I always knew being a woman in the music industry would mean having to fight harder, avoid creeps, and stand for myself in a way I wouldn’t have to in other industries or jobs. A few weeks ago, the topic of women in music came up again as I read this article called “Dear Creepy Men of the Music Industry, Please Stop” written by my friend and collaborator Ari Herstand. I left a comment on the Facebook post… summed up, I stated why the article was hard for me to read: there was no real-time responsibility taken. We can complain about how men treat women in this industry, but in reality, we are not taking the right actions to shut it down.
Real life, real time
The following weekend, I went to Pennsylvania to speak at a music conference. While sitting in the lobby the morning after my presentation, a middle-aged music marketing dude came and sat across from me, asking if he could chat. “Of course!” I said.
He continued to ask me what brought me to the conference. Before I could finish my sentence of “I was speaking…” he jumped in with “Oh, on the Women in Music panel?”
My response, verbatim:
“Really? Because I’m a woman?”
I must have been clearly baffled that he was suggesting that the only reason I’d be on a panel would be because I’d be talking about being a woman in music, because he immediately apologized and called himself an idiot. I agreed wholeheartedly, and then explained that my solo workshop was a presentation on how to create better branding, effectively pitch music, and break through plateaus in your music career. All of which has nothing to do with gender.
Before saying goodbye, I asked him if he was here speaking on the “Men In Music” panel. Oh wait, there was no such panel.
But the interaction stayed with me. I remained baffled for a while. You see, chauvinistic comments aren’t the norm for me. I don’t have the space for it. From my first internship in a hip hop recording studio, I learned the ropes (and cables) and spoke up for myself, made requests to be involved, and didn’t give any of the dudes I worked with to give any reason to doubt that being a girl would make a difference.
I also have pretty good sixth sense about people and tend to find myself in situations that feel good because of the people.
That all being said, the creepy fans, the old-school middle-aged music industry execs with their wishful thinking, and the clueless, socially awkward dudes are out there. This particular circumstance was a run-in with the latter.
And I remembered my comment on Ari’s article. #ShutItDownRealTime Because he may not have even known he was perpetuating a dated sexist stereotype.
I already told my story in this post about being slapped on the ass in my musical theater production. This guy has changed for the better and is actually tolerable to be around in this community theater because someone finally #ShutItDownRealTime for him. He simply had no idea he wasn’t keeping his hands to himself. (Yes, categorize him under “clueless”.)
The challenge is now to take a look at why the default reaction for women who are put in an awkward, scary, or demoralizing situation is to either laugh it off, go quiet, or go share and complain with their friends about it later (sharing is good, keep sharing) RATHER than implementing a powerful real-time vocalization about what is not working about the situation.
Part of this is due to wondering if we will lose the opportunity, or be viewed as a bitch, or not get called again, or get talked about negatively. I have wondered all of those things. Another part is having been brought up to be polite, to be quiet, to respect everyone, to not question authority. Whatever it is, I have felt intimidated and unsure as to whether or not it was a good idea to speak up.
It is ALWAYS a good idea to speak up when uncomfortable, for ANY reason.
It doesn’t need to be an eloquent “I have a dream”-type speech, just an indication of what is unacceptable. Then walk away. Here are some examples I’ve used, despite feeling uncomfortable about saying them, and I have no regrets:
“Touch me or any other woman in this production again and I will have you banned from this theater.”
“Your comment is perpetuating a dated and sexist conversation. I request you think before you speak.”
“Please stop kissing me and every other girl on the cheek, it’s extremely uncomfortable and unprofessional.”
“How many female composers have you hired in the past? None? How about adding a different perspective this time?”
“Thank you for your enthusiasm AND please keep your hands to yourself, okay?”
“I’m happy to continue our conversation but only if you can keep your hands to yourself.”
And GUYS: you see this shit happening? You can use the above as well, in your own way. Also, you can ask the female you’re with if she is uncomfortable. She’ll appreciate the way out. One of my guy friends saw me at a SXSW party trying to slip away from being drunkenly hit on by two film industry executives. He came right over and grabbed my hand like we had to rush out and swept me out of the party. (Rationalizing with someone under the influence is a waste of time.) My friend forever has my respect for spotting an uncomfortable situation and helping me take action.
Ladies, here is your permission: It’s okay to speak up. If you lose an opportunity because you were perceived as sensitive, rude, or a bitch, then it wasn’t an opportunity you would have wanted anyway. Each moment you are creating your life and your future, so give future-you a break. Let’s make a movement.
#shutitdownrealtime and move on to better things. They are out there.