Girls aloud: gender issues in the hi-fi world #WAFgate


In his piece entitled “How not to get women interested in audio”, author Marc Phillips’ starter for ten was “Do women like hi-fi?” A question he swiftly rebuts with the suggestion that we should “Stop worrying about this crap”. A little context here: Phllips is the long-term partner of Colleen Cardas, one of the most prominent women in the Stateside audio scene. He reasons that just as headphones brought the youth back to the audio scene, the market will also resolve gender issues of its own accord and that endlessly debating the matter on (male-dominated) message boards is a waste of time; to his credit Phillips suggests that the best way to engage women is to actually talk to them. Indeed.

However, Phillips’ language is troubling in two distinct places. (Sorry Marc).

The first is obvious: WAF (‘Wife Acceptance Factor’). The insinuation that a woman’s only role in the acquisition of audio gear is to be accepting of its aesthetics and/or physical intrusion is redolent of a boys’ club mentality.

The second? “The inside joke, of course, is that both Mal and I have women who are active audiophiles…” ‘Have’? I’m sure Phillips didn’t intend to suggest that he owns his partner Colleen Cardas but nevertheless the use of a possessive verb is worrying.

It’s linguistic trip-ups like this that insidiously contribute to the problem: that audio is a male-dominated pursuit.

Thankfully, Mal Kenney’s wife Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney was quick on the draw with a follow-up post on why the term ‘WAF’ is such patronizing piffle.

Brodbeck-Kenney’s piece lit a fire under TONEAudio publisher Jeff Dorgay who penned “More thoughts on the “Wife Acceptance Factor” not 24 hours later.

In the space of two days we’d gone from no posts to three on gender issues in audio.

A gender-balanced team: Sally Jeung and Harry Lee of Aurender

Rather than responding with my own thoughts and thus falling into the trap (alluded to by Phillips) of men debating women, I forwarded all three articles to ‘professional feminist’ friend Yolanda Beattie.

Beattie is the Public Affairs Executive Manager at the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency. She responded with the following:

“The missing question here is “Why does gender diversity matter?” This discourse might consider interrogating why the industry would benefit from a larger number of active female enthusiasts.”

“If the industry is shaped by a very specific demographic – middle-aged men with enough money to spend on gear – then it is necessarily only going to have a very limited perspective. Women and men do bring different ideas to the same challenges and opportunities. Encouraging female participation will open up debate and conversation, and ultimately innovation, especially in terms of product design.”

“Encouraging greater female involvement in the hobby will also likely lead to growth in the market overall. (Dorgay made that point well). An industry that excludes half of the population will certainly limit its growth potential. If you want to be part of a thriving, dynamic, growing industry then making yourself relevant to men and women is a pre-requisite.”

“If we assume those reasons are sufficiently compelling, the next question is: why aren’t women attracted to hi-fi?”

“Most of the three articles answered that question well. The key point is there is no silver bullet solution. Gender segregation starts from birth; just look at the toys girls and boys have to choose from. I’m sure it has been a while since you strolled down the toys section at Kmart but let me tell you it’s depressing. Girls Lego is almost always pink and princessy and boys Lego is almost always fighter jets, transformers etc. There are very few gender-neutral options. We’re telling kids from a young age that construction is for boys and looking pretty is for girls.”

“Those views see mass media reinforcement over time and when we grow up and hopefully get to the point where we can shake off those socially constructed expectations of what girls and boys should do, we find male-dominated or female-dominated clubs have formed that exclude the other gender (intentionally or not). Hi-fi is a case in point.”

“What’s really interesting is why do some men in hi-fi not want their hobby of choice to be female friendly? Why do they wish to protect their pursuit from female infiltration? What are they afraid to lose? I would suggest any demographic that can dominate an idea, industry, organisation etc. enjoys some power or privilege simply because they belong to that demographic, not because they necessarily have innate talent and ability over the minority demographic.”

“Language and imagery are the primary means by which we send and receive signals about who belongs, what’s important and what’s valued. Terms like ‘Wife Acceptance Factor’ and ‘no girls allowed’ sends a clear signal that women have little credibility in hifi and that their voice and contribution is not valid or welcome. It’s exclusionary and derogatory.”


Public image is important. Appearing to be open to female participation counts just as much as actually being open. Dispensing with the patriarchal language – jokes or not – can change the hi-fi industry’s male-dominated image. To this end, why not put terms like ‘WAF’ and ‘man cave’ out to pasture? Perhaps we should stop referring to our significant others as ‘SWMBO’ (‘She who must be obeyed’).

Some readers might feel a twinge reading this, that it’s all a bit right on. And that’s OK. Chances are, you’re a middle-aged, middle-class male and you grew up with language like this. A result of your own social conditioning, you’ve probably used it for years as some form of light-hearted Dad joke.

But times are changing and we need to change with them. And that starts with the words that we use. If the conversation is female friendly, women will join in.

Of course, I can’t tell you what to do. You can continue with outmoded language as much as you please but don’t complain that your local audiophile society meet is always such a dude-fest if you’re still referring to your partner as ‘The minister for war and finance’.

Further reading over at the Steve Hoffman forum here. JL6161 – I salute thee.

UPDATE 10/12/2014: Another spot-on post from JL6161 over at the Steve Hoffman forum here.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. John, thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking article. Once more, you proved that your blog is more read-worthy than most others in the business of the quality audio.

    I am a male retiree (past middle-aged) and this subject has been bothering me for a long time.

    I think that the reply you’ve received from Ms Beattie is as profound as it is doomed to fall on deaf ears – not only in the hi-fi male-dominated club, but in general, as well. Why do I think so? Well, if the government of any country sees it necessary to have the kind of office like the ‘Workplace Gender Equality Agency’, that means the trouble women are in is real.

    Unfortunately, male chauvinism is a prevalent attitude – in history and in geography. It all starts with the religion, language and tradition (and I am not talking only about the Muslim world). Women are, in fact, treated by men like second class citizens (and – in some cases – like a property) throughout the world. It took over two thousand years to get to the point where we are today and I predict that it will take many more centuries before we will rid ourselves of this attitude.

    So, yes, I agree partially with Marc Phillips in that we shouldn’t worry about whether or not women “like hi-fi”. If someone would ask me if I liked an Aston Martin car, sure, I would say “yes”. But would I buy it? Of course, NOT. I simply can not afford it. Similarly, women have this kind of a problem (and more) with the hi-fi equipment.

    Give them equal wages (not just “equal opportunity”) and you may see some more women buying into this male-dominated hobby. Give them more room to breath and more respect and I can guarantee that they will sit and listen to the music, instead of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and rearing children.

    Unfortunately, in my opinion, mr. Phillips is as clueless in the matter, as the next guy in the street.

  2. John, this goes way beyond gender and I think we both know it. Audiophiles are snobs, pure and simple – to this day, I refuse to own anything from Bose but there are levels of snobbery. Many with serious high-end systems would look at my headphone rig and laugh – forget that the HD800 is widely acknowledged as a detail monster with the right amp, it’s not a pair of floorstanders from MBL, TAD or Revel. It’s all about the money spent, and that has to change.

    Nothing will change as long as this hobby is dominated by middle-aged men and younger guys who aspire to own the toys of middle-aged men.

    • That’s right, the middle-aged male perspective is intrinsically narrow. (Just as the middle-aged female perspective might be). You’re suggesting that audiophiles might be stuck in a mobius loop but I think perhaps not. Younger guys haven’t grown up with their gender roles being so tightly defined as older guys might have. Or rather, gender role definition for Gen Y isn’t the same as it was for baby boomers.

      • I think this is the most accurate thing you’ve said so far. This isn’t about men and women, it’s about two generations colliding. And while the younger generation complains that the older generation is somehow out of touch, the older generation thinks the younger generation has lost its values–something that’s been going on for a very long time. If I tried to use an ad hominem attack–something that occurred just a little too easily on the Hoffman forum yesterday–on a 75 year-old WWII vet, I’d probably be smacked around. It’s too easy for the younger generation to blame the older generation for all the minute little problems in the world, despite the rather obvious fact that the older generations did all the heavy lifting.

        So lighten up.

        • You won’t have people tell you what to do – disabuse yourself of the use of WAF – and yet you’re happy to tell me what to do: ‘lighten up’. See the contradiction there?

          Like I said, I’m happy to agree to disagree.

          • I “won’t have people telling me what to do’? What does that even mean, John? That was an incredibly weak response to some very valid points.

  3. The term wife-acceptance factor seems quite reasonable, in that a person’s wife may have a level of acceptance based on some aspect of the equipment. i.e. it consumes 1/3 of the room and there is no where to put the couch. It would seem perfectly reasonable to use that term if that was a factor. Converting terms to acronyms seems to be a step insensitive but I’m sure it originated on internet forums where acronyms abound. The problem is when it becomes a throw away comment. I’m sure some men even use it to describe anything that *they* find isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

    It’s a timely article as I’ve been frequently shocked at some of the terms used in articles and forums in the audiophile world. However, as a slight counter point, it is refreshing for men to freely speak their minds. It’s sometimes difficult to get men to speak about anything at all. I presume that the percentage of men that engage in forums is minute compared with the men who read but never enter the discussion. I’ve also found that the audiophile community consists of a large percentage of respectful, intelligent people.

    It’s interesting that Yolanda Beattie primarily responded in terms of “the industry” although she does touch on the hobby further down. I think for the bulk of audiophiles it is more about the hobby than the industry although they are intrinsically linked. As an example my first pair of speakers were DIY using Fostex drivers and ply panels from Bunnings, a far cry from much of the audiophile “industry”.

    However, most if not all professional industries have very high standards with regards to women (and pretty much everything). It would seem that the first place to raise the standards would be those who are profiting from the audiophile industry. I have seen similarly disrespectful terms on sites which earn an income from the industry.

  4. Thought provoking article, thanks. I’ve been bothered by the sheer dearth of female hi-fi enthusiasts in my friends’ circle and I try to be a hobby “missionary” whenever I get the opportunity. I haven’t yet figured out why the overall response is a shoulder shrug by women and the conversation quickly moves on to other topics. I haven’t encountered any serious interest at all and I get the impression that our love for music is not understood at all. It came a bit as a surprise to read your words indicating that this is a hobby were male chauvinists don’t want any female participation – among my music friends, the opposite could be said. I always thought (and my friends agree) that it would be in our interest to get women to buy in to our hobby. While I enjoy those Saturday afternoons with friends listening to music, they are all male. I’d rather also be able to share this love of music with my significant other. She would rather watch CSI instead of listen to music. I’m at a loss for an explanation as to why that is.
    Another note about your article, specifically your critical thoughts on WAF and man-cave. In the average US household, the woman makes the majority of the decisions about what gets through the front door and displayed in the home. As such, WAF is a valid expression and feminists can try all they want to make this a politically incorrect expression. The “man cave” is an outgrowth of this gender relationship, and often it is the only room in the house were the male has complete free reign. In an ideal world, these boundaries would be erased and hi-fi would become a hobby that is enjoyed and debated by both male and female.

    • Be careful here. I didn’t say this is a hobby where male chauvinists don’t want any female participation. Beattie asked (I quote): “why do some men in hi-fi not want their hobby of choice to be female friendly? Why do they wish to protect their pursuit from female infiltration?”. Then RobD came in with “Unfortunately, male chauvinism is a prevalent attitude.”

      WAF is a valid expression? You’ve explained that it is for you. It isn’t for me – I think it’s patronising, as if the only input I’d seek from my wife is if she approves of how a piece of gear looks. Mind you, but I’m not trying to tell you what you can and can’t say – you are your own person. My point is that you can’t keep using terms likes “WAF” at the same time wonder why (some) women stay away from the hobby.

  5. Has it ever been considered that women who live with quality Hi Fi along with their mostly male partners have no need to enter the market?
    My wife’s opinion counts in my purchases (I’m sure she humours me sometimes when she knows how much I REALLY want something, but she does have a “good ear”) as we live with and enjoy the result together, every day.


  6. This article bookends nicely with recent articles about increasing exposure to affordable hifi at audio shows and opening avenues to the average person/man/woman in the street. The diatribe against the youth(kids these days), affordable audiophile gear, the average person and now women seem to share similar assumptions, stereotypes and generalisations.

    I find that any person (male or female) with even a slight interest in music can readily appreciate exposure to quality music (system, recording, format) whether it’s coming from budget or pricey gear. However, as a casual audiophile or any hobbyist/enthusiast I must focus on the human connection or I will very quickly lose people, regardless of gender with any of the following:
    – obsessive traits (most people just want to enjoy the music, not participate in audiophile-itus narrowing of a seemingly infinite number of possibilities for speaker placement, cables, playing the same piece of music repeatedly for A/B comparisons, etc)
    – model numbers/letters, technical jargon, alienating vocabulary or club behavior of exclusivity.

  7. So wanted to stay out of this one!………..just couldn’t resist it. John stay with me on this one as it may stoke your boiler.
    On one level and another all the comments I’ve read in the articles including this one have in my opinion some degree of validity. However it all comes down to cushions. I don’t know of any men who find the need to have cushions on the bed or the chair in the corner, however once in place you can appreciate how they add to the overall effect of the room. The same goes for HIFi, my partner is interested in the quality of sound once in place but has no interest in looking for the best kit.

    For example I invited my son and partner to a very important decision last year, what speaker upgrade should I make. My partner being the cushion addict (yes it’s getting close to the WAF comment) was worried that my choice would spoil the look of the room, however we all got involved on the choice of speaker which came down to sound values only.

    After A to B to C comparison listening in the shop with my own front end for about 45 mins. The look in her eye and the scrunched up face was all I needed to agree the best speakers to purchase she said “that one sounded thin, the other one was warmer and fuller, that other one is tinny” spot on.

    I think this is typical with a small sprinkling of women taking an active interest as we do.

    It is what it is, the book says woman are from Venus, men are from Mars……. long may it continue.

    Yes the cushions look good but please don’t buy any more!

    • Mike – boiler far from stoked. These are your direct experiences and I’m glad you took time to share them here. It might be that there IS a general indifference towards hifi among women but the language that we use might also keep those that would otherwise step closer away from the game.

  8. Sticking to stereotypes, guys are geeks with an interest in gadgets and gear. Meanwhile, I reckon women listen to music.

    I think that women do things for a purpose: they buy a car for this purpose, or that purpose. They don’t give a stuff if it’s a V12, hybrid, catalytic whatsit. “Does it fulfil my need? Then I’ll have it”. “Let the guys worry about vanadium spark plug leads with 0.00x% titanium. I’m going for whizz round the countryside”. Meanwhile Joe and Fred are up each others arses deciding whether the spark plug leads with 0.00y% titanium would have been better. Guys try out 6 different USB cables. Meanwhile women enjoy Vivaldi, or the latest from TV On The Radio. In general, of course. Who’s got it right?

    I have two children, a son and a daughter. I tried not to, but my son liked playing with trucks and stuff like that, and he chose blue as the colour for his bedroom. My daughter liked Hello Kitty and Barbie. Need I tell you what colour my daughter chose for her bedroom.

    I can only conclude that men and women are different. Not better, just different. Thank goodness for that.

  9. “any demographic that can dominate an idea, industry, organisation etc. enjoys some power or privilege simply because they belong to that demographic, not because they necessarily have innate talent and ability over the minority demographic.” That’s the most succinct description of India’s caste system that I’ve ever read.

  10. I’m really pleased you brought up this issue. I’ve owned high end equipment for decades and fit the stereotype (male, older with dosh) but I’ve always been repulsed by this male dominated business and try to have as little to do with it as possible.
    Thinking about it, the people who design, build and market high end equipment are generally highly driven entrepreneurial engineers, a profession with relatively very few females.i think many of the problems start there. There may be a few female engineers in high end audio but they’re certainly a tiny, almost invisible minority. When it comes to designing their products engineers tend to be, well, design challenged and so we get these ugly tasteless testosterone filled monstrosities from room filling 2 metre tall speakers to oddly shaped amps that weigh as much as a human. When it comes to explaining (marketing) their products engineers fall back on what they know best, numbers and measurements. While this approach to design, build and market may appeal to a few women the very existence of the term WAF shows that it doesn’t appeal to large numbers of women. As mentioned this seems naf as it cuts off large numbers of the potential market. It’s not just sexist, it’s bad business. It’s especially odd as women love music, just look at who can gracefully move their bodies to music and who can’t! It’s not the love of music that chases women off, it’s the approach of those selling the kit.
    Interestingly since buying Beats Apple has broken the mold with lots of young women in the latest ads wearing and enjoying headphones. Ok, hopefully Apple will also improve the ridiculous bass heavy sound that comes out of Beats phones but Apple gets many things about design and marketing that have been lacking in this industry for too long.

  11. Sounds like you’re confusing the message with the messenger, John. As I just said on the SH forum, it’s a luxury for journalists to object to the use of the term “WAF,” but people in the industry have to deal with it every day whenever they talk to retail customers. So I’m going to say that this entire article is disingenuous and based on a false premise.

    • Hi Marc – I’ve been following the discussion over at I kinda feel bad for singling out your article but my premise for doing so was TWO-fold. That 1) you used WAF and 2) you wrote that you “have” a woman. I thought the two *together* bolstered my point that the language we use can be off-putting to women. I’m not advocating censorship – I was very clear in the final para that I’m NOT telling people what they can and can’t say. My point is the words we use have consequences in the behaviour of others.

      • So we’ve gotten to the point where even mentioning the letters W, A and F is socially unacceptable and politically incorrect? Most audiophiles are aware of WAF because they’ve been reading it in audio magazines for decades. In that context, WAF has never been presented as something demeaning or oppressive to women, only a phenomenon that does happen in the real world and affects the bottom line of businesses. (I supplied plenty of real-world examples at the SH Forum). If women such as Cookie and Kirsten want to discuss their objections to the term, well, that’s opening up the discussion. After hearing their complaints and the way they interpreted the phrase, I would have been happy to never say it again. But “making an example” of me because I merely mentioned WAF in passing is closing that discussion. It’s sanctimonious and reeks of the Thought Police. And as far as mentioning that I “had” someone, well that’s in the loving context of a couple who have each other, not of a man who treats a woman as a possession. They even put that verb in wedding vows, don’t they? So color me as offended as those who want to strike the words wife, acceptance and factor from our language.

        • “Making an example”? C’mon now Marc, that’s not what I was doing. I could’ve referenced any number of people who’d used the term WAF in their editorials or reviews. I cited your post because it was a) recent b) you deployed the ‘WAF’ terminology and c) you “had” a woman. On the latter you’ve since clarified – thank you – but without said clarification it sounded possessive. (I’m pretty sure Mal politely objected to your use of that verb also? If that’s not the case, please correct me).

          This isn’t the thought police. This isn’t censorship – you can continue to use WAF as much you see fit. My post was about how language choices can have consequences. That both Cookie and Kirsten took time to respond to your use of WAF says *something*, doesn’t it? Or are we ALL ‘wrong’? Having followed your numerous comments in the Hoffman thread at length yesterday, I think we might just have to agree to disagree.

          • Today’s been a day where a lot of people have been calling me to not only support what I wrote, but to complain about this sudden decision by a chosen few to proclaim that the term WAF is somehow offensive to woman. And yes, some of these people are women, and they are going to enter the discussion very soon.

            It’s this simple: if you’re offended by something someone else says, you have made the choice the be offended by it–especially if it’s something that was taken out of context or merely filtered through your unique life experiences. In a court of law you would have to prove intent, and you would fail. What you haven’t taken into consideration is that words, phrases and ideas have different connotations to different people, and just because you don’t like a certain word doesn’t mean you have the authority to banish it and attack people who still use it.

            Also, Kirstin has specifically said that she was not aware that I had written an article on the subject at the same time she did, so you’re wrong about that, too. If you’re a journalist, don’t you have an obligation to check your facts?

            As far as my use of “have” when it comes to Colleen, she laughed out loud when I told her you objected to it. I told two more people in the industry and they did the HUGE eye-roll gesture. Mal didn’t object to it, and neither did Kirstin or anyone else–just you. Scot Hull edited the piece…do you think he wanted me to go out and put my foot in my mouth while representing his website?

            If it was me, I’d be re-writing this piece so that it conforms to some sort of journalistic standard.

          • I’m pleased that people have phoned you with words of support Marc. Given your seeming unwillingness to let us agree to disagree, it sounds like you’ll need them. Sounds like you need a hug.

            I was clearly wrong about the motivation for Kirsten’s article (mea culpa) but judging from her comments in the Hoffman thread, I’d say she wasn’t down with WAF one tiny bit.

            I’d ask you to consider looking past your own sense of injustice here (that I somehow singled you out) just for a moment and *think about my broader point*: that whilst I’m not personally offended by anyone’s use of WAF, others might find it exclusionary and that, in some quarters, it’s why women don’t feel welcome in audiophile circles. We need to look beyond our own established behaviours and at how our language affects female participation in this industry/hobby.

            Tell me: is your annoyance the result of a) people suddenly saying ‘WAF’ isn’t OK or b) because I referenced your article directly?

            Re-write the article? (Are you telling me what to do again? Hehe.) But OK, I’ll bite: what did I get ‘wrong’? What would you have me change?

          • Let’s discuss your article, John. Your entire article is based on the fact that you object to two things I said. One, I mentioned “WAF” in my article, and we all know that’s a bad, bad thing, that in your new world order the word “wife” is the new C-word or N-word. But let’s look at the context of my use of WAF:

            “We’ve tried marketing pink turntables and designing components that have a high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), and so far, I don’t think those measures have re-ignited high-end audio sales among women. ”

            Look at the first two words there, John. “We’ve” refers to the high-end audio industry, something I’m part of. “Tried,” if you haven’t noticed, is past tense. So what I’m saying is that the industry tried WAF and it didn’t work. So how do you object to its use in my article in that context? Because you do feel that “WAF” is a dirty, hurtful word that shouldn’t ever be used in mixed company? Guess what, John…you don’t get to make that decision for the rest of us–especially to the industry that gives you products to review so that your website gets hits and you can make money. Talk about someone who wants to tell others what to do!

            Second, well, you’ve already backpedaled on the whole “I have a woman” thing because almost no one agrees with you. “To have and to hold, from this day forward, ’til death do us part.” Sound familiar? Do you want to start picketing churches to stop using that phrase during wedding vows because it offends your sensibilities? Good luck with that.

            So the first part of the article is based upon two false premises. The rest of the article you hand off to an “expert,” whose opinion has been formed despite the fact that she’s not really familiar with how the term evolved in high-end audio. So the question is, what did you really write about, John? This is the flimsiest excuse for audio journalism I’ve seen–which is why it appeared on your vanity site instead of a real publication. If I was your editor, I would have sent you back to the drawing board. If I was your college professor and this was a term paper, I’d give you a D at best. It’s not well-researched nor thoroughly considered.

            I didn’t tell you what to do, John. I said that if I was you, I would re-write the article. But instead I think I’ll write another article. I’m thinking of calling it “The Darko Dissection.” Catchy, huh?

          • Whatever you feel most appropriate, Marc. I clearly didn’t anticipate such a strong reaction from you and I am sorry for the personal offense that I appear to have caused you.

          • For the record, I think “have a woman” is some depressingly poor wording. I didn’t complain about it, though, because I took the opportunity to laugh hysterically about it instead. I may have a woman in my life, but I don’t “have a woman.” She’s not chattel.

            That said, I don’t see the phrasing as necessarily problematic on its own. Nor do I particularly view “WAF” as especially problematic on its own. The problems arise in context, and this context is one of many, many behaviors and unconscious linguistic slips that add together to make a not terribly welcoming culture. “Insular” might be the nicest way of describing it.

            It’s not about WAF. WAF is just one symptom. You’re arguing about whether a sniffle is a crisis instead of dealing with the fact that we have the flu.

            In context, “have a woman” does indeed become a problem. It’s another sniffle.

          • Having a different opinion about this issue is perfectly okay with me. As Mal and I have already discussed, in an epic night of arguing, it’s ultimately about differences of opinion and not an absolute right or wrong. Mal doesn’t feel comfortable with the wording “having a woman” because he has a different relationship with Kirsten than I have with Colleen. Colleen thinks it’s not only okay, but sexy and loving for us to say we “have” each other. And that’s why making generalizations about individual relationships between husbands and wives so that a small minority of people are vindicated only serves to piss the majority off.

            As I’ve said repeatedly, if people want to respectfully open a conversation about discontinuing the use of WAF in the industry, then let’s go for it. That exactly what Kirsten and Cookie did in their articles. But when you point to a person and say “you’re wrong for using that word” and there is absolutely no precedent for that proclamation, then you’re going to fail at creating the change you so desperately want.

            Remember that next time, John.

          • Marc – I didn’t say ‘you are wrong for using that word’. Copy/pasting from one of my earlier comments: “This isn’t the thought police. This isn’t censorship – you can continue to use WAF as much you see fit.”


            I now understand that you are totally down for a conversation about WAF etc. but what you’re NOT down with is my referencing your article on PTA. Do I have that correct? I’d like to clarify why I did so! For me, this is not a ‘single issue’ (WAF) conversation.

            There were in fact FOUR reasons why I referenced your post on PTA:

            1) your article was the most recent that I’d read on the subject of women in audio in which you suggested that the issue of low female participation would resolve itself so we should’t really worry about it. I disagreed.

            2) you used ‘WAF’. I wasn’t down with this phrasing. In fact, it gave rise to the point of my article: that that language like WAF, SWMBO, ‘minister for war and finance’ etc. probably has consequences for female participation. Which brings us neatly to…

            3) you used “have” a woman. I wasn’t down with this either. I felt it reinforced my idea that subtle trip-ups in language are an issue.

            4) because you are Colleen Cardas’ partner, one of the most prominent women in the US scene. I felt this was important background context that set you apart from other commentators on this particular issue.

            None of these reasons in isolation really necessitated my name-checking you at all but *all four taken together*, I felt that they did.

            Like I said previously, I’m sorry I caused you offence in doing so.

            To summarise, I find it kinda of ironic that an article about (lack of) female involvement in audio is not only a little bit dismissive of it being an issue – that we shouldn’t worry about it, that the market will sort it out – but that the same article also uses language that possibly contributes to the problem. On the specific of said language (points 2 and 3 above), you and I still do not agree; and that’s OK.

            I thought soliciting a professional feminist’s opinion might lend weight to my concerns or, alternatively, dismiss them as superfluous. And who better to speak from a female point of view than a woman. But not just any woman – Yolanda Beattie deals with exclusionary language issues every day and in many different industries.

            It’s not only the message that matters but the language that we use to articulate that message. This somewhat blurs the line between message and messenger.

            And that (to borrow from Forrest Gump) is all I have to say about that. I’m off to enjoy the sunshine – have a great weekend!

  12. One of the most insulting things I’ve ever read was a review from several years back of a top of the line Legacy speaker, where the reviewer mentioned that the “diamond shaped” grills might give them the nod of approval from women.

    I don’t think “let the market sort it out” is necessarily the right approach. If that was going to work, it already would have. I think we have to face certain facts, and then take those into consideration if we’re going to try to encourage more women to become interested in hifi.

    Women, in general, do not seem to be interested in “the gear.” There are obviously exceptions, but when you read in reviews about bipolar output transistors here and paper-in-oil capacitors there, I just don’t see a lot of women being interested in those details.

    At the same time, I think some manufacturers are going to have to put SOME emphasis on aesthetics if they want to have any appeal to women at all. Spectral components for example are pretty much ugly as sin, and I don’t see a lot of appeal to women there. Peachtree’s products on the other hand I think do a good job of appealing to both genders.

    The industry has been operating on the 17″ box in black or silver standard forever, and that probably should change. Devialet and Wadia have some good ideas on how to move hifi design forward.

    Finally, the whole point of hifi is ultimately about the music. Women may not necessarily want a room full of Pass Labs Class A tanks and 300lb. speakers, but women like music as much as men. Hifi companies should try to reach them that way.

    • Nailed it. And yes, of all the brands that my non-audiophile friends (male and female) comment on the most when they drop by is Peachtree Audio.

  13. Hi John,

    Excellent article as always, it even made me stop lurking!

    A surprising number of my college friends (of both genders) are interested in vinyl & dedicated audio. I’d actually argue it’s easier to get into the hobby (at the very least HeadFi) during college just because you have no one dictating your spacial needs besides a roommate and discretionary income.

    I have about a 50/50 gender ratio out of my audio friends, but whenever we go to local record stores the regulars are VERY surprised to see any women under 25 walk through the door. Even though a sample size of 6-10 people is small, it gives me hope of a more gender neutral hobby will emerge, as a lot of younger consumers focus on sharing music of being a “club”.

    • Welcome Carl. You make very interesting point about head-fi purchases being more centred around individual taste than having to satisfy all members of a household.

  14. Hi, it’s the professional feminist here. What a fascinating conversation thread this article has kicked off. And a really important one too. I understand why many women and men eye-roll when taken to task on language that someone declares as non-PC or offensive. Sometimes it’s tempting to just say harden up – they’re just three little words, boiled down to three little letters: ‘WAF’. What’s the big deal? And on their own, those three little letters really aren’t a big deal. But the point being made in this article and in many of the subsequent comments (particularly from the female audiophiles) is WAF is just the mainstream, commercially acceptable way of saying women aren’t credible in this passion pursuit. That’s the point that needs to be explored, debated and discussed. That’s what I think every audiophile should take a moment to reflect on, and what many of you in this conversation are doing.

    Given your much loved hobby is so dominated by men, and multiple women are telling you they feel put off and excluded by the boys club, then take some ownership of that. Call out exclusionary behaviour and language. Have an intelligent discussion about how it impacts women and men in your hobby and in the industry more broadly. Avoid being defensive because frankly, we’ve all said sexist, racist, insensitive things at some point in our life, and most of the time we probably weren’t aware we were being offensive or were just having a laugh. And instead of being defensive, own it. And move on more aware of how behaviour and language shapes everything.

    • Very well put, Yolanda, thanks!

      As I put mentioned in my piece, it’s not as though I believe that the term “WAF” is the sole thing keeping women from being involved in this hobby. However, its ubiquity as a term to describe aesthetics and household relations in both professional and casual writing in the hobby is irksome — particularly when women’s involvement is so rarely discussed in terms OTHER than “WAF.”

      I honestly don’t think many people think about the implications; I’ve actually had dealers say directly to me of a speaker I’m admiring, “Well, it doesn’t have a very high Wife Acceptance Factor,” as though they don’t even recognize that they’re talking to a woman (and a wife) who finds them quite attractive. It’s kind of bizarre, when you think about it; imagine a salesperson selling a man a tailored suit, while all the while talking about how men don’t care about clothes.

      • In my opinion, WAF doesn’t come up very often with people inside the industry. It mostly appears in two places: audio journalism and in interactions between salespeople and retail customers.

        I’ll certainly never use it casually again, unless I continue to write about this issue in the future–which I probably will. But if I hear someone else say it, I’m not going to correct them because it’s ill-mannered in my opinion.

        • That’s interesting, because it’s been used to me by exhibitors at audio shows while I was wearing a Press badge, as well. I suspect that part of the reason that you don’t think it comes up very often is that you aren’t “hearing” it — it’s not going to pop out at you the way it does for me, since for you it’s just part of the vocabulary and the shorthand.

          At any rate, even if it DID only come up in audio journalism and in interactions between salespeople and customers (and the boards, as well, don’t forget its ubiquity in the forums), that would be unfortunate, because those are the primary interactions most women audiophiles will have with the industry and the hobby.

    • Yolanda, there’s a huge problem with this type of reasoning because there’s a gap in the logic. “Wife Acceptance Factor” does not automatically translate to “we think women aren’t credible in this passion pursuit.” Some reviewers have misused the term, especially when they say things like “this amp is so beautiful that even women will love it.” That, of course, is sexist.

      What’s not sexist is when a man comes into a high-end audio store and looks at a component and tells the salesman that if he purchased this, he would probably annoy his wife. This is VERY common in our industry, and as an industry we have to consider it in our marketing efforts in order to improve profits. This very private conversation between a retail customer and an audio salesman has somehow drifted into the mainstream consciousness–which includes audio journalism–where it’s been held up to the light by people who are twisting it into something that they can rail against…blatant sexism!

      If you have a problem with the word “wife” and want to substitute “spouse” or something else, that’s nice. But it doesn’t apply to at least 95% of the cases. And I don’t know any one in the industry who would be dumb enough to mention WAF to a same-sex couple, or a single female or even a female audiophile who’s married to a non-audiophile man. So that argument is moot.

      Finally, let’s talk about my use of the term, which set John off in the first place. My specific reference to it discussed the fact that WAF was tried by the industry and it didn’t work. Why would anyone in their right mind object to that statement? Is it because we’re no longer allowed to use “WAF” in the industry, even though it’s something we have to deal with on a daily basis in the industry, something that’s brought up by the retail customers who pay our salaries? Well, guess what. No one got that memo. The idea that even mentioning the existence of “WAF” is exclusionary behavior and language is, in and of itself, exclusionary behavior. You’re trying to tell people to use different terms for a phrase that actually describes the situation perfectly. As a writer I object to this sort of censorship–and that’s what it is–and I will continue to advocate a more honest and open approach to this issue.

      Have you ever read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut? I highly recommend it, because it’s become fact instead of fiction.

      • Let’s absolutely look at your use of the term in your article, Marc:

        “We’ve tried marketing pink turntables and designing components that have a high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), and so far, I don’t think those measures have re-ignited high-end audio sales among women. ”

        This is exactly — exactly! — the use of WAF that seems most harmful. We’ve tried for high WAF by making pink turntables? I understand the point of your article is that such measures are pointless, but the point of this conversation — the point you seem intent on missing — is that using that language is actively driving people away.

        Look at your assumptions there. We’ve tried to attract women with WAF — assuming that all women are wives, and assuming that all are no more than assistants in any decision making process. Pink turntables? Why? Because that’s what women — wives, in this case — like?

        Your phrasing, in its entirety, exemplifies the problem. The fact that you, one of the most forward thinking folks in the industry, one who is himself partnered with a woman in an endeavor that bears her name, still falls into these linguistic traps is, I’m afraid, telling.

        • You know, Mal, when people can’t tell the difference between the message and the messenger, I just sort of throw my hands up. Over the last couple of days, Colleen and I have been asking all sorts of women–in and out of the industry–what they think about WAF and not one has said it was offensive or demeaning to women. So you’re going to have to provide a little more proof and a little less rhetoric before we agree.

  15. I just have to point to my hifi and start to open my mouth and my wife sighs and her eyes glaze over; could this be a clue…?

  16. It’s true that ‘WAF’ is inherently sexist. Though many of the forums I go to have started using Spouse Approval Factor (SAF) which is much more neutral and still talks about a real phenomena.

    The issue with saying I ‘have’ a wife is nonsense though. While it may infer possession, there is nothing suggesting that women don’t also say “I have a husband….”. Anecdotally my wife uses this phrasing as well and I don’t see any issue with it.

    While it’s obvious that Hi-Fi shows are dominated by men, I would really like to know why? Are women being explicitly excluded? Or is the way shows are run these days just something that doesn’t appeal to women. I can tell you that Hi-Fi shows definitely don’t appeal to me since it seems like all they play is Diane Krall instead of music people actually listened to. Maybe the key isn’t just to get women interested but to get everyone more interested.

    Something that I have found very interesting though is that headphone manufacturering seems to be dominated by women. Watching a tour of the Grados and Sennheiser factories showed women involved in almost every step of the process. For Sennheiser they actually said that they seek people with experience as florists or hairdressers since it involves fine motor skills that are needed to assemble headphones. Schiit audio is known mainly through Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat but manufacturing is primarily done through Rina, a woman. It seems like women are largely responsible for making the equipment that us men go gaga over.

    • I agree with you 100% on the music played at audio shows, Gael. And thanks for sharing the examples of where women play key roles in the manufucturing process.

      However, it’s not “I have a wife” that’s stirred up controversy but “I have a woman”. Can you see the subtle difference?

    • I’m not sure how it is at audio shows, my experience is more in comic/fandom conventions, but sometimes these events just don’t feel safe. (I’m not saying it’s not safe mind you, just that it doesn’t feel that way.) It’s not a place you want to go alone, and sometimes being with only another woman doesn’t make you feel the most secure. If you go with a man, good luck getting any of the sales reps to talk to you. I’ve been at gaming conventions and will ask a question, only for the answer to be addressed to my (non-gamer) husband. It begins to feel like a waste of time.

  17. After all this (interesting) discussion, all the attempts to wiggle out of the semantic faux-pas and all the attempts to belittle the problem of the male-domination in audio-related articles/forum posts, I still do not see any solid resolution.

    And I still think that the problem will persist well after all of us will be long gone…

    Most men just don’t think this is a problem – on any level (semantic, ethical, sexist, cultural – take your pick). And that is the source of the problem…

  18. Reviewers tend to be highly gear oriented when defining demographics. Actual listeners tend to be sound oriented. The awesome steve hoffmann forums is full of discussions on the sound of recordings. Sound quality of a recording is by far the most important factor in the audio chain.

    John, your whole perspective on hi fi demographics would change dramatically if you started to divide people into conscious listeners and multitasking listeners (put cause before effect). A hi fi consumer must be a conscious listener to begin with. It is pointless to spend lots of cash on hi fi unless you can have music as the sole focus of your attention span. So are there as many women as there are men who are conscious listeners? My guess is not. Music becomes so engaging and beautiful when it becomes the only thing one is focusing on that spending money on audio gear becomes an inevitable consequence, assuming one has the disposable income to spare.

    So Do women love music as much as men do? If conscious listening is the unit of measure, the answer is most likely a NO.

    I conscious listen, therefore i spend.

    • With respect, Bernard, I’m having difficulty following your logic and how you reached your conclusion. In your first paragraph, only the third sentence seem to make any sense, and seems a tautology.

      In your second paragraph, while you may have experienced what you describe, I would find it hard to believe that any assessment of listening habits and listening styles, which also mapped gender as a variable (itself a construct), would yield the difference you posit. If representation is any indication, among performers or audience, your reasoning seems to be without basis in fact. Just go to a concert (any kind, on stage or in the audience) and look around you.

      Is it surprising that women, who might be interested in audio reproduction (and recording), might also be less inclined openly participate and engage with the largely male constituency, given these types of prevailing attitudes and sentiment? Are we surprised that hi-fi, as a hobby (and many others – think golf), is described as ‘pale, male and stale’?

      Please tell me you are joking.

      • 1) I am not a native English speaker. So, yes, sometimes I have to struggle to get my points across. Sorry about that!

        2) A pre-requisite to become an audiophile is to engage in conscious listening (not just claiming that “you love music”). Audiophile grade equipment is only worth the price tag if music becomes the center of your full attention. Cause = Conscious listening. Effect = Buying gear

        3) Demographics of Audio consumers and the appreciation of music listening in general should be divided in two large categories (IMO): i) Conscious listeners 2) multitasking listeners. Highly revealing findings will come if those categories are applied.

        4) Recorded music is not the same as live music. Hi-Fi is all about recorded music. My educated guess is that women are less likely to engage in conscious listening and, therefor, they buy a lot less hi-fi gear. Just a guess.

        5) I am not sexist!! I wrote my dissertation paper on a French-Peruvian feminist called Flora Tristán and when I have a daughter Flora will be her name.

        • I agree with you Bernard that loving music isn’t all that is required to be an audiophile. This pursuit also demands an interest in the quality of its reproduction.

        • I agree that it takes conscious listening to be an audiophile. However, I am skeptical of theories that break this down along a gender divide; my experience is that most people in general don’t engage in close listening.

          However, of the people I know who do engage in close listening when given the opportunity and a system that rewards it, I haven’t noticed any gender bias. I realize this is simply “anecdata” based on my own experience, but I think it’s important not to draw too many gendered conclusions about how men and women experience audio.

  19. thank you for this well reasoned article. my partner and I sigh rolled at some of those offended by it, but they did compel me to add my two cents…

    but first, how about CAF (cohabitant approval factor) or NAAF :p (no audiophile acceptance factor) ? My partner has no issues with my JBL babboon butt 4425s in the living room but my dogs do not as they like to roughhouse, so they do not accept my hobby at all!

    Most of my friends, irrespective of gender, does focussed listening and are fanatical about music. And they care about the quality of its reproduction, maybe not all are at Stereophile “Class A” degree but those who could afford it would lavish on one kit or another.

    However, the greatest gender divide appears to be bragging rights (“my cables are thicker than yours”), absolutism (“Everything Wilson makes are overpriced! “) and the need to be “objectively” RIGHT – these attributes are most commonly seen amongst male contributors of audio related hobbies.

    In my personal experience, non audiophiles, actually trust their ears more. They tend to go for something that communicates music to them meaningfully, some, irregardless of gender, would care about the aesthetics, others cost, but all told, most, if they love music, cares about how good it sounds – to them, and preferably not in pink.

    WAF irks me, and any jurnos who opt for the phrase I tend to skip thru. Aside from the obvious, it suggests to me antiquated, and patronising thinking. It might be funny when Ken Kessler or whoever coined it in the 80s, but like “wickkked” it is well past its due date.

  20. In a way, what Yolanda said really struck a chord.

    The whole community in essence trades on exclusivity.

    I feel that this exclusivity goes deeper than elitism or status, it is a certain sense of escapism from “real life”. When when the reality of gender issues (or sometimes current affairs) enters the dialogue, people become a little uncomfortable if not downright protective/argumentative.

    sometimes both jurnos and the industry gets it wrong. When a salesperson at a headphone specialist suggested to a female friend of mine to try a pair of bling-bling Monster headphones, she quipped to me “how old did he think I am? 14?” instead, she requested to try out Grado SR125i, AKG (forgot the model) and Beyer DT770s. And while she preferred the old Skool look of the Grados, she opted for the Beyer for it’s “detail oriented sound” and comfort. I asked her why she liked the look of the Grados, and she said “they look like proper headphones, not ones that are trying so hard to look like anything but.”

    Most of our other friends, mainly gen Y and some millennials, feel like wise. A few grado owners, a lot of audiotechnicas and some beyers, akgs and Sennis in the mix of genders, not a beat in sight…