Men in the music industry, we need to talk about abusive behaviour
Across the span of just a few days, over a hundred people have shared stories of harassment and abuse in Australian music. It is unfortunately just the start.
Article written by Dave McCarthy, whose music website Laundry Echo maintains a 50/50 - or higher - ratio of male/non-male representation of artists.
Over the weekend, the brilliantly talented Jaguar Jonze published an account of her sexual abuse at the hands of male predators in the Australian music industry, particularly focusing on a Melbourne-based music photographer. Since publishing her account just a few days ago, she has received 108 stories of abuse by the same man, and by the time this article goes through edits and publishing, that number is likely to have risen again.
There is no world where this treatment of womxn can be standardised as a part of the ‘party’ industry that is music. The party was never a party for many, and for those that felt like they were a part of it, the party is over. For years now, we’ve needed to pull the pin on the bullshit that so many womxn have put up with in pursuit of their passion and dreams, and as things have failed to change in a #MeToo era that due to defamation laws never really found its way to Australia, it’s now on our own hands to influence change where it matters.
But how do we dismantle deeply ingrained sexist beliefs, attitudes and behaviours in an industry that was founded on tales of ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’? It starts with the individual; it starts with every man accepting their degree of accountability and picking up the slack in pulling up behaviours that should have never become commonplace. Predators have no part of this industry or any other.
This is not intended to be a vitriolic look at men in music. It is intended to be a conversation and path to help people move forward. We are all on our own paths of personal development and growth. No individual is born ‘woke’ or an expert in navigating such complex issues. These issues are confounded by the faults of which much of the male identity is founded on. Masculinity is measured in means of conquest: How many tries can you score? How much weight can you lift? Can you grow a beard? How big your penis is and how many women you can sleep with… It is an endless stream of competition and one-upmanship.
I have been a part of this competitive-like behaviour in the past and behaved in many ways that looking back on now, makes me shudder and cringe. Every man has. It is ingrained in the growth process of men and if we can’t acknowledge it, we can’t move forward from it. I’m sure many of us have engaged in banter that has gone too far, treated an ex in a way we have regretted or laughed at a joke we shouldn’t have. I, personally, grew up playing rugby in a town of 4000 people in rural NSW. I’m not someone with a perfect past, nor should anyone be expected to be. But what can be expected of every man is the ability to look at their past and current behaviours through the scope of what they’ve learnt and use that learning as an opportunity to better their behaviour moving forward.
Listen, reflect, learn and learn to respond.
How we respond to instances of sexism and abuse in our workplaces whether they be at venues, in the studio or in the office is vital to providing womxn with the safety and certainty they are entitled to, just as any other person is in a workplace. There are awkward conversations to be had, but I would rather have 1000 awkward conversations than having to read another story of sexual abuse in the music industry.
How can you help and what can you do? Small steps can lead to large leaps in changing the attitudes and behaviours experienced by womxn in music.
What does sexism and the behaviour that leads to sexual abuse look like? The issue for many men comes in the tolerance for sexism that we have developed in growing up. We are highly tolerant of behaviour that we shouldn’t be due to its continual and repeating presence in our lives. Sexism has been normalised and without being on the receiving end of it can be easily accepted as passable behaviour.
This tolerance ultimately opens the dialogue and sets a standard for progressing casual sexism to blatant sexism to sexual assault. It starts as a joke backstage and escalates through a flow on of allowances and tolerance to the point of assault.
Keep an ear out for:
Sexualisation being placed on an individual or group by someone other than the individual or group. We control our own sexuality. It can be a tool for empowerment or intimacy and it is a powerful thing, it isn’t for another to impose on us nor should you impose it on womxn. The use of names like ‘babe’ or ‘darling’ on people we do not know is sexualisation. Phrases between friends or colleagues like ‘she’s so sexy’ or implying that you would like to sleep with someone is sexualisation.
Whilst these things may seem like a bit of fun or banter, for those who aren’t involved in the conversation and are being objectified it is a removal of autonomy and control of how they are viewed.
The implication that one gender being better at something than the other. Saying things like “she’s good for a girl”, offering unsolicited advice on sound/songwriting, telling your mates they “play like girls”. Language likes this drives a wedge between gender identities and detracts from any idea of equality. It also sets up a mentality that allows men to believe themselves to be a superior gender and enforces a sense of entitlement in doing so.
Placing expectations on behaviour due to gender. This may manifest in asking a girl to smile or expecting the womxn at the gig to be one of the band member’s girlfriends rather than the band member or staff member they are.
Unnecessary or unwanted touching. If you are talking to someone, there is no need to place your hand on them. If you are introducing yourself there is no need to hug someone. There is no need to lean in close for a conversation. Physicality and touching is a dynamic developed overtime between individuals. I hug mates, I throw an arm around them at a show, but I know this is appropriate because it's a relationship we have developed over time. Don’t do it to someone you’ve just met, or someone you’ve started working with.
There are many other manifestations of casual sexism or sexualisation that happen in day to day life and to list them out in their entirety is a near impossibility. The most important thing is to check the behaviour of yourself and others, if something feels off, talk about it.
Call It Out
Calling someone out on their behaviour is not about closing a conversation. It is about progressing it on a positive.
Firstly, you need to acknowledge that we are all at different stages of a journey; our understanding of what is acceptable and what can be said will vary greatly between individuals. Many people won’t realise their behaviour is wrong until they’ve been called up on it. You need to be open and ready for a discussion, as discourse is vital to any positive development.
The act of calling someone out is intimidating and awkward, but it needs to be done and we need to stop walking away from responsibility in doing it. If someone makes a sexist remark some ideas for dealing with the situation can be as simple as:
Calmly call it bluntly. You can outrightly say that you disapprove of something. I often reach for the phrase ‘that’s not really on is it mate?’. This immediately ends any flow on or continuation of the behaviour.
Ask questions. Playing a card of being naive can be a non-confrontational way of making the person who made the comment reflect on what they have said. ‘What do you mean by that?’ can be enough to make someone pull themselves up.
Remind the person that womxn exist in their world too. ‘Would you say that about your sister, mother or girlfriend?’ can force a person to check their behaviour by applying it in a way that is easy to rationalise. It’s unfortunate we need to rely on our mothers to make men view womxn as humans, but removing the emotional distance works.
Report the behaviour. If this happened in a workplace ensure you have the incident recorded by the correct people, if it happened at a venue be sure to talk to security or venue staff. If you are uncomfortable calling out the behaviour yourself identify who needs to know about what has happened and ensure they know.
Once you have called someone out on their behaviour, it is important to engage your criticism with a degree of kindness. Show your understanding, identify points of common ground, express that you learn from them too and provide your criticism of behaviour honestly.
Always Listen, Always Learn
As men, we have come to this point because we’ve lived in our own echo chambers where minor indiscretions in everyday behaviour have enabled awful acts. Stay open to learning, stay open to criticism, and ensure you listen to voices outside of people who look, act and sound like you. Diversity drives development.
While we’re talking about listening, listen to Jaguar Jonze’s debut EP. It is brilliant and she deserves every piece of success she gets as someone who has been leading this charge over the last week, and here’s hoping it’s the catalyst for some long-deserved justice within the Australian music scene.
You can keep up to date with Jaguar Jonze's work via her Instagram.