Is the Music Industry Ready for its #METOO Moment?

In early October 2017, the movie industry was rocked by allegations that then-film producer Harvey Weinstein – one the most influential names in Hollywood – had sexually harassed numerous women. He publicly apologised but disputed the claims against him.

By the end of 2017, more women had come forward. In 2020, a jury convicted the disgraced movie mogul of rape and sexual assault, and he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. In February 2023, he was sentenced to a further 16 years for rape.

#MeToo was first coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an advocate for women in New York. She aimed to empower women who had experienced sexual violence by letting them know that they were not alone.

Almost a decade later, Weinstein was the first major figure to be taken down by the #MeToo movement. More allegations were made about major names in the world of film, such as Kevin Spacey and James Franco.

But, while the movie industry has been rocked by claims, the #MeToo movement is yet to have a similar impact on the music industry.


Inquiry shows #MeToo “bypassed” music industry

A recent House of Commons inquiry, Misogyny in Music, revealed that the #MeToo movement hasn’t affected the music industry in the same way. This inquiry is part of the Women and Equalities Committee’s work in preventing violence against women and girls. 

The aim was to look at the misogynistic attitudes that exist and what improvements could be made to protect women working in music. It revealed that very few women reported incidents of misogyny and that for those who did come forward to formalise their experience in the form of a complaint or criminal report, no action would be taken.

Dr Cassandra Jones, lecturer in Criminology, Department of Social Sciences, University of Northumbria, surveyed everyone who works in the industry in “any form or fashion”. She discovered that 80% of women did not report abuse.

“Of the 20% who did report, nothing would happen. In some instances, their career was hurt, and they were issued with a non-disclosure agreement or a cease and desist,” she told the inquiry. Dr Jones believes that when one woman who has experienced abuse sees what has happened to those who have come forward, they'll be deterred from going through the same process.

Unlike the wave of allegations that triggered firings from job roles, along with criminal investigations and convictions in the movie industry, the world of music remained largely Untouchable.


Why the setbacks?

So, what sets music apart? Why is the #MeToo movement not having the same impact?

There are several reasons being put forward. First, there’s the age-old ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ mantra that permeates the industry. This has become a celebratory phrase used to make the events that occur in music lighthearted and harmless, along with being an easy way to dismiss misogynistic behaviour as being part of the deal that comes with being in the industry.

As well as this attitude, there’s also the culture of gatekeeping. Men have typically been in charge of the music industry, holding the power when it comes to the career of up-and-coming Talent.

There’s also the issue raised by Dr Jones. Women have seen other women come forward, only to see their careers damaged. This thread of fear runs through all levels, keeping women from taking action.


Can things change?

We’ve seen accusations against some major names in recent years. However, it seems to be a long process that requires many people to come forward before anything can happen.

One of the most prominent examples of this is the case of R Kelly. There were signs from the beginning, from his marriage to then-15-year-old Aaliyah to other accounts that dated to the start of the singer’s career in the 1990s. But he was only convicted in 2022, being jailed for 30 years.

Other major names to be accused include producer, Dr Luke, who was sued by singer Kesha in 2014 for sexual harassment and emotional abuse. He counter-sued her in 2021. Singer Marilyn Manson has been accused by his former partner, Evan Rachel Wood, of sexual assault and abuse.

There remains a culture in both of these cases of the accused becoming the accuser.

Meanwhile, steps are being taken, however these are subtle. Spaces are being made safer for women and event organisers are focusing on limiting alcohol consumption. But for institutional change to take place, we need to see more being done to protect women and those who are vulnerable who make abuse claims.

While changing attitudes can take time and be a long process, it’s important that people are given the opportunity to feel comfortable enough to report anything that doesn’t feel right.

The music industry isn’t there yet, but #Metoo is slowly having an impact.