By: Rachel Dan
“Framing Britney Spears” and “Miss Americana,” the documentaries following the lives of Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, respectively, explore the journey of young girls paving their way in the music industry. But at what cost? Their every move being watched and followed, their bodies being sexualized, and their image being controlled.
“People like putting men on a pedestal. But for women, when they show their bodies that much or have that much confidence, it makes people dislike them,” says 19-year-old Caly Pearse, an up-and-coming singer based in New Orleans. When she first entered the music industry, she was bright-eyed, and excited. Her expectations for the music industry were soon shattered, as she faced a slew of incredibly uncomfortable situations.
“It was an older guy, he made comments about me getting in the hot tub without any clothes on and sleeping in his bed, and it was very uncomfortable. It was something he’d always been used to so it wasn’t uncomfortable for him because he had always done this to girls my age,” Caly continues. This disturbing encounter isn’t an isolated incident.
She says young women in the industry are taken advantage of all the time- always by older men, who flirt with and manipulate them. Caly describes the relationship; the men say “If you do this for me, I’ll make you a hit record, I’ll make you into who you want to be.” Often, this means sexual actions. Young women are expected by men in the industry to trade their bodies and dignity for favors.
“It influences young girls, myself included, because we’re impressionable and we want to be famous. We want to be a person in the music industry, we want to be known. They say ‘If you do this, I will make you,’ and they probably would. These people with ten Grammys, if they release something with your name on it, they would make you into a hit and a star. But at what cost? Doing these things for them, it definitely puts it into perspective. Do I want it that much?”
When she went to work in a studio with a well known producer, who has won many Grammys and produced songs for artists like Ariana Grande and Halsey, it seemed like a dream come true for an aspiring female artist. That was, until she received texts after the session saying “You’re gorgeous,” “Let me make you into a star,” and “Come to my house.” She describes her thought process at the time; “You don’t know what to say because you don’t want to ruin your chances or make him hate you. If you make a bad impression on this guy, this is your one shot and you’re done. You want to please him and you want him to love you, but at the same time you can’t text him back any of these provocative messages. Things like that that put you in a weird, uncomfortable position shocked me… It’s weird. You think that you go into the music industry and it’s going to be so fun and so amazing, but there are all these little tests along the way that are like fuck, you have to be a woman.” It should not have to be a burden to be a woman.
Women have no choice but to be complacent and silent. “I felt like I couldn’t even say anything. I had to please him. I couldn’t save myself by saying, ‘No WTF, you’re 50 years old and I’m 19.’ I had to be a good girl, and go along with what he was saying. It was weird but it’s what you have to do.”
It’s what you have to do.
Jessica Abramson Lott, former President of BeautyMarks Entertainment, and Communications, Marketing, and PR employee for Rhapsody.com, the Seattle Mariners, and FOX Sports says, “If you were to ask anyone 40 or over, hands down if they were in a corporate environment, it was just a part of the environment that you were in. Especially when I worked in sports, because there were A. not a lot of females and B. a lot of blurred lines between people that you’re having drinks with after the game, and what you’re doing on the weekend and going out to dinner, or having parties.” It seems as though blurred lines are often taken advantage of by those in power.
“There was a guy that came in as the CFO for the Mariners while I was working there. He was there for a really long time. He was a nice guy, but he was very smug and rubbed people the wrong way. Last year, he ended up doing a Zoom, said a bunch of inappropriate things about the players, and got fired. When that came up, I remembered these things that happened. One of my best friends worked in PR and he had come up and massaged her shoulders… When that came out, she and I talked. I hadn’t remembered all these inappropriate things that he did. When they fired him about all these inappropriate comments, in an article that came out, they cited a bunch of alleged sexual harassment allegations and people that got paid off. That all came out at once,” says Jessica. Men at high levels on the corporate ladder are offered a security blanket and a level of protection that comes as a direct result of male dominated fields, where women are expected to accept their fates, or are silenced for speaking up.
As Caly said, “We live in a man’s world.” And she’s right. According to USC’s annual study, from 2019 to 2020, “female artists fell from 22.5% to 20.2%; female songwriters decreased from 14.4% to 12.9%; and female producers declined from 5% to just 2%.” The already low numbers of women in the music industry continue to decline. A survey conducted by YouGov in 2018 revealed that 60% of female professionals in the industry experienced sexual harassment. Yet, some men in the industry believe that sexism is an issue of the past.
Caly says, “The thought process that sexism was in the past is completely wrong, but I do see how men would see that it’s not a thing anymore, just because they don’t have to deal with it. If you don’t have to deal with it on a daily basis, then it’s not a problem for you. A man doesn’t have to deal with being over-sexualized all the time in the media, they just get put on a pedestal like they’re the king. The media for them is a completely different thing, which is why they don’t think it’s a problem anymore.” Caly has gotten backlash for photos she’s posted online, with words like “slut” and “whore” being thrown her way. She believes it’s hard for women to post what they want, yet men can do it all day long.
She does, however, believe women are gaining more respect. But she also believes that the industry is run by men. Referring to one of her idols, Taylor Swift, Caly describes how media executive Scooter Braun took control of all of her music. “She’s a boss ass bitch, she’s incredible, and she’s running the industry right now. But at the end of the day, she was being controlled by this man, who was taking all of her music. No matter how powerful a woman is, a man is always behind the scenes being a puppeteer, which is terrible. Powerful women are always being torn down by men.” This duality is both troubling and terrifying.
Molly Graham, stage manager, producer, project manager, and much more is a woman of many talents. Yet, she says, “There are a lot of challenges that would not be challenges if I were not a young girl… When I go to work, I am often hit on by people, or I’m assumed to be the assistant or someone in administration.” Her own experiences are concerningly similar to those of Caly’s.
She recalls a project she worked on; “Somebody who was a really good contact to know kept telling me how beautiful I was, and how they had never seen a woman look like me and work like me. They wrote their cell number on the back of a card. He said that he couldn’t stop thinking about me all week, and that he couldn’t get me out of his head.”
“This was a really good contact, and if I were a man and he gave me his card, I would simply have a great contact and I could move forward. But because I’m a woman, there’s the extra thought, ‘What are his expectations if I were to email him? Why is he giving me this card? What does he want from me? It doesn’t seem like he wants to work with me,’ you know?” Unfortunately, fellow women in the industry and beyond, do know.
With such a universal experience among so many women in the field, why does it continue? “Perhaps men think sexism is in the past because they’ve had the privilege to not experience it. So I would challenge them to listen to the individuals that say they feel that someone is being sexist to them, that they are being discriminated against, or targeted based on their sex. I would challenge them to listen to them because it’s most likely that it’s not that it’s not happening, it’s just that it’s not happening to you… Recognize that though you may have been able to get away with certain comments and gestures and things once upon a time, standards and expectations are changing. I’ll remember when I hire you.”
Even once a woman makes it to the top, she cannot escape the barriers of society. Jessica says, “Women as a whole have to fight a lot harder to get equal footing…When everyone starts to make gains and move up the corporate ladder, that’s when women are deciding to have kids. I had a higher title than a guy in my department, and I probably had more experience and bigger projects and a bigger budget that I was managing. Then I had my 2nd or 3rd child, and I went on maternity leave. Because I had been with the company for so long, I could take a lot of time off. During that time period, they promoted the guy, and it just didn’t sit well with me because on paper, I have more experience than him, I’m managing more complex things, I’ve been at the company longer than him, and the only reason he was probably promoted was because I took my maternity leave, which I earned.” Jessica’s hard work, experience, and dedication for years were easily disregarded and clouded by her maternity leave.
She says the whole family medical leave piece needs to change. “Our country is so dysfunctional and behind in the way that we help women when they want to have kids. All these other countries, the mom gets a year off, the dad gets 6 months off, and yet we’re scratching and clawing our way just to get 6-12 months off. Women are unfairly punished for taking maternity leave. When it comes to giving people raises, or moving up the corporate ladder, unfortunately people do take into consideration marriage, relationship status, are they going to have kids, do they have kids, and that hinders their growth. The MFA(Medical Family Leave Act) needs to come into the 21st century.”
Maternity leave isn’t the only barrier that women in these industries- and the corporate world alone- have to face. “I’ve been in situations with women that have just had to really fight to get a promotion, and sometimes have to threaten to leave, or go interview for another job, and come back to the company they’re at and say, ‘Hey, I want this title and this raise, otherwise I have another offer. You shouldn’t have to be in a threatening position to negotiate what you deserve.”
“You shouldn’t have to be in a threatening position to negotiate what you deserve.”
“There’s a huge movement, there’s a lot of transformation happening and moving at epic speed, I think over the last couple years with #MeToo stuff that’s happened and social justice movements, you’re seeing a lot of women and WOC taking executive roles. It’s unfortunate that we had to have these horrific things happen in our society for us to kind of wake up and mix up what the board room looks like.” Hopefully, at some point in the future, it won’t take female troubles and trauma to advance in society.
Fortunately, Jessica has observed many positive changes that have come about in the past years. When she first started working for the Seattle Mariners, she “quickly realized that there were only women in that environment who were administrative assistants and executive assistants, and there were very few women in any managerial positions.” She says that sports is a very male dominated field, in which, “women are really underrepresented from the front office, to the ownership piece, to on the field.” But, “In the last 2-3 years, the landscape has really changed… The general manager for the Florida Marlins is now a female.” The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ very own Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar recently became the first female coaches on a team to win the Super Bowl.
Jessica recalls from her experience working with agents for female talent. “There are more women represented than there are men, however when it comes to music producers, writers, attorneys and agents, that’s still pretty male dominated. I worked with one female agent at one of the big agencies and she was Serena Williams’ agent for 15 years, but she was one of the sole female agents that enlisted in that group where most of them are male agents, which is hard when you’re representing female clients.” If there are so many women in these industries, why are the majority represented and managed by men?
When asked about what kept her going in the male dominated industries she was a part of, she said, “My mom was a professional, and my grandmothers all went to college. That was just what happened in my family. That just played a huge role, I was determined. When I went down the sports/entertainment track, I had goals in my mind. I was goal oriented.”
Today, women continue to set goals, and break down the walls that sustain the sexist ways of the music, entertainment, and sports industries. Though the change may be slow, it is happening nonetheless. Women in these industries are constantly faced with the barriers of being oversexualized, and underestimated. The confidence of a man is respected, while the confidence of a woman is dismissed. Yet, Caly, Molly, and Jessica all hold the highest hopes for the future of the women.
Caly says, “I do think the future of the music industry is looking up, but I think it’s gonna take forever for it to even be remotely close to what we want it to be.” And it’s true, because change is a process. But like Molly says, “Representation matters, and seeing women in these roles will inspire other women. Seeing women in these roles that have historically been male roles, being powerful, kind and respectful, is what’s gonna change the industry.”
Though working towards an industry that is more inclusive of women, much more work is to be done to eliminate the preconceived notions towards the female professionals in the male dominated industry. Preconceived notions which cloud the ability for women to be represented the way they truly should, and to display their power and talent to the world.