A toxic industry: the scale of sexual abuse of female popstars

TW: this article contains discussion of abuse and sexual assault

The abuse of female popstars in the music industry is an issue that is not unknown but is also not spoken about very often. In the wake of the #MeToo movement over recent years, countless women in the entertainment industry have come forward about the abuse they have experienced at the hands of producers, directors and many more. The stories of these women expose a culture that seeks to intimidate female entertainers by threatening harm to their career if they stand up to their abuser. 

Recently, Lady Gaga came forward about how she was abused by a producer that she worked with when she was 19, and she detailed the traumatic effects it had on her mental state. Gaga, who is now 35 years old, felt that she had to keep this situation a secret out of fear that it could harm her career. Even now, she refuses to name the producer who did this because of the amount of power they have in the industry. Sadly, Gaga’s story is not the only one of this kind. The fear of being blacklisted and demonised in the media and professional spheres is what keeps women in the music and other entertainment industries silent.

 For many victims of sexual assault and violence, it can be scarier to speak out and not be believed than to stay silent and continue suffering. This is unsurprising as our society tends to blame victims when dealing with these issues. This attitude is most prevalent amongst those that actually have the power to change this. The judicial system often forces victims of assault to prove that an assault happened and forces them to relive their trauma instead of dealing with the perpetrator.

 This is precisely what happened in the case of #FreeKesha. In 2014, the singer filed for a lawsuit that would release her from her contract with producer Dr Luke. Kesha had revealed that he had been sexually and verbally abusing her, which led to her developing an eating disorder, so she wished to be released from her contract. However, Kesha was quickly demonised after Dr Luke filed a countersuit claiming that the allegations she put forward were a lie in order to get her out of her contract. 

These are not isolated incidents. To suggest so would be to downplay the patriarchal culture that allows men in positions of power to exert their dominance over female stars who they view as being there for their enjoyment only. These are only two examples, but the likelihood that there are many more cases just like these is too high. The stress and trauma this puts on victims is intense as they are forced to choose between speaking out about their treatment and risk demonisation or suffer through the abuse which they can see no end to. 

It’s clear that the tactic is to intimidate female stars, especially when they are young and new to the industry as they would hold less power and their case could be easily buried if they came forward. Furthermore, those newer to the music industry are assumed to be less aware about what is and is not acceptable behaviour from those that are higher-up than them. 

Ex- Fifth Harmony member Ally Brooke came forward in her book Finding Your Harmony about the harassment and intimidation she was subject to by men from their label. She detailed how while recording the group’s second album 7/27, a high-up executive tried to get her to do things she was ‘extremely uncomfortable with’, and how another invited her to his hotel room and bought her a thong which he brought to a meeting with her. Brooke wrote about how this made her feel humiliated and she was forced to laugh things off to avoid awkwardness. She added that she felt an extra sense of responsibility as even though she was 21 at the time, she was the oldest member of the group and often had to argue against sexually explicit lyrics that their label pressured the group to sing, even while some members were still seventeen and therefore minors.

The fact that even sixteen years after the incident Lady Gaga is afraid to name her abuser should reveal all that needs to be known about the use of fear and abuse of power in the entertainment industry

In an interview with Glamour, pop girl-group Little Mix have also recently spoken about how they had to learn to stand their ground as a group after spending ‘far too long being patronised’ by men from their label and in the industry in general. While they don’t mention harassment and assault specifically, their words are reminiscent of how women in the music industry are subject to being made to feel as though they are less than and are put in a position where it is hard to stand up for themselves without backlash. Throughout their career they have consistently spoken about the lack of mental and physical support they received from their label and how they were forced to deal with the impact of fame alone. The lack of support pop stars receive may mean that it is harder for them to know who to turn to when incidents occur, as it’s suggested that there is no one there to actively help them.

Occasionally, some may wonder why women still “put up with” the treatment they face, but this way of thinking blames the wrong group of people entirely. Instead, we should be questioning those in positions of power so frequently abuse it. The answer is because they know they can get away with it. The fact that even sixteen years after the incident Lady Gaga is afraid to name her abuser should reveal all that needs to be known about the use of fear and abuse of power in the entertainment industry. It’s committed by those high up and excused by their peers who see nothing wrong with their actions.

This attitude replicates the idea that women are to be seen and not heard. Often the abuse that women face is blamed on them for simply existing and being perceived as attractive. Actress Megan Fox was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 2000s after speaking out about mistreatment that she suffered from Transformers director Michael Bay. Recently she has opened up about how directors and producers spread rumours saying she was difficult to work with because she spoke up, making it harder for her to find work. Even though she is not a pop star, this just further shows that the abuse of female entertainers goes beyond the music industry and is a much deeper societal issue.

It’s difficult to know the full extent of the abuse of female stars and entertainers, and the seemingly lack of opposition to this abuse within those who hold power in this industry make it even harder to know. However, every time someone speaks out about what they have faced, it’s obvious that it took a lot for them to gather the courage to speak up about it in the first place.

(Image: Flickr)

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