In my very early twenties I worked for a well known music and culture magazine for my formative years straight out of university – writing and working on fancy music, fashion and art events with famous names and faces I had previously never dreamed I would meet.
It was so exciting to do so well so young and to land a job before I had even graduated. My work crossed fashion, art and music and included co-running big events that were featured in newspapers. I booked and took care of famous DJs and musicians and everything felt overwhelming, exhausting and very very exciting. When you think this is your break and you feel like you have hit the professional jackpot you don’t want to focus on the very wrong things that are happening to and around you. You get tough. You don’t crack and you think like this you will be safe.
I felt uniquely tough and smart and had no real work experience to compare. The further up and in I got the more blurry and disturbing things became. The music industry is so male dominated and my segment was predicated on a currency of celebrity, power and network. This all makes it near impossible for young people to call out violation and wrongdoing . Who would care firstly, who would do anything and most importantly, but not proudly, what would it do for my career? Without a clear meritocracy it is never disclosed why/how to get ahead and if you highlight a problem you become the problem and are then easily expendable. This much was clear.
Whilst at the magazine I witnessed many things but one haunted me – one night at a private event at a London venue with tons of famous musicians performing and celebrities attending I had to go backstage to get my boss out to give a speech with the head of a big fashion label who were our sponsors. I walked in on him in the midst of an assault on a blacking out doped up (young) teenage model. I calmly and firmly extracted him from the situation, I told no one and did nothing else. I didn’t know how or think that there was anything I could do. I doggedly determined to protect as many people as I could alone. I was pleased I had stopped something from happening and didn’t dwell on what would have happened if I had not walked in.
I protected a colleague at work who had become a target of his, even once rescuing her when he drugged her at his apartment after luring her there early morning purportedly for some professional purpose. I got a call and headed there before work and got her. We then went to the office and told no one, for years afterwards we barely even spoke of it as I knew she didn’t want to face what had happened. We didn’t have the words.
After that morning, he arrived in the office later that day wearing his sunglasses. I stood in front of his desk and glared at him silently. I was 23. I stared at him and he knew then that I knew. I thought that was enough. We then went for discreet help from senior women in our organisation who shrugged their shoulders and left us to protect ourselves. I still cannot understand how they could do that.
Later on I left and moved overseas. Within two months of my departure our boss had begun a ‘relationship’ with the friend I had so zealously protected. She was manipulated and not in any position to fully consent to a relationship within that kind of power dynamic. It ended and she was given comfortable and elevated positions whilst kept out of the way until leaving. I felt I had let her down and was bereft.
The stench of male bad behaviour clings to the junior staff who surround them and so for years I would protect the dignity of my female coworkers who were denigrated for supposedly having slept their way to their positions. Nobody ever blamed the men who abused their power, who lied and contrived to bed their female subordinates. Women in our industry were quick to tarnish the young women who were trying to start their careers and very slow to condemn the men who were in charge who had cultivated this disgusting and abusive environment.
I left the industry haunted by the teenage models and coworkers I might have almost saved and wondered often what more I should have done. And then years went by my career took off in a different direction and I tried to leave my concerns behind.
When Harvey Weinstein was the subject of an expose in the New York Times his modus operandi was so similar to the men I had worked with that I sat frozen reading the story and then wept. I felt complicit and disgusting and I still didn’t know what to do.
I see the magazine now profiting from the current cultural movement that supports feminism, non binary and diverse identity and I feel bile rising in my throat. The company was entirely built on the exploitation of young women -financially, physically and emotionally and had no regard for including models who weren’t white despite myself and a few others voicing objections – to the ridicule of our management. To see them now co-opting a message of inclusion without acknowledging the past and then profiting from it and the phenomenal individuals who do embody this is an abomination to me.
I have been reluctant to share my story because it includes many others and I have no desire to share their stories for them. The music, fashion and arts industries are insular and exclusionary and nobody wants their name to be forever associated with a more famous abusive man. One thing I have realised as a woman who has been committed to feminism since I could speak, who has been raped and assaulted and consistently fought to extinguished patriarchal oppression is this. The only thing that you have a choice in when you’ve been abused by a person in a position of power is what you let it mean for the rest of your life. I am not a rape victim. It is a thing that happened to me. I refuse to be defined by it, challenged and destroyed. I am more and I will own my story. But in doing so I have to live with the knowledge that others after me may have suffered. That perhaps I could have done more.
This platform will protect everyone so that we don’t have to bear the weight of prosecution and repercussion alone. So we can prevent instead of coming forward with our stories. So that we can finally feel that we have done something to stop this without destroying our own lives. And so that men like my first boss, who I hope is afraid right now, and the many others I and countless others have encountered across the creative industries, finally face the consequences of their actions.
I used to think I was special for being so tough. Now I realise that we wear the trophies that our oppressors give us and no woman/person should have to be tough enough to fight off sexual assault just to be able to do their job.