Women’s Music Industry Horror Stories: Abuse, Sexism, and Erasure
Women took to Twitter to share their tales of music biz struggles. Their heartbreaking stories paint a disturbing portrait of an industry rife with misogyny.
On Monday, Pitchfork Senior Editor Jessica Hopperasked the Twitterverse: “Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t ‘count’?” What followed were hundreds of responses, mostly detailing the tragic timeline of any chick who dares to like music, thus infringing on the safe spaces of country bros and alt-rock dudes. Hopper’s retweets tell a pretty predictable story: girl develops interest in a music scene, girl is endlessly scrutinized and told that her fandom is illegitimate/invalid, girl is mistaken for a groupie or a girlfriend, girl is harassed/groped/assaulted at shows.Various tropes are repeated over and over again, like a riff you’ve heard too many times before: an aspiring bassist being told by a music teacher that bass is for boys, or a teenager being asked by her dubious male classmates to recite a band’s entire discography in order to prove her fan cred. The narrative gets even more disturbing and specific when you start charting the testimonials of women who pursued careers as musicians, sound engineers, executives, and journalists. The recurring message is that, for women, the music industry is a Banksy-designed Choose Your Own Adventure book, with each career path containing its own lady-specific land mines.Rampant misogyny is the music industry’s worst kept secret. Recently, legendary rapper—and the richest musician on the planet—Dr. Dre finally apologized for a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse against women. The apology stemmed from outrage over Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic, which topped the box office without addressing Dre’s problematic past. In her essay “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up,”rapper and television personality Dee Barnes described the night in 1991 when Dre “straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom.” Dre later told Rolling Stone, “It ain’t no big thing—I just threw her through a door.” He pleaded no contest to Barnes’s assault charges and settled with her out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Dre’s history of violence against women was similarly uncontested. Everyone knew that Dr. Dre beat up women—they just didn’t really care. Michel’le, an R&B singer and Dr. Dre’s former girlfriend, explained, “I’ve been talking about my abuse for many, many years, but it has not gotten any ears until now,” before detailing how her relationship with one of hip-hop’s greats left her with “black eyes, a cracked rib and scars.” Singer Tairrie B is Dre’s third known music industry victim—the rapper punched her twice in the face at a Grammys after party in 1990. Straight Outta Compton director (and Barnes’s ex-cameraman) F. Gary Gray explained away the exclusion of these incidents by insisting that“we had to make sure we served the narrative… it wasn’t about side stories.”