Sexual Harassment in Rock Bands

Content Warning: This is a post where we will be discussing sexual harassment. I feel this is a necessary discussion to have on this blog because it’s a serious issue. This blog is about social justice issues after all and this isn’t totally unrelated because it’s about a rock band. This is an extra post, one where I comment on current events and social issues more in depth.

Sexual harassment is very common and it happens at work, in school, and in public places. Take a look at these statistics on it. More often it is women who are victims of sexual harassment. A lot of women see these inappropriate behaviours as normalised because of social conditioning, like the whole “boys will be boys” excuse. I don’t like to use the current year argument because it’s tired, and no matter what year it is – “boys will be boys” was always the wrong thing to say and a horrible attitude. I was a victim of sexual harassment when I was a teenager and it was awful (I do not wish to go into detail about what happened since this is very personal and private). Humiliating. Dehumanising. I did not feel comfortable going to school and seeing these classmates harass me. I reported the harassment because I knew this wasn’t being a tattletale. This was about my safety and well being. Sadly, I was dismissed and not taken seriously. Did I hear the “boys will be boys” thing? Yes. Many times and not from male teachers. These were fellow women victim blaming me and telling me that “boys will be boys”. That it was my fault that they harassed me. What did I hear? That I was not worthy of respect, that I had no dignity. Women should stand up for other women, right? Here’s an interesting article that talks about victim blaming and people thinking they will fight back until it happens to them and how hard it is to speak out. 

You may have heard about American skateboarder and snowboarder Shaun White being accused of sexual harassment. He is being sued. I didn’t know that he is also a musician. The drummer in his band accused him of sending her inappropriate pictures and making inappropriate comments about her appearance. On the internet you’ll see a wide range of views. Most people were very supportive of the drummer, Lena Zawaideh. Others were defending Shaun White and victim blaming Lena. A lot of people put their favourite celebrities on a pedestal. The latter are an example of why people say “don’t read comments on news stories”. Victim blaming makes me lose faith in humanity. With a lot of people having attitudes of excusing harassment, no wonder victims don’t speak out a lot of the time. You don’t feel validated. I know I didn’t. Those memories of unsupportive teachers kept playing in my head. Shortly after turning 18, I was assaulted. I was worried that I would be judged and people would say it was my fault that I was assaulted. Luckily, I was not judged and people were very supportive. But it did take me a couple of days to report the incident to the police because I wasn’t sure what to do. I was shocked.

A lot of those comments on the story were about how sexual harassment is to be expected in a rock band and is part of the job. Also known as victim blaming. Why should being in a rock band mean you get harassed by bandmates? It’s not acceptable, full stop. It’s another tired “boys will be boys” cop out. Stop it! These harassers must be held accountable for their actions. There have been a lot of barriers for women getting into rock music from women not being taken seriously to women being harassed. It’s discouraging. If we want to see more women in rock music, we need to make sure that the music scene is a safe place for women. I want women to follow their dreams.

Rock bands don’t have policies to deal with cases of harassment like a company would. Companies have HR departments who deal with that (maybe not in the best way though and they can still be dismissive). There’s not exactly an HR department in a rock band. There is a question of “who is the boss?” and “who leaves?”. Not too differently from other jobs, “bosses” in bands harass too. So either way you do have that thought of “what do I do?”. A lot of politics is involved and a lot of people are afraid to take sides because a lot of bands are all friends (it’s still difficult in a company). There’s a lot of pressure too. In short, harassment in rock bands is a complicated matter and handling it is a little different from harassment in other types of workplaces like restaurants or offices. There are similarities and differences. No matter what situation you’re in, it’s tough. This leads me to another stupid comment,”rock bands aren’t really workplaces”. Yes they are. Being a musician is a real career and you should feel safe no matter where you work or what your work is. Feeling safe at work is a human right.

And of course there are comments like “why did they wait so long to say something?”. It’s easy to judge when you’re not in the situation. You’re depending on that paycheque and you can’t afford to leave work. Who knows when you’ll find another job? You’re afraid of retaliation. You’re worried that people won’t believe you. Will work ever be the same again after I report this incident? Will people hate me? Will people’s opinion of me change? These are things that run in people’s heads after being harassed and decide whether or not to report it. Don’t ask about why someone didn’t report harassment or an assault sooner. Help them. Be supportive. Listen.

I found this article on Broadly that is pretty relevant to what I’m talking about and I think it is worth a read. A lot of what I discussed in this blog post is talked about in the article too. You might also find this a good read. It talks about how reports get dismissed.