Linette Smith brings the itchy blanket of gender politics to the hifi world.

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Last month I wrote about why there seem to be so few women into the Hifi scene. I came to the conclusion that there are actually a lot more of us around than you might first think, but that we tend to be less visible because we make less of a fuss about it than the guys do and, for one reason or another, we don’t inhabit the generally male stomping grounds of the forums. One subject that reared it’s ugly head (and does so any time you mention Hifi and women) was WAF. Wife Acceptance Factor. I am guilty of using this term myself in the past, to explain a piece of hifi has nice looks as well as sounding stunning …but the more I think about it, the more it grates…its just such a picky little derogatory term to use. My article got quite a few comments from other audiophile types. Some very supportive, and some from guys who accused me of bringing ‘the itchy blanket of gender politics’ into hifi …as if challenging the status quo was a bad thing, perhaps they don’t like us invading their ‘Man Caves’. See, we can all play at sexual stereotyping if we want to.REDCQRD

Pussy Footing About

I think as an industry we should be kicking the WAF term into touch. I am not some kind of rampantly bra-burning, man-hating feminist…I’m just a normal woman, who happens to be involved in an industry that is constantly reinforcing casual, everyday sexism with a little acronym that implies that women will only ‘accept’ a new bit of hifi into their home if it is pretty and inoffensive enough. That they don’t have the capability to make a decision based on the sonic benefits and need to be bamboozled into ‘accepting’ its presence because it goes with the curtains …like I said earlier, its beginning to grate. We are refusing to accept sexism in most other parts of our life, is the hifi industry one of the last bastions of sexism? Imagine if we were calling Women’s’ Football ‘Pussy Foot’ or saying that kitchen appliances had a high CPFW (Christmas Present For Wife) potential…I don’t imagine that would go down too well at all. Some guys that responded to my article suggested that WAF is just a bit of a joke and that I should grow a thicker skin, but, just as Mother in law jokes aren’t really that funny, neither is WAF and it is just as outdated.

The Origins Of WAF

Stereophile magazine writer Larry Greenhill first used the term “Wife Acceptance Factor” in 1983, but he credited fellow reviewer, Lewis Lipnick as the person that came up with WAF. Lipnick himself said that the origin was from the 1950s when hifi, in particular loudspeakers, were so monstrous that they overwhelmed most peoples’ living rooms. Actress Lynn-Jane Foreman, Lipnick’s wife, coined a different phrase, Marriage Interference Factor (MIF). Foreman suggested that audiophile husbands should buy their wives things like jewellery, holidays or clothes to compensate for their purchase of an ugly or ungainly piece of hifi and to generally keep the home harmonious. Perhaps if you are in a relationship where one partner has to ‘buy’ the consent of the other, you are in the wrong relationship.BIRDSSPONSOR600X74

The Times They Are A Changing

Now there is no getting away from the fact that in the past men and women had very different roles in life. Hubby went out and hunted and gathered, wifey stayed in and made the cave nice and had babies…it really is no wonder that we can be hard wired differently to this day, it’s overcoming nature and nurture to shake of what is expected of you because of your gender. But hey, its nearly 2016 now, not the dark ages or even the 1950’s. Things are changing and men and women are (or should be) equal…when was the last time you saw a guy out spear hunting the Sunday roast in Tesco? A couple, may be married or not, may be two people of the same gender or of different genders, but most in a successful relationship have a partnership. They make decisions on what’s for Sunday dinner or what’s being allowed in their cave together. They may have different likes and dislikes some of the time, but basically they can come to an agreement if one wants one thing and the other something else. Using WAF (or SAF, Spouse Acceptance Factor) to describe the aesthetically pleasing qualities of a particular piece of hifi suggests that the other person in the relationship, who usually has to somehow be cajoled and perhaps even bribed into agreeing to the new piece of kit, can be easily hoodwinked into accepting this new item! It is so discreet or beautiful that the wife/spouse will simply welcome it into the lounge with open arms and without realising what it is…am I the only person that thinks that is totally screwed up? Surely, its much better for a couple to go to the hifi show/shop together and decide on the new purchase…there may be a bit of compromise from both sides but you are much more likely to get something that you both like the looks, sounds and practicalities of and can appreciate together.

The Hub Of The Home

Hifi is becoming a prominent feature in many more homes. Rather than being hidden away in a room that the ‘Audiophile’ has to go into and listen in solitude, it is in the main living area so that all the family can enjoy it. Long standing and well known brands, as well as new names, are manufacturing hifi that looks as good as it sounds…and they are not just doing it to sneak in past the wife, they recognise that good looks are important to men and women, old and young. Today’s audiophile is very discerning and wants their amazing sounding hifi to be something they can be proud of even before it’s turned on. We also inhabit smaller spaces and many brands are putting a lot of work into making hifi smaller and more functional for those smaller spaces, just look at the number of hifi companies that are now making things like wireless, multi-room speaker systems that still play music to an audiophile standard. Look at Focal and their new Sopra speakers or the Avantgarde Acoustic Zero1. The Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin or anything made by Devialet, in particular the Phantom. Are they just trying to get products under the radar of the wife? Of course not, they’re making products to suit today’s market. Using the term WAF just reinforces an outmoded gender divide that just isn’t applicable these days as far as hifi is concerned. Great design really should not need to compromise great sound, the two can, should and do coexist. We don’t need to say something has ‘high WAF’ as a selling point, just that it is well designed and made, and looks beautiful and/or discreet, as well as sounding exceptional…qualities that are appreciated by everyone, not just wives. We don’t need WAF to describe hifi any more, lets be a bit more creative, stop relying on it as a measure of good design and recognise that it is an outdated, sexist, and frankly, irrelevant term in today’s hifi market.

Linette Smith

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