RESEARCH: #meNOmore – An Open Letter to the Australian Music Industry
TRIGGER WARNING: This Open Letter contains stories involving mental health, trauma, sexual assault and/or violence which may be distressing to readers.
In recent weeks, as Hollywood carried the torch of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement and stories started breaking around the world, we found ourselves offering strength to our friends and colleagues who had their own stories to share – both publicly and in whispered circles. It’s become clear that the magnitude of #MeToo extends to our own shores and to our own industry.
We are women who work in the Australian music industry. We are artists, musicians, managers, lawyers, booking agents, record label employees, publicists and more.
We all have our own stories, or know someone who does. We are not whingers or vibe-killers. We are passionate people dedicating our lives to music. In the face of uncountable discrimination, harassment, violence, and the general menace of sexist jargon, we have gritted our teeth and gotten on with the job. But today we say, no more.
Here are just some of the stories we’ve been able to share. They range from the tragic, to the horrific, to the every-day norm.
After winning awards at a national high school music competition I was recruited by an Australian musician to study with him. It turned out that I was to be groomed and sexually abused over many months. He told me that he selected girls for awards at the competition on the basis of their looks. The abuse triggered years of struggles with my mental health. I quit music years ago.
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Working backstage for a huge international act, their tour manager looked me in the eyes and as he told the room there were only two types of women: bitches and sluts.
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I have had managers of bands place their hands on my body when I was asking to interview the band, I’ve been groped multiple times in crowds. I’ve been told by members of a band that they wanted to “show me something” only to lead me into the bathroom and try to force themselves on me. I don’t even like going to gigs anymore because I have been groped in crowds so much and when I say “Why are you touching me” they gaslight me.
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My first and only job interview in an attempt to get my foot in the door of the music industry was for a position at a booking agency. Before the interview began, the person in the current position asked me: ‘So before we start this interview, we’d like you to know that we’re looking for someone who is going to take this role seriously and not run off with one of our artists when they come in to town.’
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My head has been pushed towards a colleague’s crotch and held there despite me saying no.
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When I was 18, a particular frontman took advantage of me, in a way that opened my eyes to see that the music industry isn’t all that great. He was the frontman who after a show would force kiss you. He would text you saying come to this bar, gig, band and… he’d try having sex with you and when you’d say no, and he would say that “sex is just sex, it doesn’t matter”. I chose not to have sex with him, but I know a lot of 18 year old girls who would feel pressured into doing it. It was very manipulative. Just because you’re a frontman of a band, does not mean you are entitled to anything more than anyone else. You look after your fans and you be careful because you don’t know where they’ll end up working.
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I am unable to reveal the details of my experience due to a confidentiality agreement which I was forced to sign.
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Two years ago my band released a single that found some success. But the more success we received, the more one of my male band mates became bitter, jealous, manipulative and verbally abusive towards me. He mocked my female musical idols, saying women were only successful because of the men they surrounded themselves with. He said the same was true of me. That without him, I was worthless. He criticised everything I did – my singing, my songwriting, my bass playing, my guitar playing, my “vanity” i.e. my desire to perform. By the end of our first tour, I was completely broken. I ended up having a mental breakdown. I tried to stand up for myself but by the end I was so exhausted. I just took it. And worse of all, I started to believe it. I still struggle with this lack of confidence. My other band mate, my partner at the time, didn’t stand up for me. I don’t why.
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Together we say #meNOmore.
Together, we give a voice to these issues and demand zero tolerance for sexual harassment, violence, objectification and sexist behaviours. There is no place for sexual entitlement in the workplace and in our industry. Change starts today.
We have listened to our friends. We have names of perpetrators. We know the same names that are repeated in unrelated circles. It saddens us that the people who hold us in fear and keep us silenced are people we work with, people who many of us have aspired to work under, and people who some of us have known as friends. These people need to be held accountable.
To the men who support and work alongside us – you are a vital part of this conversation. Be kind, listen and act if you know of something happening. Stand beside us and call out those who let us all down and who hurt our friends.
To everyone who has a story to share, we hear you and this letter is for you to know that you are not alone.
To future workers of the Australian music industry – this is for you. We will continue to fight together so that one day, we can all work safely in a respectful, inclusive and supportive industry.
Finally we want to thank our colleagues in the Swedish Music Industry who came forward with a powerful open letter that inspired us to do the same. In its honesty and precision, it relays an experience which is so often hard to pinpoint or qualify. We encourage you to read the full letter here.
[Thank you to Alex Teitz, http://www.femmusic.com for contributing this article.]