Unmute Us: Bel on creating a network for womxn in music
Warning: This article discusses sexual assault. Please read with a support person if needed.
I have never been one to shy away from discussing and embracing the uncomfortable.
Taboo topics that expose our vulnerabilities is my contribution to a dinner party. Well, that and a delicious plant-based dish. The thickness of my skin – the resilience of my spirit – I have worked extremely hard to develop. Alongside many, I am a sexual assault survivor.
It’s not news to us that the music industry is dominated and controlled by cis men. Gender inequality within the music industry has existed since the birth of music itself. The percentages of men to women and GNC (gender-non-conforming) folk, whilst having marginally improved in the last decade, is still vastly inadequate.
Women and LGBTQIA+ folk make up a mere fraction in both artist and industry spheres. We have not come close to eradicating sexism anywhere within this industry, so let’s just start there.
Now, onto something more sinister. It’s one thing that these inequalities that disserve women exist, it’s another thing when males already in positions of privilege, abuse their power in a sexually inappropriate manner. Yes, sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct within the entertainment industry is alive and well. I am here to tell you that it cannot and will not continue.
As a young female artist entering this industry, even I who has a sexual abuse history, could not have foreseen the grossly inappropriate behaviour of men in this space. I distinctly remember playing BIGSOUND and being groped and offered cocaine by a senior A&R representative in the FEMALE restroom. I didn’t tell anyone because I felt shame. Somehow, it felt like my fault even though I logically knew this was untrue.
The psychology of shame is interesting. We feel guilt/shame when we violate the social norms we believe in – this we know. HOWEVER, we also feel shame when we are violated by those very same norms. This type of internalised humiliation is dangerous when concealed. Personally, I’ve only recently come to realise the power of sharing in shedding this type of toxicity. The ME-TOO movement is proof of this.
As a response to sexual abuse allegations against a well-known music industry photographer, fellow artist Sarah Wolfe and myself created a network for women, trans and non-binary folk within the industry.
The idea was sparked by the brave Jaguar Jonze who spoke up about her experiences, hundreds of other women in the Australian Music Industry have come forward with theirs.
Though it was obvious to us that a sacred space for women to openly discuss sexual misconduct and sexism in the industry was craved, we could have never anticipated the widespread and immediate explosion of interest. In one week alone, we surpassed 1,200 members; artists, managers, producers, publishers, label heads, publicists, journalists, A&R, tour managers, media lawyers and so forth.
Whilst the unforeseen responsibility of running and facilitating this network has been challenging emotionally and practically, it is truly the utmost privilege. The future of this network is evolving as we speak. It is our goal as founders to ensure that all women and GNC folk have a place to go if they have been mistreated; and that someone, all of us, will listen.
The creation of resources, checklists, information and so forth is our current priority. We want every topic from “what to know when entering a recording session” to “how to report a sexual crime” to be available to our members. Knowledge is power. Knowing your rights is key.
I often reflect upon my own trauma, the sexual abuse I faced as a young teen. Like many victims, I questioned why, and what it means in the broader context of my life. The power of women speaking up and fighting back is my answer to you. Until inequalities and injustices are no more, until women are made equal in both board rooms of labels and in the studio, we will not shut up.
Silence is no more. This is for us.