We spoke to a few women in entertainment about their experiences with sexism

Justice is coming

Trigger warning: This post contains details of sexual assault and harassment. All names have been anonymised for the safety and protection of women in our community. 

According to Nigeria’s Chief Of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the country has recorded one case of rape every five hours between January and May this year. This month alone, we have been plagued with news of another woman being sexually assaulted nearly every day, and while this is not new or isolated, the reports have highlighted that we must all be committed to the fight against gender inequality, which is the root of sexual gender-based violence.

Back in 2006, Tarana Burke launched the #MeToo campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among victims of sexual abuse – particularly women of colour. The #MeToo movement has since affected public discourse and brought to light the ensuing epidemic that we are currently facing: grown men relying on grey areas to solicit sexual favours from women, whilst disregarding consent and the woman’s autonomy. This being the order of the day for so long, has now fostered a society imbued with microaggressions and covert sexism; two very pertinent facets of rape culture.

Today, we’re still seeing targeted violence towards women, and it’s troubling that in 2020, women are still fighting for autonomy over their own bodies. In the past 2 weeks alone, we’ve heard of accusations made against artists and others in the music and entertainment industry, such as D’Banj, Peruzzi, Bollylomo, Comedian Ebiye, and Mayowa Balogun. While these alleged cases have been brought to light, what’s scary is that there are a lot more lurking in the shadows, and will probably never see the light of day.

It’s clear that we’ve reached a time of reckoning and there’s a huge demand for change following the unjust cases of sexual violence in the past few weeks, some of which resulted in the loss of precious lives. To do our fair bit for our community, The NATIVE will be joining The Consent Workshop in their ongoing campaign, 21 Days Of Consent, to produce a series of articles dedicated to dismantling different facets of rape culture within the entertainment industry.

So far, we have discussed how music lyrics can either enable or dismantle misogyny, and for this piece, we’ve spoken to a few female artists, presenters, OAPs and more, about how their experiences with sexism and sexual assault within the industry.

For a young female artist who is just starting out in the industry, manoeuvring sexual harassment typically becomes the order of the day. “Whenever I tell them [the producers and artists] that I’m a female artist, they pretend to be interested and invite me over to the studio to record. Then when I arrive, talk of music is suddenly off the table and I am having to avoid their touch”.  From these accounts we’ve gathered, it shows that within the music industry, these women have been seen as an object of sexual desire before they are seen as an artist. This notion has presented itself in different ways, from examples like the above, to situations where women are being set up to be sexualised.

Another young singer recounts her manager requesting for her to show more skin in her music videos and on her social media platforms so that she can be more marketable – according to him, ‘sex sells’. Although this encounter may not have included any violent behaviour, it’s still a contribution to rape culture, as it teaches women that their sexual value is second to their talent and they can only progress if they constantly pander to the male gaze.

“As much as I am pretty and like to do these things regularly, I am not going to do that just because you requested. I will do it when I feel like it. I don’t think it’s fair for a woman to come in the game with a lot of talent and versatility like me, and then have someone tell them that they need to look a certain way.” 

Another female artist speaks about why she’s so committed to being an independent artist, and it’s solely because of her fear of men. She tells me how producers would try and leverage sexual favours for beats and how these requests made her turn inwards and vow to rely only on her abilities and those of a close group of friends to avoid any such trouble. Beyond dealing with sexual advancements, she also speaks about how she sometimes deals with casual misogyny and being tokenised, rather than being called upon for her actual talent. She says:

“It’s like men think that women can’t excel on their own, like we “need” them to help us out. It’s so weird. And it’s crazy cause sometimes you don’t even realise someone has been sexist towards you, it took my friend telling me for me to realise.”

For a media executive who worked at a popular TV station, she had to sever her contractual relationship with the music behemoth after incessant sexual offers from artists and their managers alike. She recounts that the higher-ups would complain about her looks, enforcing harmful notions that she was the cause of the attention she was receiving from these men.“It’s funny cause looking back, I think I developed Stockholm Syndrome because I became friends with some of these people after these events occurred. When I left that role, I dimmed down myself to avoid the attention of men.” she tells me.

She has since grown into herself and learnt to manoeuvre her new position of power. Whilst she still has to deal with what’s considered ‘regular’ misogyny from men who are intimidated by her and want to devalue her, she recounts a harrowing story from when she worked in the tech space when she was 17-years-old.

I experienced more sexual assault in the tech industry. My boss at the time tried to rape me – he had deceived me to come to the ‘second office’ to receive a parcel, meanwhile, it was his home. He tried to undress and have his way with me, until I began crying and he asked if he should stop. After this, I left and he gave me an envelope while leaving. When I got in the uber, I found that it was 30k.

The common factor here is that all these women who don’t know each other are all victims of the same belief of sexism from different men. The onus has been placed on them to either give in or face the consequences of not doing so, rather than dismantling structures that are set up to protect perpetrators. For a young OAP at a radio station, she has since come to the realisation that sexual favours are seen as a rite of passage and have become a norm because the men in power are just used to things being like that for them.

“People come into the industry from all backgrounds knowing that if you play the game right your life is changed. With this, a lot of people come in desperate to blow and whether it’s through sex, money or talent, that desperation will always be taken advantage of. Men are aware that women are desperate for these roles and capitalise on that and take advantage of these women. So when they come across women who aren’t desperate for the roles, they become offended and want to blacklist you”.

This is the same kind of power dynamic which played out in the case of a woman who interned with an advertising agency with a very popular filmmaker. She recounts a story about an initiation game they played, where new interns would be asked to stand on tables in front of the whole workplace and act like their favourite animals amongst other things. “I said my favourite animal was a dog and I was asked to walk like a dog across the table. When I refused, I was taunted and humiliated for being a spoilsport”. In addition, she and two other interns were asked to pick a member of staff (from the opposite sex), and after this, it was revealed they would have to give this employee a lap dance.

She recounts being gaslighted, by being told that she was sexualising herself since it was just a harmless tradition. Even after being reduced to tears, she says that the HR rep rudely taunted her for crying, before she was asked to leave for being a spoilsport. While it has since been announced that the company has since curtailed this welcome party, thanks to her speaking up, the experience has stuck with her. While the announcement was done in good faith she was very triggered by it and unsurprisingly so.

“The audacity to tell my story without me and send a tweet to me that it’s my story to tell and I should do what I want. It was very triggering for me to see people I look up to engage with him. I was forced to claim ownership of what happened,  and he put my business out there for me so I am ready to talk and get my story out there.” 

A woman’s pain is not a teachable moment for society, and it shouldn’t have to take people dying to wake the wider society up to the grim reality. As mentioned before, the common thread to pull at is the normalisation of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards women. In all their varying degrees – from microaggressions to actual assault – these things contribute to rape culture which endangers women all over the world every day.

As a society, what we want to do is disentangle female sexuality from the male gaze; we want women to be seen as autonomous beings and not extensions of the fantasies of men in power. To ensure this, we have to curtail these casual attitudes towards sexually inappropriate behaviour because they leave room for violent and abusive men to continue hurting women.

The importance of dialogue cannot be overstated, however, the onus can no longer only be on women to call out inappropriate behaviour. We have been doing so for centuries and clearly, nobody listens.  The responsibility lies with every single man and person in power in the entertainment industry, to address and treat women in the same way men have been addressed since the dawn of time; to treat women with respect for any reason other than the fact that she’s a human being.

It seems obvious enough, but here we still are in a country which has reported one case of rape ever 5 hours since January.

Featured image credits/NATIVE

Words by the women at The NATIVE: Tami Makinde & Damilola Animashaun 

ICYMI: Dissecting the role song lyrics play in enabling misogyny