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No Girls Allowed: Why I Hate “Wife Acceptance Factor”


I recently got embroiled in the old recurring chestnut, “Why aren’t there women audiophiles?”

From my perspective, this should be a pretty short conversation. Someone asks the question, and I (or one of the other women I know who enjoy the hobby) pops up and waves. “Oh hai, I am of the female persuasion and I quite enjoy this hobby!” The end, right?

Nah. From there it turns into, “Ok, besides you. Why aren’t there more women audiophiles?” At which point someone trots out something about how women hate unsightly cables, or just don’t listen to music, or aren’t detail-oriented enough, and then someone tells the story about how his ex-wife sold his record collection, and someone says “WAF, amirite?” and then all prospects of an actual discussion swiftly recede as everyone finds a comfy stereotype to settle into.

But it’s a compelling question, nonetheless, isn’t it? Why this hobby is so male-dominated? I mean, it’s not as much of a sausage-fest as some internet pundits would have you believe; there are women in every part of the industry, and there are most certainly women who are active audiophiles, attending shows and reading reviews and participating in online forums – not to mention many more music-loving women who wouldn’t call themselves “audiophiles,” but can be found poring through the used vinyl racks, penlight in hand, or who have painstakingly ripped every CD they own in FLAC and spend hours creating playlists.

There’s a whole host of social and cultural factors that one could point to as explanation for the relative lack of women in the hobby; I tend to skip over biological explanations along the lines of “women just aren’t wired that way,” by the way, because a) I think it’s just impossible to isolate biological determinism given all the other factors, and b) such arguments make me roll my eyes uncontrollably. Aside from that, there’s the fact that it’s only recently that women began to gain economic parity with men. There’s the fact that, historically, hi-fi stores have been male-dominated spaces, similar to comic book shops in the 1980s and 1990s. There are also cultural factors, like the different ways that young men and young women are encouraged to interact with technology, and all the myriad ways that boys are girls are subtly guided toward one interest or another. A determined grad student could probably write a whole thesis on the topic. I can’t tell you precisely why there aren’t more women involved than there are, in part because there isn’t just one reason.

I can tell you, though, a little bit about why it took me as long to get into hi-fi as it did.

I should really have been a shoo-in. I listened to music constantly from an early age, and after my older brother fixed the family turntable when I was in middle school, I started building my own record collection out of the dollar bins at the secondhand stores. The thrill of the hunt started early, as well; in ninth grade, I’d already put together an entire Simon & Garfunkel discography on vinyl, including a copy of The Paul Simon Songbook, which was a pretty heady rarity to hunt down in Alma, MI. By the time I graduated from college, I had a pretty good record collection – which I was quickly grinding down to nothing on a trash-picked Realistic turntable. The last stylus anyone in my family had bought — a purchase that took place somewhere around 1989 and required a two-hour drive – was more than ten years old and it honestly didn’t occur to me that there were still people making gear for playing LPs, other than a vague awareness of DJ equipment. And when I did find out? It took me even longer to figure out that it was something attainable, something for me.

The first hi-fi store I ever went to was a pretty dismal affair: most of their floor space was given over to home theater and outdoor speakers shaped like rocks. My then-boyfriend was picking out a pair of B&W speakers, and I was along for the ride. The sales guy never bothered to introduce himself to me, and the speakers became part of a system I was actively discouraged from touching. Not a good introduction. I had my boom box in my office, which I could reliably make work and no one looked anxious and sweaty if I touched it. I expect if you’d asked him, my then-boyfriend would have said that I had no interest in the big stereo, it was too complicated for my tastes, I was happier with my little CD player.

It wasn’t until several years and a (retrospectively) unsurprising break-up later that I really got properly introduced to hi-fi. I very quickly grew to love pursuing great sound and the thrill of finding a Thing, a beautiful Thing that is functional and beautiful and makes lovely music – in my case, my first Thing was a Technics SL-10 that I bought from a crazy Russian in Quebec. It arrived wrapped in his dirty laundry and it worked and it was mine! All mine! Soon came reading everything I could on the internet, and the shows and some of the best people I know in the world, and pretty soon I was writing for audiophile blogs because it didn’t seem like enough to just listen any more, I wanted to be involved.

I love this community, I really do. There is nothing headier than shared enthusiasm and arguing over minutia with like-minded people. In a very weird and yet real way, when I found audiophiles, I found my people.

WAF2Which is why I hate Wife Acceptance Factor.

I joke about it, mind. My husband and I have a running gag about how my version of WAF involves 15” drivers. But every time I run into that stupid phrase, I feel a bit like biting someone. Because obviously it’s the little lady who doesn’t get it, she’s perfectly happy with her Bose, all she cares about are the looks and whether it takes up too much space in the living room. It automatically sets up a dichotomy between the obviously male audiophile and the obviously female disinterested partner. It’s silly and divisive, and it says very clearly to anyone who’s reading that this is a male hobby. No girls allowed.

I see it most often on Internet forums and in casual writing on social media, which is unfortunate, because oftentimes these sources are the first search engine results and the first places people who are new to the hobby turn for more information. It’s pretty bad when a simple search for more information quickly turns into having to sift through pages and pages of jokes and comments that suggest that women exist only as buzzkills, and female audiophiles are mythic.

To go further, casual use is bad enough, but the phrase “Wife Acceptance Factor” is downright unforgivable coming from a professional in the industry, and should be stricken from the vocabulary of anyone who takes the hobby seriously. Use your words. Tell me what makes this component difficult to fit into an average-size living room. Tell me what’s attractive or not about it. Don’t tell me I won’t like it because I’m the wife. Don’t suggest that it’s not that you think it’s ugly, it’s just that nameless spouses everywhere are going to be tapping their feet and crossing their arms if it comes through the door.

Am I arguing that WAF is the sole reason there aren’t more female audiophiles? Heck no. But it’s one more thing among a host of things that says “this isn’t for you.” And if we want this hobby and this industry to thrive and grow, it’s about time to start removing some of those ludicrous clubhouse signs that don’t serve any useful purpose.


12 Comments on No Girls Allowed: Why I Hate “Wife Acceptance Factor”

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal journey. Here’s the journey of a wife of an audiophile, her 20 year journey and how she made her first personal purchase decision of her first personal high-end audio equipment, with a strong appeal to the audiophile community.

  2. Your story is somewhat similar to mine. I’ve always been interested in music, even when it was primarily digital I spent so much time organizing those files. I of course wanted my system to sound good, but didn’t really know what that meant. Early this year I bought my husband a $100 Pioneer turntable and a few records on Amazon (he had been talking about getting into vinyl). For him, the imperfections (pops and clicks, because it was a $100 turntable) made it something he wasn’t interested in. But I was hooked. Then my mom dug out her “broken” Technics SL-220, I fixed it, and now I’m hooked.

    But as I get into the community, I’m starting to see things like “WAF” and sweeping comments about women and audio that I’m wondering if I should quit while I’m ahead. The “community” has kind of deadened my love of gaming, and I don’t want the same thing to happen here.

    • Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney // December 11, 2014 at 11:07 PM //

      I hear you. It can be really discouraging, particularly on the forums. I would hate to see you give up on the hobby, though — I’ve met many of the best people I know through hifi. Mostly in person, though… which is really too bad since there’s so few audiophile societies and clubs left, so unless you’re able to attend a show, it can be really hard to meet people and learn more about the hobby without running afoul of the knuckleheads.

      I hope you stick with it and keep finding ways to be involved.

  3. Audiogal and Audioguy // December 7, 2014 at 9:17 AM //

    Right On!

    I read this article to my wife who was nodding her head vigorously —

    My wife and I have had a years-long ongoing discussion on this very thing! We actually think there are a couple of approaches in our dynamic “tweakers” and “listeners” – and I am an avid tweaker, and she is a listener (which means she has little patience for tweaking around with stuff). When it comes to auditioning and buying – she and I do this together, and frankly about half of what we have was her choice (with my agreement) and the other half was the other way around.

    I am distressed in this day and age that there is a lingering, pervasive “No Girlz Allow’d” attitude. There is no excuse for it, and honestly, it needs to end. Not even as a “so this hobby survives” but to me would be “so that more people will experience high quality sound reproduction.” Music itself seems to be informed in part as to how well it can be reproduced – so the better the population of stereo systems out there, the better the music will be.

    See? This will save recorded music, too! 🙂

  4. She Speaks You Listen Fools // December 7, 2014 at 5:41 AM //

    Fantastic, KBK. You’re the best. Going Toe to Toe. Standing Up. Applauding.

  5. Let me throw this upside down a bit and talk about cooking!

    While I’m the one who’s always reading the audio magazines, my wife is the one always reading cooking magazines. She’s the one who decides what we eat at our place. We’re forever trying new things and some are great, some are not. We both cook; sometimes together, sometimes it’s just her or me, but she’s the one who makes the shopping list.

    I love the food we eat and it is because of her that I’m now greatly appreciating our freshly grown herbs from our own veggie patch. Conclusion; I AM A FOODIE!

    Back to Audio; I’m the one who bought the audio gear we own. I’m the one who ripped all our cd’s.I’m the one who set up the speakers to sound the best they can. But she’s the one who’s home the most and listens to the system the most. She LOVES the sound it produces. I’m sure she doesn’t consider herself an audiophile but if she would walk into someone else place and they ask what she thinks of their audio system, I’m sure she’ll be able to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong with it in a blink.

    In short; When I’m away from home for a while I start to miss the fantastic food I get to eat at home. When my wife is away from home for a while she starts to miss the great sound our system makes. Therefore she must be an audiophile. Albeit a passive one…

  6. David Hallerman // December 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM //

    Most certainly, the phrase “Wife Acceptance Factor” is off-putting at the very least.

    But I’m wondering about the in-between factor, as in my situation. My wife loves listening to music, and has supported my buying a bunch of fairly expensive equipment and tons of music (we have a totally computer audio system). She hears the difference in sound quality, and how the music is more engaging, and she loves that. And she has supported making the music system the focus in our living room (luckily, we can have the TV in another room).

    But when it came to buying new speakers, the design and size had to fulfill three key factors in the initial stages:
    (1) they had to be floor-standing speakers, because she doesn’t like the ways stands look
    (2) they couldn’t be too big, not much above 40 inches high, because she thought they would be imbalanced relative to the rest of the room
    (3) they had to be classically designed boxes, nothing too odd shaped, because that appeals to her architect’s sensibility (I s’pose her professional background makes her more focused on looks than other people might be)

    So, within our price range — about $5K or so — that narrowed our choices to start with. But when it came to actually buying the speakers, my wife enjoyed going to shops and auditioning them with me. We both analyzed how our favorite tracks, and favored types of music, sounded, and had fun doing that. So, the WAF imposed limits — not that I entirely disagreed with them — but also the bottom line within those limits was the sound itself.

    So that’s why I wonder about the in-between factor.

    P.S. We bought DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 88s.

    Dave, who lives in a home where both he and his wife make decisions about how the home will look so no one person make the final decisions and there’s a bunch of compromise

    • I approach audio somewhat similarly to your wife, although I primarily use headphones over speakers (layout of my house requires such). And while sound is the #1 priority, style is a factor (especially for the headphones I use at the office). I like my gear to be aesthetically pleasing. But I don’t think that’s exclusively a female thing. If it was, all headphones would be basic black.

  7. Oh, man, is this interesting and cool.

    In my professional life, I’ve been thinking a good bit about domestic space and architecture with particular attention on the situation in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota (if you’re interested:

    This has something to do with gender and audiophilia. I promise.

    First off, the notion of the “wife acceptance factor” is so old school to almost be vintage. This notion has clear roots in the idea that women are in charge of the house and play a key role in establishing domesticity. Domesticity is the opposite of the workplace and this division developed alongside the industrial revolution where the workplace was specifically the factory. Middle class people had homes that did not resemble factories. In fact, guys like Henry Ford created model towns to house their workers and families and provide a stage for playing out middle class values in the domestic sphere. The domestic, the domain traditionally of women (at least since the late 19th century), was the civilizing counter point to the industrial.

    So “wife acceptance factor” evokes the traditional domain of women: the home. The home, particularly the traditional middle and upper class house, was not a place for wires, cables, ugly black boxes, protruding tubes, knobs, industrially inspired speakers and the like. In fact, most middle class homes went to great lengths to disguise the working parts of domestic life. The walls hid electrical cables, heating and cooling ducts, and water and sewage pipes, as well as the structural components to the house. More than that, the places in the house were the real work of domestic life took place were hidden. Garages, boiler rooms, butlers’ pantries, and above all the kitchen were located out of sight from the main living spaces. In upper class homes, parallel service areas developed allowing maids, butlers, and other domestic personnel to move unseen between living spaces. By hiding the working parts of a home, domestic life was insulated from “working,” industrial life. The realm of women, then, and their role in maintaining domesticity was occluded, leaving men to claim control over the economic productivity and public life.

    Now, we can all roll our eyes at these traditional ways of constructing the home. My wife and I, for example, removed a fake wall in our first home to expose a forced-air heating duct. Industrial lofts in major cities now fetch top dollar. Kitchens have become areas for display and socializing. Many new homes have even adopted the “two car garage with attached home” appearance that is the bane of so many suburban subdivisions.

    What’s interesting to me is why do these values continue to persist in audiophile circles? Well, some of it demography; audiophiles tend to be older and perhaps nostalgic for traditional gender roles. Audiophiles also tend to me upper middle and upper class which tend to be more conservative groups within Western society.

    More than, that, however, I’d argue that notions like the “wife acceptance factor” are cut of the same cloth as the “man cave.” Audiophile gear is part of the changing discourse of domesticity: the notion that stereo cables, crudely functionalist industrial design (like my Audio Research VSi60 integrated amp), are the violation of certain norms of proportion and effortless propriety have located the audiophile home stereo to the realm of the industrial and, by extension, the masculine. Women, in our historical and stereotypical treatment, become the guardians of an effortless domesticity that carefully guards the working interior of the home from outside eyes. Men, with their industrial, non-domesticated tendencies (born, I’m sure, by their longs hours in the factory), are relegated to specific places: the garage, the “den”, or the “man cave” where they watch sports, behave in uncivilized ways, and ignore aesthetic traditions of the home.

    But we know that the idea that “man stuff” is relegated to the “man cave” is bunk. We know that modern homes have industrial design elements, tons of shared space, and an increasingly functional aesthetic. Relegating the men to some kind of designated space is as outmoded as assuming a wife would not want an “ugly” stereo in the living room. We continue to use this language, however, because the new design vocabulary for domestic space remains unsettled just as traditional gender norms are unsettled in a world of dual incomes, domestic partnerships, and blurred lines between work life and home life. So we stick to these traditional stereotypes (see my pun there) and revel in our man caves, wife acceptance factors, and beat back the work life from the tempting expanse of the formal dining room table.

    • Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney // December 6, 2014 at 2:31 PM //

      Fantastic thoughts, Bill, thanks! I hadn’t considered the unsettled nature of the vocabulary for our living spaces; it’s interesting to realize that open floor plans and more flexible living spaces started to come into vogue at the same time as traditional male/female roles also came into a greater state of flux. REALLY fascinating, when you think about it!

  8. Leo James Mitchell // December 6, 2014 at 8:54 AM //

    Well written, but I think you may be the exception rather than the rule. Evry woman of my acquaintance kind of chuckles at men and their speakers, DAC’s, preamps et all They just feel like it’s a boy’s thing, emphasis on the boys. They may love the music, but the spending of hundreds and even many thousands on the search for the perfect sound is, in their opinion a waste of money. My wife would be happy with a all-in-one player, radio and CD transport and would happily watch as my stuff was auctioned off to the highest bidder. I don’t say this with rancor because she doesn’t mean it that way. She is very patient and sweet with me about my hobby, but she just can’t understand it.

    • Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney // December 6, 2014 at 2:38 PM //

      Hi Leo,

      I’m aware that I’m more of the exception than the rule; my other major hobby is knitting, and I’d guess the proportion of male knitters is probably similar to the proportion of female audiophiles, at least on the knitting forums. I’ve seen some moves in that community toward adopting more inclusive language and making fewer assumptions about people’s gender and predilections, though, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the hobby any. It’s just made things more welcoming for the guys who do participate. I can’t see a down side to that.

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