suggests to my female DJ colleagues that if they market themselves the way I market myself, they too will be considered unskilled DJs and/or bad women and/or sell-outs and/or anti-feminist, and that instead they should consider me an “opposite” and/or a “problem”. All of these messages are utterly false. Are you starting to understand how this is harmful and unhelpful? These types of messages damage us, limit us, divide us, and encourage us to judge each other and hold each other back, which is the polar opposite of “amplifying” us. It is also wrong to use someone’s video content without their permission, wrong to use someone’s image without their permission, and in fact an infringement on that person’s rights of publicity and privacy.
No female DJ can escape from the fact that she is a woman. Whether you hide your tits or show them off, it’s still all about tits, isn’t it? Whether you dress in men’s attire in order to “be taken seriously as a DJ” or dress in sexy attire to get more bookings, both of these proven methods of enhancing a woman’s career in the entertainment industry are reactions to the same problem that we are ALL trying to overcome. So Amplify Her does not seem to present a new perspective on these topics; it seems to perpetuate old stereotypes and simplistic narratives that create dichotomies and conflict. The truth is that I work extremely hard every single day as a 100% independent, self-managed, self-booked, and self-funded DJ and recording artist. I have overcome countless obstacles over the course of my fifteen-year career, including the obtaining of an O-1 work visa for the United States of America. The last thing I need is a film produced by my own home province -which I proudly represent when I DJ all over the world- depicting me as a lazy and privileged sell-out. You don’t know me and you don’t know my story. And now, unfortunately, I don’t trust you (Amplify Her director Ian Mackenzie) enough to share it with you. Not that you have ever approached me to participate in this documentary, which is specifically about female DJs from the West Coast. I grew up in Vancouver, BC, moved to San Francisco, California and now I live in Los Angeles, California. Pretty West Coast! Unfortunately, at this point, I would be scared that you would use my words to serve your own narrative, the same way that you used my image to serve your own narrative (without my permission, to make matters worse).
Fortunately, the most trusted and professional film organization in Canada took an interest in my full story. Produced by an all-female production team led by Katherine Monk, the National Film Board of Canada documentary “Rock The Box” discusses me, my career, and the real and complex feminist issues that female DJs in the entertainment industry deal with daily. It has been in production for the last three years and was completed in March 2015. It will be screening at film festivals across the country soon.
There is a significant silver lining to all of this that I would like to acknowledge now. This is a great opportunity for all of us to realise that we need to start thinking much more carefully, deeply, and critically about these topics. If we remain stuck in the same old discourses about feminism, empowerment, and exploitation, things will not change. So I am excited about opening up a new platform for these topics, more than I am offended by how I have been objectified and silenced in the Amplify Her film thus far.
As a music-lover, people-enthusiast, performer, and artist I was determined to build an audience to give myself a bigger voice, share my joy, and increase the presence of skilled female DJs in the male-dominated DJ industry. What is more constructive, to sit and whine on the sidelines or tie up your shoes and get in the game? You can’t change the world by sitting around giving yourself a moral pat on the back. Look at the power that Madonna, Lady Gaga, and countless other female artists now have to make social and political change. They have a voice! That is what I’ve been building.
My female DJ colleagues who were interviewed in the Amplify Her teaser even admit that the experience of being on stage and DJing and connecting with people can be somewhat of a sensual/sexual/emotional experience. So then what? I didn’t choose the right way to express my sexuality? How ridiculous, hypocritical, and unfair. I chose to make the only moves that I felt were available to me to build my career quickly and increase my audience, as someone who simply wanted to express herself and make others happy while doing so. And it worked! So obviously it really was one of the very few options available to me. It didn’t suddenly make me a bad DJ; rather, it made me an entrepreneur.
I am discredited and silenced in the Amplify Her teaser, and that is far from positive, empowering, and “amplifying”. Simply judging women misconstrues the real and complex story of women so greatly. If we truly wish to empower and liberate women, and all humans alike, we need to look inside ourselves first. We need to become conscious of the negative and divisive thoughts that we all carry inside us. We need to understand that we did not choose our own moral codes; our parents/schools/peers/societies chose them for us. We need to become aware of all of this and change it; change ourselves. We each have to become our own authority and then work together to lift each other up. Otherwise we will forever remain oppressed by the true oppressors. Think the world is sexist and unfair? Good news – the world is nothing but a collection of individuals. All you have to do to change the world is change the individual. Change your self.
DJ Rhiannon & Maren Hancock aka DJ Betti Forde
P.S. We recommend the following three books to shed light on these issues:
Pink Noises by Tara Rodgers (2010)
Beyond the Dance Floor by Rebecca Farrugia (2012)
As One Is: To Free the Mind from All Conditioning by J. Krishnamurti (2007)