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27th November 2017

The damaging culture of silence in music

Joe Hissey argues for greater transparency and discussion in light of recent reports of sexual harassment in the music industry,

In the recent months since The New York Times released a damning expose detailing decades of alleged calculated sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, the floodgates have opened in Hollywood. Many women and men have felt inspired to share their own experiences creating a much needed conversation that can no longer be ignored.

The dialogue surrounding the issues of sexual assault and harassment have increased tenfold with many powerful figures being called out for their behaviour. These incidents happen not just in the entertainment industry but all around us, and are often kept as a dirty little secret. Men in particular, use their position of power to belittle and scare those that dare to even attempt to speak as evident from Weinstein. Over two-thirds of sexual assault go unreported and for every 1000 rape attacks, six rapists will end up incarnated.

There is an incredible amount of guilt and shame that goes hand in hand with such acts. The whole process can be extremely demoralising and more often than not, women are led to believe that there is little they can really do to achieve any sense of acceptable change.

The music industry has faced increased scrutiny with multiple women coming forward with allegations towards the lead singers of the bands Don Broco and Nothing But Thieves, both of whom have outright denied accusations aimed towards them. These two bands are not alone; Marilyn Manson parted way with long time member Twiggy Ramirez when allegations of sexual abuse came to light.

Earlier this month, Tove Lo, Zara Larsson and Robyn joined thousands of women in an open letter calling out the sexual assault in the Swedish music industry. In this letter which was published in a Swedish newspaper they said “We demand zero tolerance for sexual exploitation or violence.  Sexual assault or violence will have consequences in terms of terminations of contracts” with many revealing their own troubling personal stories which happen every day:

“When a competent male musician rapes you, you lose a lot of friends.” “What he did was wrong. But he is an asset to the music industry so we don’t want to lose him. I hope you can understand and respect that.”

This letter is a huge indication of the culture that we currently live in, powerful men use their position of power to essentially get what they want as they deem themselves untouchable. Following on from this letter, major heads of record labels offered their support and pledged to put an end to such behaviour.

Whilst it may seem a bit too little too late, it is evident that people are aware they need to step up and lead by example. It’s pretty evident that the roots of misogyny are deeply embedded in our society, so much so that many of us are unaware of just how deeply problematic and damaging it can be.  Many of these harassment and sexual assault allegations can seem to stem from a power imbalance that is very much present in the entertainment industry.

Many of the recent allegations that have surfaced come from the fan/musician interactions which highlight this imbalance. There are these cultural ideas that with success comes money, power and women. This is a misogynistic view which devalues women and creates a toxic environment where men can do as they please with little consequence. A woman who was allegedly assaulted by PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins revealed her inability to come forward at first because of his position in the music industry.

It seems that recent allegations facing Nothing But Thieves also work on the artist/fan interaction with these figures taking what they want because they see it so fit. The act that they have endured is traumatic, alongside that is the fact they may be trying to go up against someone who is extremely wealthy and can very easily have them silenced. Many of these artists become untouchable the bigger they come and people that depend on them financially, such as PR companies and publicists, so calling them out for their behaviour and effectively “damaging” their career will not be of importance.

One of the most troublesome accounts that has been revealed in the past months, came from Alice Glass, co-founder of the band Crystal Castles who left the band in 2014 (at the time citing “reasons both professional and personal”). This year she bravely released a statement on her website detailing the years of alleged abuse suffered at the hands of her bandmate Ethan Kath. She said that for almost a decade, Kath abused her both psychologically and physically, he controlled what she ate, dictated who she could be friends with and belittled her bit by bit until he retained complete ownership.

One of the most alarming details that she revealed was that Kath apparently forced her to have sex with him or “he said, I wouldn’t be allowed to be in the band anymore.” Due to the control he had over her it made her deeply insecure and too scared to speak openly at the fear of not being taken seriously and suicidal for many years. Glass admitted that she didn’t have the courage to reveal the extent of her treatment until she saw the recent outpouring of women from the entertainment industry coming forward with their own stories that she felt it necessary to reveal her own.

This in itself shows the importance of listening to those that step forward and making the statement that they will be believed. Perhaps if the Harvey Weinstein story had not broke when it did, we would not currently be at this huge turning point where now more than ever those that have been made to feel like victims for so long can be open and receive the justice they so rightly deserve.

I very much feel that those who come forward should be believed until proven otherwise, it may often be a tricky line to navigate but if we don’t collectively show support in a public way then it may stop others from speaking out which is extremely harmful. Passivity and remaining silent should not be an option, this stance is what has created this culture and those that are aware and actively decide to turn the other way are feeding into this system.

Going forward from this point, it is incredibly important if men in all types of the various industries take a step up and examine their own behaviour. Coming together and showing support will help create a safer community for artist and fans alike. Whilst it appears the list of sexual abusers grow every day, this is as many have described the tip of the iceberg and will only worsen as time goes on. Again the most important aspect of this is to show solidarity and have these uncomfortable conversations in order to provoke change.


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