OPINION: A look at a year in which the treatment of women has been of paramount importance across the entertainment industries.
WORDS: Luka Kenyon
In October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo went viral when hordes of Hollywood stars used it to rally against sexual assault in the entertainment industries amid a number of allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. Women’s activist Tarana Burke founded #MeToo in 2006 in order to support sexual assault survivors in her local area, but her slogan was adopted last October by people sharing their experiences of sexual assault on the internet in order to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem.
We began 2018 with the treatment of women at the forefront of our minds, as many allegations against men in power in the entertainment industries surfaced following the accusations made against Weinstein.
By January 1st 2018, celebrities in Hollywood had founded their own movement against sexual assault. Time’s Up was founded in response to the viral use of #MeToo, which had shown how prevalent sexual assault is in the entertainment industries. The creation of Time’s Up was announced in The New York Times alongside a letter received from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, written on behalf of 700,000 female farmworkers in the US who had experienced assault or harassment. The inclusion of this letter from a completely different industry emphasised that the treatment of women in the workplace is a universal concern.
The issue was brought into the world of music at the 2018 Grammy Awards, where female musicians including Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey and Cyndi Lauper wore white roses as a sign of solidarity with the founders of Time’s Up.
In workplaces where men hold positions of power, women often find themselves at the mercy of their male superiors. In competitive industries like those of film and music, many women feel incredible pressure to please the men in power so as not to damage their own careers. This is a dangerous dynamic, and one that has led to some harrowing cases of sexual assault over the years, Weinstein taking advantage of young actresses involved in his films being just one example. The lack of gender equality in these industries is at the heart of the problem, as a more equal music industry would challenge this troubling dynamic.
The treatment of women in music is not a new concern by any means. In the 1990s many feminist movements were trying to tackle sexual assault and harassment. The most notable being the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 90s, where girl bands voiced their anger at sexual harassment through punk music. It has been argued that Riot Grrrl were fighting for all women using their music rather than for women in music specifically, but they were definitely successful in bringing attention to the treatment of women. Lead singer of key Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, is famous for demanding “Girls to the front” at their shows, in order to protect their female fans from being groped by any male trouble makers in the crowd.
Over time, the effort to protect women in music has become much more focused and in 2018 the UK is full of very specific movements that all contribute to the progress being made towards an equal and safe music industry.
Girls Against was founded in 2015 to fight sexual harassment in the live music community specifically. A group of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 started the campaign to raise awareness about groping at gigs, after experiencing harassment themselves at concerts. Girls Against proved that it wasn’t just artists but women involved in all aspects of music that needed to be treated with respect, including fans. The girls gained support from a huge number of bands such as Circa Waves, Peace and Wolf Alice, who spoke out in support of making gigs safer. Three years on, making a concert a safe space is top of most artists’ agenda.
As concerts get safer, so does the environment for young female musicians. Many movements have succeeded this year in creating safe and supportive spaces for young women to create, acknowledging that inequality is the biggest obstacle in the way of making the industry safe and inclusive.
Girls I Rate was founded by songwriter Carla Marie Williams, whose impressive credits include Beyoncé, Britney Spears and Craig David. Williams was inspired to create Girls I Rate because of her own experience of the male-dominated music industry. Girls I Rate host events for young women between the ages of 16 and 25 from all over the UK. From A&R Listening events, where demos are heard by industry professionals, to Songwriting Weekenders, where girls are given the opportunity to perfect their craft, Girls I Rate is succeeding in creating a safe creative space for women and, in time, a stronger female presence within the industry.
Many women like Williams have realised that it is up to the women who do hold positions of power and influence in the industry to actively campaign for equality, by supporting young female musicians.
It is of paramount importance to recognise the women who are in important positions in the industry in order to encourage other women to get involved. There are many annual events that solely focus on celebrating women in music. Music Week’s fifth annual Women in Music Awards took place in November, celebrating outstanding contributions to the industry from publishers, performers and those working for labels. The awards have been praised for being vital in recognising the contributions of women in music and encouraging progress towards an inclusive industry.
The push for change in the US since last October definitely put pressure on entertainment industries worldwide to make the treatment of women a priority. The #MeToo effect is still in full swing over a year on and can be sighted as the spark for so much of the progress made in the UK music industry this year, as women refuse to be mistreated.
There is a lot more that can be done to ensure that the music industry is a safe creative space for future generations, but many of the initiatives and programmes that have been successful this year are steps towards equality, and therefore safety, in the industry.