Raising the Glass Ceiling // Megan Mansfield
Kesha Rose Serbert was only a 17-year-old girl when she was first lured into the music industry. Although she was clearly gifted in physics and math, achieving nearly-perfect SAT scores, her first love was music. Between classes and extracurricular activities, Kesha wrote music and began recording demos, one of which was noticed by a well known producer who goes by the name Dr Luke (Leszkiewics, 2016). The supposed professional convinced the girl to drop out of high school and leave her family in Nashville, in order to pursue a music career with him in Los Angeles. Upon signing a contract with Dr Luke’s label, which might typically be looked at as a dream come true for so many musicians, Dr Luke then began to take advantage of more than this young girl’s talent and passion.
Now, at 28-years-old, Kesha is fighting to be freed from the contract she had signed as a teen due to continuous emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her producer, Dr Luke. Along with the allegations of emotional abuse, such as calling her “fat fucking refrigerator,” Kesha’s legal team has also shared detailed stories of rape:
“After forcing Sebert to drink with him, Dr Luke instructed Sebert to take what he described as “sober pills” in order for her to sober up. Sebert took the pills and woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr Luke’s bed, sore and sick, with no memory of how she got there. Sebert immediately called her mother and made a “fresh complaint,” telling her that she was naked in Dr Luke’s hotel room, she didn’t know where her clothes were, that Dr Luke had raped her, and that she needed to go to the emergency room.”
Kesha filed an injunction, with the simple request of not being forced to work with her abuser any longer. Rather than showing an ounce of empathy for a young female survivor, the judge stated, “I don’t understand why I have to take the extraordinary measure of granting an injunction… my instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing” (Leszkiewics, 2016). This is our legal system’s response to several allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse over a ten year period. Kesha and her legal team have since filed a hate crime case against Dr Luke as another effort to free her from being forced to work with Dr Luke to which the judge responded, “every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime” (O’Keeffe, 2016). What will it take for our society to see ongoing sexual abuse as more important than financial profit? When will influential individuals and members of our legal system be held accountable for promoting rape culture?
More recently, we’ve seen a blatant example of the objectification of women in the music industry in comments made by self-proclaimed “experienced DJ,” DJ Justin James. Aside from his apparent difficulty with counting, DJ Justin James perfectly exemplifies everything that is wrong with the music industry as it pertains to sexism (see below). Claiming to be in search of female DJ’s for performances, he posted a list of requirements on a Facebook group titled “Support FEMALE DJs !!!!!!!!.” Of the 8 requirements listed by him, not one pertains to musical talent or experience in the industry, yet height and weight requirements are listed (Rubinstein, 2016). Of course, his ignorant comments caused a brief uproar on social media. His response to the backlash included comments such as, “Sex sells. Period. Please don’t act like this is something that we were not aware of, and please do not shoot the messenger for relaying the message,” and “if they wanted talented DJ’s then they would just hire men” (Welsh, 2016).
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However, “vilifying just a single person (or two)… will never truly address or affect the root of the issue” (Rubinstein, 2016). As with any social justice issue, action must be taken; we must use light to battle the darkness. Luckily, there are wonderful organizations who have come together to combat the lack of feminism in today’s music industry. NapGirls, “a collaborative organization whose mission is to connect and empower women by nurturing creative and professional growth,” has been gaining traction not only in the United States but also internationally (“NapGirls,” 2016). Founder, Liz Garard, said she started the group upon moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the music industry. “I had these preconceived notions of what jobs I’d be qualified for. I had one guy say he could get me a job, then he started sending dick pics every Sunday” (Hankins, 2016). Although she started the group as a joke amongst friends, NapGirls has grown to a robust community of young women, specifically those interested in the electronic music industry, who provide each other with social support and career guidance. Women in Music (WiM), is another inspirational group worth mentioning, with the goal to “advance the awareness, equality, diversity, heritage, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment, and recognition” (Patel, 2015). Led by an impressive group of member-elected women as the Board of Directors, WiM has been able to provide pro-bono legal counsel, seminars and workshops as well as fruitful networking opportunities for women in all areas of the industry (“Women In Music,” 2016).
Although this topic deserves so much more than a short blog post, my hope is that this brief highlight raises awareness around this pervasive and disturbing issue in order to inspire action. As a therapist and doctoral student, it is easy to stay involved with feminism from a scholarly perspective while overlooking the everyday aspects of our culture which promote rape culture and sexism; however, due to the intense and influential relationship between adolescents and young adults with pop culture figures and role models, it is imperative we are aware of these issues. While there is an undoubtably overwhelming amount of sexism among the music industry, whether it be in the form of music videos and lyrics or hiring requirements and salaries, our focus as feminists must be to ensure that female artists do have a supportive community to turn to. Young women need to have access to mentors and role models who encourage them to embrace their sexuality but also their talent, passion, and drive for the art.
Written by: Megan Mansfield
Hankins, M. (2016, October). #Napgirls – Inside the IRL gender equality movement in dance music. Nest HQ. Retrieved from gender-equality-movement/
Leszkiewics, A. (2016, February 22). How Kesha’s rape allegations spiralled into a celebrity feminism contest. NewStatesman. Retrieved from http:// www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2016/02/how-kesha-s-rape- allegations-spiralled-celebrity-feminism-contest
“NapGirls: About.” (2016, April 1). NapGirls. Retrieved from http://napgirls.com/about/
O’Keeffe, K. (2016, April 6). Kesha's hate crime countersuit against Dr. Luke has been thrown out of New York Court. Music.Mic. Retrieved from 140106/kesha-s-hate-crime-countersuit-against-dr-luke-has-been-thrown-out-of- new-york-courtutm_source=policymicTWTR&utm_medium=main&utm_
Patel, N. (2015, October). Gender in the Music Industry. Music Business Journal. Retrieved from http://www.thembj.org/2015/10/gender-inequality-in-the-music- industry/
Rubinstein, P. (2016, February 3). DJ Justin James shamelessly embodies everything that’s wrong with the music industry. YourEDM. Retrieved from http:// www.youredm.com/2016/02/03/dj-justin-james-shamelessly-embodies- everything-wrong-with-the-music-industry/
Welsh, (2016, February 3). DJ Justin James posts outrageous list of requirements for female DJs. FACT: Music News, New Music. Retrieved from http:// www.factmag.com/2016/04/04/bernard-herrmann-taxi-driver-vinyl/
“Women In Music: About.” (2016, April 1). Women In Music. Retrieved from http:// womeninmusic.org/web/about-us/