Walk into any busy music industry event in Australia and – if you know what you’re looking for – you’ll probably see it. Huddles of women – record company executives, PR juniors, managers and even the artists themselves – in pairs, threesomes, groups, talking about the open secret that so many of them live with, day in, day out. A toxic culture that they say powers the entertainment industry with the intensity of a stack of Marshall amps. “Watch out for that guy, he gets handsy.” “You can’t write songs about sexism, the label won’t like it.” “I was asked to go back to his hotel room and he got really nasty when I said no.”
Amber Petty confirms that “everyone knows about the boys’ club – you warn each other.” She worked in various roles at major Australian music labels in the early 2000s before leaving to begin her own independent PR business. “The music industry seems like it’s this really cool space to be but it’s actually exhausting and stressful.” Contributing to its loose atmosphere are the constant gigs, hard drinking and late-night partying taking place outside office hours, providing the grounds for a murky culture to permeate and flourish.
But for Petty and other women in the industry, it’s the sexism – covert, overt, sometimes downright physically dangerous – that makes it intolerable. It’s much more than just hearsay. Sixty-five per cent of women working in the music industry have been pressured to have sex, according to a recent report from Dr JeffCrabtree from the University of Technology Sydney. Shockingly, 85 per cent have experienced sexual harassment. Crabtree’s research – conducted between March 2019 and March 2021 and including in-depth interviews with 33 women across various sectors of the industry, plus data from 145 survey respondents – found that workplace sexual harassment is “pervasive and normalised” in the Australian music industry. And it starts at the top. “Toxic, disturbed dinosaurs have been dictating the culture for years,” Petty says.
Sexism, sexual harassment and exploitation aren’t confined to the music industry. But insiders say that it’s an industry that brings together a unique set of circumstances that make the women who work in it particularly vulnerable. It’s a world that sells sex and excess and it’s easy for the lines to get unconscionably blurred. An anonymous Instagram account, Beneath the Glass Ceiling, details some of the most lurid incidents. “I was filmed having sex without my consent,” wrote one woman who worked directly with male artists.
“Really grosses me out to say this, but a male executive sent me a picture of his genitals with his face on it,” wrote another woman, who says she worked at an Australian radio station. Another listed a series of direct quotes she’d heard from male music industry executives over the years, things like: “In this industry, getting on your knees will get you further than brains”, “Come into my office for a closed-blinds meeting”, and “Only the pretty ones get invited to events.”
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