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Thousands across the entertainment industries have been speaking out about sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination over the last few months. People are mobilising, inspired by the Women’s March, joining the #MeToo movement, and calling #TimesUp on inappropriate behaviour. The music industry is beginning to take notice and the Musicians’ Union (MU), among others, is working to improve the working environment for everyone.
You don’t need us to tell you that abuses of power occur everywhere, and the music industry is no exception. Since November last year, people have been sharing their experiences with us in confidence at the MU via a dedicated email address;
Freelancers in the music industry are particularly vulnerable to abuse because they aren’t protected by employment law, and are often not covered by formal policies and procedures that apply to in-house staff.
That’s not to say workers employed in the industry aren’t also at risk, because we know from stories shared that they are, but freelancers may feel they have no-one to turn to when they are subject to harassment or abuse.
We’ve heard from female musicians at the top of their game who, on arrival at a gig, were issued with hot-pants to wear. They were also told they had to mime instead of actually performing. None of this had been mentioned to them prior to the gig.
Another musician told us that after a performance she was asked if her legs could be photographed by the engager.
One musician told us she wasn’t sure if she had been sexually assaulted or not, so she had to Google it.
Another told about his experiences as part of a signed act, with people in positions of power dictating where he lived, who he shared a hotel room with, when he could eat, and when he could use the bathroom (or not). He wasn’t given any money to spend so he felt he had no freedom and he couldn’t see a way out of the situation. When a member of the record label’s staff started to be abusive, he put up with it because he didn’t know what else to do. Unfortunately, the promise of success, money and perhaps fame in the entertainment industries can expose artists, particularly young people, to abuse.
Several musicians got in touch with us after receiving sexually explicit messages from people in positions of power. One told us she thought it was normal as it happened all the time. Another told us about being asked for sex in exchange for gigs.
A number of women have contacted us because they have experienced rape and sexual abuse.
No-one should experience or fear sexual harassment, abuse, bullying or discrimination at work.
The MU regularly takes on cases for members, and we offer if you have experienced any of the above.
We are also collecting experiences of sexism, sexual harassment, abuse, bullying and discrimination in the music industry so we can build up a picture of where the problems are and how we can address them. Share your story in confidence – email . We hear you.
It’s time to act as a community of musicians to end sexism, sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and discrimination in our industry. We need nothing short of wholesale cultural change, but it can be done. Time is up.