Flor Serna

Sound Engineer

June 17, 2016


How old are you?

I’m 23.

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Albuquerue, New Mexico.

Can you tell me a bit about your business?

Sexism in the music industry is the foundation of why the business exists in the first place. Back when I was in college at Loyola, I went through all the hoops of getting keys to Loyola’s recording studio. What that meant was I would had 24/7 access to the studio, could record anybody, learn a lot, and have a ton of fun. While I was in school, there was only one other girl out of fifteen people in our program but she was not very active in the studio and I was trying to become very active and do sessions all the time. That’s where I experienced my first conscious dose sexism to the point that I realized people actually have opinions of me based on something that is out of me control—my gender. I thought about it so much that when it came time to do my senior thesis, I decided to study why more women didn’t work in recording studios. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that that industry is 95-97% male especially in audio engineering and I wanted to know why that was the case. Is it something physiological? Is it something psychological? Is it something social? Is it just the culture? There’s almost no research about it which is part of the problem. So I expanded my topic to why women and minorities, choose to stray away from science, math, and technology fields than men do both academically and professionally. I wrote a hefty paper and halfway through, I felt really dissatisfied with just writing about it. I wanted to see if I could create something that changes the foundation of all of this and changes the foundation of the way girls are taught at a young age. I wanted to encourage them to pursue these fields that they typically run away from at ages 10-14. I started doing that instead and it was amazing and it was terrifying. I created this tiny program that I piloted and I called it Electric Girls.

Do you remember what some of your first experiences were that made you start thinking about sexism?

I have mixed feelings because I’m not convinced that it’s productive to even talk about them. And that’s because I get very exhausted and tired of hearing examples of women being treated horribly. I want to make it better but I’m not sure how. Once I was finishing a recording session and it had gone super well but the client then said to me, “Flor, I honestly had major hesitation about recording with you because you’re a girl but you did awesome!” That was so fucked up. I told him “that’s so not cool.” But I don’t think that he’s a horrible person for saying that. He’s better than most because he’s honest and explicit about what he was thinking, right? It’s not like he’s in the wrong for thinking that way because that’s the way the culture is currently. The onus is on everyone to change the culture so that people don’t have those thoughts in the first place. I’ve been asked to take off my clothes because I “look better without a sweater on in the studio.”

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

Sexism is not one monolithic thing that comes into your life or into the world. I think it really exists in the smallest places and I don’t think it is a man’s problem or a woman’s problem. It is everyone’s problem. Sexism means that you’re treating sex or gender as a major criteria in your judgements of someone.

How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?

Like everyone is dumb. Come on. Grow up. Men and women think so differently because we have biologically different brains. In any given pool of humans, increasing the diversity of ways of thinking is optimal and when you restrict a pool heavily towards one gender, you’re shooting yourself in the foot no matter what. It’s just super unfortunate. The first quote in one of the books that I read for my thesis is “If the cure to cancer is in the mind of a girl, you may never find it, and that’s because we are not doing a good enough job of encouraging girls to pursue sciences. My creative process is very different from a male creative process. There’s a lot of research on how women interact with audio technology compared to men. Men are super gear focused and women communicate more with the artist about creating a space where they can be really creative. I always felt sort of inadequate working in a recording studio because the boys around me would be so excited about getting a new microphone that I had no clue about. I just like recording artists and making the music and I can use whatever fucking microphone you give me.

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way?

Yes. I always notice.

Do you think some forms of sexism are so engrained our upbringings that we can’t or don’t register it?

All the time. But we have to start somewhere, right? It’s interesting because my whole perspective on this now is really focused on children and girls. I will never tell a group of my girls at Electric Girls why I started this work because they don’t question that. They’re there to have fun and learn and build stuff. They don’t think that way because they’re kids. But their parents tell me frequently that their girls initially don’t want to go to an electronics summer camp until they hear that it’s all girls. If girls that young are afraid of going to a science-based camp because boys will be there, that’s a pretty scary problem.

Are there any particular stereotypes of women or men that drive you insane?

That women are deficient at retaining science based things. There are a lot of people that try so hard to prove that women just don’t have the mental capacity to survive in math or science. There was a study done after Carnegie-Mellon realized that all the girls in their undergraduate freshman physics classes were dropping out or changing majors. But then they created a girl only physics major with the exact same classes and they all remained in the major. It’s a different social learning environment. The biggest stereotype about men that bothers me is that men are not emotional or sensitive people and I think that is particularly dangerous because we are only now starting to address it.

While issues for women aren’t easy, there is a platform. That doesn’t exist for men.

Exactly. Girls can easily post a status on Facebook about how they’re sad because they went through a breakup and everyone will at least be nice. But if you’re a dude and did that…well, you probably wouldn’t do it in the first place because you’d have so much social rejection. I think that can cause an aversion to emotional sensitivity.

Everyone’s hurting.

Everyone’s sad.

You mentioned that you don’t necessarily like to talk about sexism. What made you want to do this interview?

It was established a long time ago that there is a problem. The goal now needs to be changing that problem and shifting micro aggressions as much as possible. I’m always reluctant to engage in conversation that can get close to man-hating and drinking the male tears. I hate that so much because that’s really not productive. I like productive things and I think this is productive.