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MU Assistant General Secretary on Sexism & Sexual Harassment in the Music Industry

Musicians' Union (MU) Assistant General Secretary Naomi Pohl reports from a meeting with the Nordic Musicians’ Unions. 

Today we are talking to the Nordic Musicians’ Unions; Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland. We convened this meeting to talk about streaming royalties. Instead, we started by discussing the growing number of stories emerging of sexism, harassment and abuse in the music industry.
 
The feeling around the table is a wish that we had realised the scale of the problem earlier, so we could have intervened and acted on behalf of victims and survivors of sexism, sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse at work.
 
We are discussing how this particularly affects freelancers and young people who often feel they don’t have the agency to speak out, or the power to say no.
 
While abuse of power occurs in all industries, in the entertainment industries there is the carrot and stick of success and exclusion that makes the imbalance of power especially stark and open to abuse. While we regularly deal with such cases for MU members, they are individual, isolated from a bigger picture and often subject to confidentiality agreements that end up protecting the victim but also the perpetrator, masking the true scale of the problem.
 
It must be acknowledged that sexism and abuse is disproportionately perpetrated by men and boys and the victims are disproportionately women and girls, although everyone can be a perpetrator and everyone can be a victim. 
 
Horace Trubridge, MU General Secretary, spoke about the need to address gender inequality as a matter of urgency as part of the solution. All the unions around the table agree that society – including our community of musicians – gives position and power to men over everyone else, which enables harmful power dynamics to flourish.
 
It can be a subtle problem, often invisible to the outside world, such as female musicians being forced to wear skirts that are shorter than they are comfortable with. This week, the MU received calls from female session musicians booked for a gig only to find that they had to wear skirts shorter and heels higher than they were comfortable with. They were required to wear masks, and mime rather than play – none of which was mentioned to them prior to the gig. Women should be able to decide what they are comfortable with, and how they want to present themselves – that is a fact and a position the MU will be fighting for.
 
I had the privilege of speaking to musicians at our open meeting in London about the impact of gender inequality on their day to day working lives. Colleagues led a similar meeting in Manchester last week, and we will be hosting more across the UK in the coming months. Many women – many people – have opened up about their experiences in the industry, but there are many more who do not want to speak publicly for a myriad of reasons. It was in some ways horrifying. We heard stories ranging from every day sexism and apathy towards it, to stories of abuse with long lasting consequences. One musician told us how she turned to Google to work out if she had been sexually assaulted or not. Another about sexual harassment, and the complicity of other seemingly decent colleagues. We need nothing short of wholesale cultural change in our industry, for every musician to understand what is acceptable in a workplace and what is not.
 
We are working towards that goal, with these open meetings marking our first step. Attendees spoke about what they would like from their Union, what would be helpful day to day and we will work hard to make those ideas happen.
 
We are talking to the Nordic Musicians’ Unions about working together and comparing notes, so that we can deal with these problems together – across the industry on a global scale – instead of in isolation. 
 
I am taking this to the International Federation of Musicians’ Unions, calling on them to address the issue on an international level as a matter of urgency.

We cannot afford to lose great talent from our industries. Bad experiences can ruin careers and sometimes lives. We all have our #metoo stories, including me. Enough is enough. It’s time to act as a community of musicians to end sexism, harassment and abuse in our industry.  

If you would like to share your experiences in the music industry, please email safespace@theMU.orgAll information will be treated in the strictest confidence and no action will be taken on your behalf without your prior consent. 
 
Published: 16/11/2017
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