by Hannah Lucy
In the wake of #metoo, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and many other disclosures of sexual harassment and assault committed by men in the entertainment industry, media, politics and basically everywhere, journalists have been asking female celebrities whether they, too, have experienced gendered abuse and violence.
Some reporters are even acting as though survivors somehow owe them their stories.
While the current level of publicity around this is new, the practice of expecting women to recite experiences of sexism for public consumption is not, and it’s one female bands and artists are familiar with. “Have you ever experienced sexism in the music industry?” has become almost a standard questions to female musicians in interviews, not to mention the many requests from editors to provide a quote or even write a piece about it for their publication.
Privately, many women grumble to each other about these requests. It’s not that there aren’t important conversations to be had about this subject. There is absolutely more to be said – especially about the experiences of women of colour, disabled women, queer women, trans women, working class women and others who experience intersecting oppressions. But sometimes these questions feel like yet another example of the problem they are supposedly trying to address. So I’ve put together a handy list of questions to ask yourself before you call on female musicians to recount their experiences of sexism in the music industry.
What are you trying to achieve?
Contrary to popular belief, women have been speaking up about their experiences of sexism for a long, long time. Often, it doesn’t seem to change anything – whether because people don’t believe us or just don’t care enough to change their behaviour. For some women, sharing their experiences can be part of the healing process, and we should absolutely support them in doing that, especially if it’s at their initiative [i.e.: not yours]. But if sharing our stories hasn’t ended sexism yet, will your blog containing yet more descriptions of abuses of power really bring about the changes we need?
Remember, when you ask about ‘sexism’, you’re asking about everything from casual comments or unconscious bias to physical and sexual violence. Sharing these stories can be exhausting, re-traumatising and put as at risk of retribution. So ask yourself, is it worth it? Instead of asking us to keep proving that there’s a problem, could you write a piece about what needs to be done to fix it, or about projects supporting women in music?
Do you see us as artists, or just as women?
One of the most depressing things about these requests is that sometimes it feels like journalists are more interested in publishing our tales of harassment to titillate their readers than they are in, y’know, writing about our art. Have you asked me about my songwriting process, my production techniques, what kind of guitar pedals I use? Or only about my gender?
What are you giving back?
What journalists often seem to forget is that you are in a position of power over us. If we want to get the word out about our music, we need you. Especially lesser-known artists. We want you to like us, and that puts pressure on us to try to meet your requests, even if they make us uncomfortable. Think about this before you ask your question. Acknowledge it. Then tell us, how will you use your power to help us? Are you paying us for our labour? Are you covering our work? Boosting it on social media? If you’re not offering anything in return, using your power to ask people to regurgitate experiences of oppression because you need #content might not be a great move.
Have we already had this conversation?
The chances are, many female bands or artists have already shared stories of sexism. Before you ask us to recount difficult and painful experiences, remember that Google is your friend and see whether there’s something already out there that you can quote. Jessica Hopper’s 2015 crowdsourcing of stories is a good place to start.
Have you got your own house in order?
Does your website/magazine/blog etc. give equal coverage to female bands and artists? Do you have female editors, writers, photographers, illustrators? Have you checked that your reviews don’t go on about a male collaborator when a woman did most of the work, or use patronising language about women? If you’re called out for sexist content on your site or social media, do you get defensive, quietly delete it or do you own it and state publicly how you will do better in future? What about your comments section – are you dealing quickly with misogyny and making it a welcoming place for female readers?
Seriously, you might not be calling us b*tches and c*nts, but sexism often comes in much more subtle and unconscious forms. If you’re not continually trying to improve your own work, your request for our stories might come across as expecting women to do the labour to make you appear ‘not sexist’. That, one might just argue, is a prime example of sexism in the music industry.