Music Industry Misogyny and Sexual Harrassment
I didn’t really want to touch this particular topic, I have to confess. It makes me uneasy for many reasons. I’ve never experienced anything like this myself, never really seen it that I am aware of, and I entirely accept that I am a long way from being an expert on this stuff. I am also very much aware that the predominance of white, male, middle class voices like myself in this sector is a significant part of the problem.
However, since the revelations about the assaults suffered by various prominent female musicians at the hands of a well known PR agent recently, and the subsequent chatter about it being such a constant, pervasive and unchallenged thing in the music industry, I am starting to think that even if I don’t quite get this right, it is still important to try and say it.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, women need to be encouraged to come forward about sexual harassment and assault, and to feel that they will be taken seriously and supported if they do. I want to make it clear that I would take this kind of shit seriously, and there would be none of this ‘oh did he really‘ nonsense going on.
Secondly, one of the best ways to combat this sort of shit is simply to try and make sure there are more female voices in this sphere. It’s not enough to encourage them to take a more prominent role; as the incumbents, we white, middle class men have to actively surrender ours more often. I work with a lot of women in music and I really do want them to know that I am happy to be told. I know I can’t really understand this problem on their level, and if anyone wants to tell me how it is, particularly in the communities I operate in, I am happy to be talked to, lectured to, ranted at or basically whatever. I know this isn’t my conversation to lead, but I do want to at least say that I want it to happen and will try and do what is needed to help that.
Thirdly, I am amazed that it has to be said, but I think it does. Even if it’s just something which I force myself to live up to: sexual assault, foisting unwanted sexual attention, creepy remarks, all that sort of shite is not welcome here. Not in my company, not in our house and not as a part of our label. I am not claiming I have always been perfect in this sort of area myself, and I have said some dumb shit in my time, but I don’t like it, I am not happy with it and I want to improve.
Also, and this applies to all women I have worked with, currently work with, and might work with in the future: tell me off if you think I need it. I won’t bite your head off, and I certainly won’t yank what few opportunities we can offer, or take a sulk with you. I may need a little while to think it over, but I do listen to these things I promise you. If you think I have said something stupid, I promise you can tell me. If you think I have stood by and tolerated something creepy, please tell me. If you think someone I endorse or like or work with has done something wrong, please trust that you can tell me and I will listen.
And finally, I am entirely aware that Song, by Toad Records is not exactly a paragon of diversity. In fact, if you look at our actual roster, we’re pretty fucking awful, to be honest – men, more men, nicely brought up white men as far as the eye can see! I can promise you that this is something I have been aware of for years, and am actively trying to fix, and believe me I am frustrated by how long it is taking and how difficult it is proving.
There may not be that many women on the label, but I have worked with a lot of women over the years who have played in bands we have hosted, and who have stayed in our house countless times and I really do want to be clear: I do not support this creepy, laddish garbage (or worse) and I really, really fucking hope I have never said anything to make you uncomfortable, and in the future if it does happen do not let me get away with it, although I dearly hope there should never be any need for that. Or you could just tell Mrs. Toad, and she will basically go bath salts on my ass, so there are options.
So there we go. I hope that’s clear, but it’s also obvious and easy.
Let’s face it, no-one ever says ‘oh shush, I am totally in favour of sexual harassment’ do they (although to read Twitter/YouTube commenters I may be wrong about this). Obvious creeps, obviously rapey fuckers, even singling out Heathcliff Beru as some sort of grotesque evil seems to sort of miss the point. As Rachel Almeida writes here, and as the comments following the incident show, this shit is endemic, it’s everywhere.
And what that means is that singling out, or pointing and scolding doesn’t feel right to me. If it’s this widespread, then it’s basically us. All of us.
In one sense we have to look at ourselves. I can be pretty sure that I have interacted with women in some rotten ways in my time, be it out of drunkenness, jealousy, or just sheer social clumsiness while I was coming to grips with my adulthood, but I have forgotten it and moved on because I think of myself as a decent guy. I think of those mistakes as aberrations, not part of my character. But if I said something stupid, leered a bit too much or was too physically familiar with someone who might have been intimidated by my size, or even my rather overbearing manner, it probably stayed with them for a lot longer. I have to accept that, and I would imagine if you’re a man at some point you probably have to accept that you’ve done it too, whether intentionally or not. Or you might have – you never really know what someone is thinking of you when you’re interacting with them.
As I get older I get more and more paranoid about my interactions with women at work. Most of them are a lot younger and to most of them even Song, by Toad represents at least some sort of opportunity. It’s important to establish a basic level of friendliness and rapport with someone, particularly if they are staying with me and Mrs. Toad overnight, and I absolutely dread the idea of coming across like some leery old perv. Or even just the sad old duffer trying to be too pally with the young folk.
It doesn’t even have to be sexual. I could easily, without noticing, have paid far too little attention to a female guitarist’s skills or kit than her male counterpart, even if she wrote all the songs. I might not even have noticed myself do it, and it would still have a powerful marginalising effect. Or even just used the term ‘female drummer’. Fuck I hate that one!
But I am not like a pal, who they might be able to tell to fuck off if I say something wrong. I am their place to stay that night, the payer of their fees and potentially a loud mouthpiece through which to spout outrage, should I so choose. I have to be careful not to be a prick.
On the plus side, given my age, my size and my relative position of respect* within the music community in Scotland I am probably in a good position to tell other men to fucking well stop it if I do witness this sort of behaviour myself, which is something this kind of news report really makes me want to be better at.
But then, this leads us to the other difficulty, which is the deceptive nature of everyday banality. I read stories like Amanda Coffman’s and the chorus of people who said they’d suffered the same thing, and I probably make the same mistake all of us do. I look around me and think ‘What the fuck? Who in the fuck is actually doing all this stuff’? The people I meet are nice. They’re friendly, helpful, charming and basically, well, nice guys. And I don’t mean that in the predatory, men’s rights, Nice Guys (TM) way, I mean it in a normal, everyday ‘basically a decent human being’ sort of a way.
But most sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows. Most, verging on all, women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Women in the music industry report, it appears, vastly more sexual assault or harassment at work than they do out and about in bars being leered at and chatted up by men. That means that the nice guys we all hang around with and work with every day must be the ones doing the harassing. Not all of them, and maybe less so at this lower end of the industry where everything is less commodified, including the musicians themselves. But in general, if we’re all nice guys and women are still being assaulted then it’s the nice guys doing the assaulting.
It’s not about outright, obvious acts of evil or misanthropy, it’s more about everyday normality and what we currently expect it be, and what we are trying to force other people, particularly women, to accept it as being.
I think this has been one of the hardest things for me to get my head around as the recent surge in feminism and in vocal misogyny-shaming has started to gather pace: looking around me and realising that I don’t know that much about a lot of these men after all. Basically they all seem like decent guys, but then most humans can get on with other humans. And underneath this surface some of them are going to be doing some really dodgy shit. And we can’t be distracted by the nice chat we had at the bar, or the ‘alright mate nice to see you again’ stuff, because that doesn’t tell you much about a person, deep down.
Being likeable is easy, and humans have a really strong sense of social cohesion. And I think that’s one of the big reasons Coffman’s bandmates or indeed she herself perhaps didn’t say anything at the time of the assault: we are trained for normal. Our talent for cognitive dissonance is so strong that rather than disrupt the status quo our brains will tell us that what happened ‘must’ be fine, because this is a nice, fine, normal situation, isn’t it. Berru’s a decent fellow isn’t he, and a decent fellow would never have done something really fucking wrong and creepy, even if I just seem to have watched him do it.
Why else would her bandmates have said nothing? They must be on her side, after all. And why did she herself freeze, and only speak out a long time afterwards? Because it is amazingly hard to break out of that ‘everything’s fine’ social détente, amazingly hard to accept that people who are mostly basically nice to be around are still doing bad things, and really tough to have the balls to tell someone to fucking stop it right then and there.
But we have to get there, because everyone who is reading this must feel total respect, admiration and warmth towards their female colleagues, otherwise we wouldn’t be working with them. But if we care about them, and if we care about the kind of people we ourselves want to be, then this is a mental leap we are going to have to learn to make. If a nice guy keeps doing bad things then no matter how personable they are, you have to start accepting that they are fucking dickheads.
And as I said, I don’t think I am perfect, I am sure I have said some things that have affected women really badly and not even realised it. I am sure I have a far less than perfect handle on this whole issue, and that the fact that I don’t seem to have faced it in my work so far probably speaks of a lot of selective blindness on my behalf too. I know that my label doesn’t represent enough female voices. And I am sure even in this post there are things which people will be able to take exception to or are just plain naive or wrong. But for whatever it’s worth, even though we generally say quite enough as it is, men have to start speaking out too. Partly we have to start changing the expectations of our pals, our peers, those ‘nice guys’ we don’t really want to have to fall out with. We have to help change what is considered acceptable and what isn’t. We have to support women, and we have to decide who we ourselves want to be.
And then once we have decided that, and said it out loud, we have to accept being held to account by women if we aren’t living up to our and their expectations.
Or as the scots might say: ‘If you get fucking telt, take a fucking telling.’
*Stop laughing at the back there. Bastards.More: dickheads, general awful behaviour, misogyny