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Is this a turning point for sexism in the music industry?

The internet might have created new avenues for misogyny and shaming, but now women are using the digital world to speak out and start a conversation

I was interviewing someone in a band on the phone and he was flirting with me. He wouldn’t answer any questions, laughing and smirking his way around each one. He asked if I fancied him. I had to keep pressing each question to him but was running out of time and I’d got nothing usable. When we got off the phone I was shit-scared. I’d only been in the industry a few months and essentially, I hadn’t been able to do my job. I’d failed. But it was because this idiot hadn’t met me halfway and fulfilled his side of the deal.

If this happened now, I’d tell him to be professional and if it continued, end the conversation and tell the PR to get their bands to treat female journalists with respect. But obviously I didn’t. 

If you’re in the music industry in any capacity it’s out of obsession. Music is your first and truest love. So when your passion and knowledge is not treated with courtesy and your gender is used against you, it is tiring and predictable. But somehow, it manages to shock you every time.

On Monday, Pitchfork senior editor and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Jessica Hopper, put a call out on Twitter for people who had been subjected to misogyny in the music industry to share their experiences. It blew up.

The responses started pouring in, and Hopper retweeted them all. For the last couple of days, it has taken up my timeline. Stories ranged from music journalists being asked to fetch water for the people they were about to interview to a singer being asked by an engineer working on her first record to sing it again but “naked this time”, to rape committed by men in the industry.

According to Newsweek, Hopper had received 400 responses after only 24 hours. There have been many, many, new ones since then. One of the women who replied was Lauren Martin, an editor, writer and lecture host for Red Bull Music Academy.

“Very recently, a man active in the music industry I work in said point-blank to my face, 'I don’t think that dance music has a sexism problem.’” Martin told Dazed.  “I’m sure countless men have said that about their respective music scenes, either out of bullishness or lack of awareness.”

Why did she respond to Hopper’s tweet? “Being vocal about all kinds of misogynistic language and behaviours – not just the very, very worst of it, when it’s finally too much to take is really important. The most obvious and simple thing for me to do, then, is to point it out when I see an opportunity to do so, and Twitter is also a great platform for that. When women share experiences like these, women can see how not alone they are and more men can see that misogyny is utterly pervasive in myriad, complex ways – not just outright, ‘Get your tits out, love,’ or through being physically violent.”

The timing of all this couldn’t have been more poignant and the question so necessary. Meaghan Garvey, one of the industry’s best hip hop journalists and a contributing editor at Pitchfork, had her computer hacked and was threatened with having her personal photos leaked online – because she wrote a critical op-ed about Drake earlier this month. She tweeted as this was happening.  

When Garvey saw Hopper’s tweet, she replied with another awful experience about being raped by her ‘patron’ on a trip to LA to profile some rappers.

“Jessica’s Twitter thread has strangely been an immense source of comfort to me over the past couple days, as fucked-up as that may sound,” Garvey told Dazed. “I have spent so much time scrolling through every single reply and feeling like the shit I have experienced in my very brief time in this industry is mine alone to deal with in private.”

Despite the fact she has never officially dealt with or documented either of the above crimes, she felt the desire to speak out on social media: “There was just this obvious power that was forming in Jessica’s mentions. It was easily the safest and most understood I had felt on Twitter in years. I didn’t even realise how profoundly alone I often felt in this industry until, in this thread, I suddenly wasn’t. And watching the tweets and the empathetic responses, I knew this was probably my only chance at ever getting this awful experience that I have been bottling up for months off of my chest in a way that didn’t feel horrifying and dangerous and frankly, narcissistic, as sad as that sounds.”

There’s something powerful about Twitter; it’s giving women back part of what trolls and misogynists attempt to take away. Essentially, their voices and sense of community.

As Garvey said: “Twitter is probably the first forum I’ve had where I felt my voice had any power, where I could say whatever I want and people would actually give a shit; I think that’s probably true for a lot of non cis white males. As trash as it can often be, the importance of that kind of space really cannot be overstated.”

Hopper has worked in the industry for 20 years and told the Guardian that she believes thing ten years ago. 

However, whether Twitter is going to be a genuine vehicle for social change is yet to be seen. As Garvey said, the trolls are probably going to keep trolling. “We – and by we, I mostly mean dudes – need to apply this shit to real life, and hold their friends and co-workers and selves accountable.

“I don’t know if speaking out on social media is the answer, I really don’t. But I know that it is totally fucking revelatory to realise you are not as alone as you feel, and if that is what something like Twitter can achieve, I am all the way here for that.”

Jessica Hopper’s Twitter question might have just been a small action. But the way it provided women with strength and showed up the persaviveness of misogyny in the most public of forums is inescapable. Never before has such a collection of experiences in the music industry been curated. 

Maybe we will look back on this as a turning point for the pervasive sexism in the music industry. If online forums continue to be utilised in this way, there’s hope for shutting this bullshit down.