FEATURE: Erase/Rewind: Why a Recent Musicians’ Union Survey Leads Me to Believe Tough Action Needs to Happen…Right Now




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Why a Recent Musicians’ Union Survey Leads Me to Believe Tough Action Needs to Happen…Right Now


YOU can forgive me for…


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returning to the subject of sexual harassment and abuse in music, seeing as I only recently explored the topic. I guess many of us look at reports of sexual harassment and objectification in music and think it is always going to happen; we will always see this sort of thing happen. Whilst it is impossible to see rapid change, I do think more needs to be done quicker. I should probably contextualise my comments and renewed anger. Recently, I saw an article that revealed (the fact) artists are quitting the industry because of sexism and abuse. It is not reserved exclusively to women but, as you can imagine, the majority of cases concern women. Some shocking facts and figures emerged from a Musicians’ Union survey: 

Reams of talented artists are leaving the music industry due to sexism and abuse, the Musicians’ Union has said, with new figures suggesting almost half of its members have experienced harassment at work.

The union called on the government to extend protections relating to discrimination and harassment in the Equality Act 2010 to freelancers, so that they were entitled to the same protections as those in fixed employment.

In a survey conducted by the union – which represents more than 31,000 musicians, 90% of whom are freelancers – 48% of respondents said they had experienced workplace harassment. More than four in five (85%) did not report it.

“We are aware of far too many cases of talented musicians, particularly young or emerging artists, leaving the industry altogether due to sexism, sexual harassment or abuse,” said Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary at the Musicians’ Union.

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The survey of 725 musician’s union members from across the country found that almost two-thirds (61%) felt they were more at risk because they worked on a freelance basis. Just one in five (19%) said the contracts they work under included policies or procedures to deal with incidents of sexual harassment.

Workplace culture was seen as the greatest barrier to reporting harassment (55%), followed by fear of losing work (41%), the expectation that the issue would not be handled appropriately (32%) and fear of not being believed or taken seriously (27%).

I have covered the subject of sexual abuse, sexism and assault before but, with every report that comes out, it opens my eyes. The fact so many women are quitting music because of abuse is staggering. At the moment, so many are leaving a profession they love and are not outing men culpable. I can understand why: there is a sense of fear, not being believed or repercussions. There are women who use social media to shame those who abuse or assault them. I think the industry itself needs to act right now. The Musicians’ Union can support artists, but it does not have the power to punish those who offend. I do think there should be a campaign set up that can out those who are sexist or abuse women. I know there are legal ramifications regarding naming people without solid proof. As things stand, women are leaving music and not able to share their stories because they feel nothing will be done.

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When musicians are named in the press because they abuse women, there is action and they feel the effect – often, their label will drop them, or they are taken to court. There are so many cases happening in offices and workplaces; not involving big stars so, a lot of the time, nothing results. Not only should women feel confident reporting cases of abuse, knowing they will be taken seriously; there also needs to be action taken at grassroots level. Sexism is pretty rife and, from workplaces to the top of the industry, it seems to run rampant. Perhaps things are better than they were a few years ago, but there is still too much happening. No woman should be in a position where they are the victim yet feel like they should remain silent because they’ll lose their jobs or not believed. For freelancers, there needs to be something in place that protects those who are at risk of sexism and abuse. So few contracts have any implementation for dealing with workplace abuse; so few women are safe and protected. I am not sure how much is being done at a government level, but I fear there is very little action regarding change and improvement. In an article from The Independent, some important voices are speaking out:

Rebecca Hitchen, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition campaign group, said: “It is overwhelmingly women musicians who experience sexual harassment and assault and who therefore face the backlash and repercussions if they do speak out or report. We find the increasing use of libel law as a way of silencing women who speak out about abuse, as experienced by the #SolidarityNotSilence campaign, extremely troubling.

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“The music industry is male-dominated, can be exploitative and has very few regulations. Much more needs to be done to both prevent harassment from taking place, and support those who speak out.”

Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at Rights of Women, added: “The law should be changed to include protections for freelancers so that they know someone will be held accountable.”

A government Equalities Office spokesperson said: “Sexual harassment is appalling and it must be stopped. Our consultation on how the current laws can be improved closed at the beginning of this month, and we are carefully considering all of the responses we received. We proposed a number of measures to strengthen and clarify the law so that we can provide explicit protections to anyone who experiences this vile behaviour in the workplace”.

Whilst sexual assault is appalling, there is so much casual sexism that is putting women off coming into music or seeing them leave the profession. There are areas, such as journalism, where there is greater gender balance and less sexism (although there is still some). In other areas, such as live music, there are appalling cases where women are being assaulted and overlooked. From females experiencing sexism (and creating physiological damage), to more serious incidents, it paints a very worrying image. I do think a new body needs to be established that specifically deals with sexism and abuse aimed at women. We have this ‘lad culture’ problem that should have been erased years ago. Look back decades ago and attitudes were appalling. This sense that men could do what they want and it was all part of the fun…why are we seeing this in 2019?! In some ways, things have gotten worse because of social media – some really disgusting comments appearing – and the rise in women in the industry.


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This fight to end sexism and abuse is not on the shoulders of women alone. I am sorry to keep ‘banging on’ about this particular subject, but I am not seeing change. Starting from the bottom of a fetid swamp, this laddish idea that a woman is ‘up for it’ or ‘fair game’ needs to be wiped out. This is a Stone Age attitude that has no place in modern society. Hollywood has a #MeToo movement and, as sexism and abuse are not going anywhere in music, there needs to be massive improvement. I understand there are smaller campaigns out there where women can speak out but, in terms of a unified and vocal movement like #MeToo; I don’t think there is anything out there quite like it. Anything that helps bring about justice, culture change and massive outrage would help shake things up. At the moment, it seems mostly women who are vocalising (when they feel safe). It is obvious that things cannot go on as they are and a…    

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REVOLUTION needs to occur.