Quick quiz: How many of Billboard's top ten Christian Songs artists of the past decade were female? How many of the top ten Christian songs of the past decade were performed by females? Remarkably, the answer to both questions is zero.
Even more astonishing: Out of a full ten years of songs, a decade of tumult and change with artists and trends coming and going, 48 of the top 50 Christian songs (96 percent) were performed by males. (Billboard's song charts are "ranked by radio airplay audience impressions [from about 150 Christian radio stations] as measured by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems," according to its website.)
The only two females landed near the bottom of the chart, bookends on a patriarchal age—last year's Free to Be Me by Francesca Battistelli landed at No. 40, and 2003's More to Life by Stacie Orrico at No. 50. Meanwhile, Chris Tomlin had five of the top 50 songs, more than double the total of all the females on the chart.
Since Billboard's Christian Songs chart was created in 2003—337 weeks of existence—females held the No. 1 spot for just 11 weeks, or three percent of the time. Joy Williams and Nichole Nordeman were the first females to top the chart, in June 2005. Then another three and a half years passed before another female hit No. 1.
What's up with that? Is there a bias against women in the Christian market? Among Christian consumers? It's certainly not happening in the mainstream, where a steady stream of Mariah Careys and Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts frequently crowds out the men. So why are males so disproportionately ruling the Christian charts?
For starters, there are simply more males (including male-predominant bands) in Christian music in the first place—by at least a 2:1 ratio, possibly as much as 3:1.
Jenny Simmons has a unique perspective on the issue as a female lead in an otherwise male band, Addison Road. She knows that the plight of the female artist is often lonely.
"Last year," she said, "I was out on the very first Rock and Worship Road Show. It was Hawk Nelson, Tenth Avenue North, Jeremy Camp, MercyMe, and us. I'm literally the only female on stage out of, what, 30 men? Now I'm on tour again with four bands, and I'm the only girl. There are also no female managers, no female booking agents, and not many females at the labels or even with the mission organizations we work with."
Third Day's Mac Powell adds, "There are less women than men who are approaching music as a career," but quickly rules out any talent issue. "I definitely don't think it's because of a lack of women who are great artists or great musicians."
Christian radio's role
The male-heavy numbers weren't quite as bad in Billboard's top Christian albums of the decade, where females (or female-fronted bands) had seven of the top 50, including two in the top 10. But those numbers are compiled by sales data, while the numbers on the songs charts are an indication of radio airplay, which clearly favors men. But why?
It's no secret that the target audience of Christian Adult Contemporary (AC) radio is primarily female (generally in her 30s and 40s), and has been for about as long as men have dominated the charts. The industry has even given the typical listener a name, "Becky," and a detailed profile. Furthermore, a now-established method for those stations to decide what to play involves asking that female audience what they want to hear. Audience "testing" has become so key to programming decisions that the formula for getting airplay starts with rule number one: Be male.