Last week, an open letter “to the Australian music industry” (dubbed #meNOmore) was published, detailing the widespread experiences of sexual harassment, assault and violence experienced by women in the industry. It contains appalling stories, from everyday acts of denigration and boundary-crossing, to sexual assaults kept quiet with threats to the victims’ careers. It is far from the only industry to experience these issues, but is there something unique to the music scene that allows this behaviour to flourish?
“With all of the recent developments and scandals, we often go straight to the consequences for the individual perpetrator, which is obviously important,” Elspeth Scrine, a musician and co-ordinator of Listen — a feminist organisation that organises events to showcase and support marginalised artists — told Crikey. “But we don’t often enough look to the structural elements.”
“Part of it is the same problems that afflict a lot industries: the music industry is structured with men at the top, in areas like management,” Dr Catherine Strong, a senior lecturer in media and communication at RMIT told Crikey. “But also men are given a lot more power as taste-makers, they are inherently taken more seriously than women.”
Strong said there was a culture in the music industry that venerated behaviour in men that would be abhorrent in any other context.
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“A particular myth is allowed to flourish — sex, drugs and rock and roll — that posits women as prizes and music as guaranteed sexual access to women,” she said. “As well as this, people often accept abusive behaviour as part of the ‘troubled genius rock star’ myth. We’re stuck in a ’60s/’70s mindset in some ways, and we have to dramatically re-frame how we view this behaviour.”
Scrine said it wasn’t just glamourised and venerated artists who exercised this power over young women, but every level of the music industry.
“It may be an agent or manager who is holding your career, it may be a sound engineer who controls how you sound every night,” she said.
Notably, the #meNOmore letter felt the need to point out that it’s signatories were neither “whingers” nor “vibe-killers”. Scrine said the culture of complicity spread to contemporaries, not just people who hold power.
“It’s really hard to call things out. Because of the culture of touring, there’s an intimacy that builds with your fellow musicians, you develop these close relationships, and there’s a tendency to close ranks,” she said. “So when behaviour or comments start to push that line, it gets very hard to say ‘whoa, I’m not comfortable with this’. It’s exhausting to always feel like you have to be the killjoy.”
Scrine said it was important that campaigns like #meNOmore didn’t just focus on the most high-profile victims.
“It’s an incredible campaign, but it’s really important that voices of marginalised groups, like women of colour or trans women don’t get silenced in that process,” she said.
The #meNOmore letter describes itself as an “all-inclusive movement — particularly encouraging participation of Indigenous, POC and LGBTQIA+ musical communities who have experienced intersections of sexual discrimination, harassment and violence”.