What It Means To Make Music As A Womxn

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Written by Jenna Dreisenstock

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Not long ago, I briefly spoke about the importance of critically examining how we all, as music lovers, need to make sure we create inclusive spaces for all – the responsibility of organisers, venues and the general public to focus heavily on allowing all to enjoy and feel safe as a part of various music scenes. However, we need to remember that not only is harassment and safety an issue for female-identifying festival goers – but female-identifying musicians themselves.

Parasitic in such an intangible way, vivid as a neon billboard in humankind’s actions; to tackle oppression as it leeches so ingrained – it’s difficult to truly be able to speak about tangible solutions: as often, it feels as though as soon as we are able to sculpt our actions to tackle even one of these overwhelming societal issues – we can find ourselves taking one step forward, and two steps back – whether it be push-backs from those who strongly oppose fundamental rights for all peoples and beings (I know, the logic there is confusing.) or even responses from powerful political figures. However when fighting tooth and nail to change the toxic foundation our society has been built upon for centuries; achieving our ultimate goals means putting up a fight. Even in the face of powerful, bigoted political figures – together, by speaking and sharing the truth; the power of individuals in numbers, and their truths can reshape everything. The truth and our solidarity are some of our greatest weapons.

We are often told not to ‘politicise everything’. A statement which tends to come from those who are privileged enough to be able leave ‘politics’ behind – yet for many of us, everything is political in this worldly climate and we have to navigate through every space with this weight on our shoulders. Music, especially – has always been political. I don’t feel as though I even need to elaborate on that. With this article I am not politicising that which does not exist: we need to talk about the very serious issue female-identifying musicians face if we are ever going to be able to make active, positive changes in our music community.

As womxn, we are unable to leave sexism (often compounded with racism or homophobia) behind – even in creative spaces, spaces where we are supposed to be able to freely express ourselves through a medium in which we love. This is a wide-scale issue, affecting both those who have not made it to the (very) public eye, as well as those whose names and music we know by heart. This can range from verbal and online harassment, to stalking, physical assault, abuse and more. Many famous female-identifying musicians have spoken out regarding their awful, horrific experiences regarding men that were unfortunate enough to be creepy fans, organisers, agents / managers and even fellow composers, producers, musicians and bandmates.

When speaking about these topics, three stories specifically came to my mind. The first is from 2013, regarding breakthrough pop-songstress at the time: Kesha. After achieving success in 2009, Kesha worked with well-known producer Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald); whom she has been in lengthy legal battles with from that time regarding many aspects of her career – as well as speaking out in 2014 about the horrific abuse she faced at the hands of Dr. Luke. The allegations included physical and sexual assault, rape and battery as well as emotional abuse and discrimination. I remember at the time when the story broke, everyone was shocked – however I will never forget how Kesha was reframed as the one to blame. It’s as though everyone was shocked and horrified, yet no one took her seriously at the same time. I was never a fan of her music, however she had to face years of legal battles and victim blaming; eventually having her case dismissed as even if the rape allegations were true, considering they had occured in 2005 and 2008 respectively had passed the statute of limitations. Which makes me feel quite sick to be honest – during 2014 – 2016 Kesha released just one single and was battling with mental illness at the same time. It’s positive to see her touring again, yet honestly I don’t feel that at that time she received the justice she deserved, and it almost feels as though everyone just forgot – However, suddenly, most recently – Dr. Luke and Kesha are once again in the public eye, with continued lawsuits stemming from further complicated allegations and leaked information as well as mixed responses from all involved. These new developments and allegations I cannot comment on, however I must implore readers to consider why a womxn would purposefully fabricate such stories; only to receive victim-blaming backlash and relive a painful vulnerability quite unlike anything else.

The second case I want to speak about, is that of famed member of the former band Crystal Castles, Alice Glass. In 2017, Alice bravely spoke out about her absolutely horrendous experiences regarding former bandmate Ethan Kath; allegations that date back to when Alice was just 15 and Kath was 25: ranging from physical, sexual and emotional abuse – to coercion and manipulation, especially regarding Alice’s difficulties with mental illness: her statement was simply heartbreaking. With details such as Claudio Paolo Palmieri (Kath’s real name) stalking Alice, controlling everything from her credit cards to the meals she consumed and the outfits she wore, what she should and shouldn’t say: not being ‘allowed’ her own cellphone: her relationships being dictated by Kath, her private emails under his watchful eye and even threatening to throw her down a staircase and assaulting her by throwing her down on concrete. I bawled and bawled when I read her statement; just as I have cried my eyes out reading statements from many other womxn who have spoken out. Alice filed a lawsuit against Kath in which he responded with his own – Kath denied everything and sued Alice for defamation of character, but the case was dismissed and Kath found himself under further investigation as a suspect. Alice’s lawsuit held up in court. She is now currently recording new music and recently completed a tour with beautifully dark songstress Zola Jesus.

Leaving Crystal Castles was the single most difficult decision I’ve ever made—that band was everything to me. My music, my performances and my fans were all I had in the world. I gave that up and started over not because I wanted to but because I had to. As difficult as it was, I knew that leaving was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has taken me years to recover from enduring almost a decade of abuse, manipulation and psychological control. I am still recovering.” – Alice Glass

The last case I would like to speak about regards Japanese electro-pop songstress Cuushe and independent Japanese label Flau. Two weeks ago, Cuushe posted a shocking and truly upsetting statement regarding serious harassment from fellow musician Ametsub, his real name Akihiko Saitoh. Meeting as acquaintances when Cuushe first started out as a musician in 2009, it was not until a year later that Cuushe and her fellow artists (specifically on Flau) started noticing anonymous social media accounts posting hateful messages toward other Flau musicians and claimed titles such as ‘Ametsubs best friend’. Considering there was no actual proof it was him, Cuushe gave him the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to share too many intricate details as I am going to link Cuushe’s in-depth statement in this article, however the summary goes as such. I read the statement again before writing this paragraph, and by the end of it I found myself crying again. It was in 2013 where Ametsubs aggressive behaviour really started to show; with an extremely hostile interaction with another Flau musician, and so Cuushe decided to avoid him as much as she was able – even though considering it was likely they would run into each other at events. It was in 2017 where Ametsubs actions turned even more hostile – to the point of criminal behaviour, harassment, threats and more.

In mid 2017, Ametsub once again became extremely volatile toward the label Flau; going so far as to commit acts such as breaking and entering and burglary of the Flau headquarters – which at the time Cuushe was hosting in the apartment she was living in. The harassment toward Cuushe and Flau became even more volatile, now focusing specifically on Cuushe’s horrifying experiences regarding this man. Ametsub proceeded to break into her apartment – stealing all her music equipment, her computer and hard drives with her life’s work and personal documents and files; even rummaging through her underwear draw. Police were able to share information that her belongings were now being sold online. When she returned home, she found human excrement on her doorstep. Not long after, Cuushe became the victim of a violent online harassment campaign by Ametsub. He began creating fake accounts in which he would share intimate, personal photos of Cuushe including underwear and nude photographs, which is a sickening, misogynistic violation on another level as is every single one of his actions toward her. He posted the home addresses of Cuushe and her friends. Cuushe decided to cancel her upcoming tour at the time because she was terrified for her life – and that’s when Ametsub broke into her apartment a second time: stealing her new computer, music equipment, a photo album and once again, her underwear. When convicted, Ametsub gave a number of excuses that didn’t hold together, such as trying expose corruption by Flau, yet eventually admitting his statement was false. However, as Cuushe says in her post – these actions are not that of someone attempting vigilante justice or greed. This is pure violence. Not long after, somehow, Ametsub – a convicted criminal played at one of Japan’s biggest music festivals Taicoclub under a a different name. The organisers were aware of the burglaries. They were aware he is a criminal. However, he was booked anyway. Now, in 2018 multiple fake accounts have again risen, sending veiled yet terrifying threats via social media. With the wording of the threats, the police are ‘unable’ to intervene. After experiencing such terrifying violations of her personal life, and returning to social media despite the gut-wrenching anxiety and fear – Cuushe bravely spoke out, and it truly is a reminder to all how horrifying online abuse is – how it can truly tear someone’s life to pieces in a matter of days: and it feels as though there is so little we can do, and the options actually available for victims of stalkers to put the perpetrators behind bars is awfully limited.

Through these experiences, I’m learning first-hand how difficult it is to bring online abusers to justice. Abusers learn quickly how to send veiled threats that prevent police from being able to enforce against them. This allows online harassment to continue, under the cloak of anonymity. Online threats and harassment do real damage, and oftentimes, if the police wait until there are real threats of violence to take action, it will be too late.” – Cuushe

I don’t really know what else to say after sharing these stories, as these are just a few terrifying experiences female-identifying musicians have experienced with their fellow musicians or collaborators – their communities in which they should feel safe. The fact that many womxn are unable to feel safe doing what they love, that their lives can be put in danger simply by creating: their awful experiences turned into victim blaming, sensationalised news stories ‘forgotten’ by the public months later when magically these same men appear fine and dandy continuing their careers while a womxns can be stopped dead in its track due to these same people. A recent article by feminist author Roxane Gay even manages to sum it up: in response to the recent media return of admitted offenders such as Louis C.K titled: Men Who Think Justice Takes as Long as They Want It To. I know my article is long, but especially after reading Cuushe’s story I simply had to comment. These terrifying sexist issues affect all womxn, and many of those who are not in the public eye are not able to speak out in the same way. However, thank you to all the incredible womxn who have the platforms to speak out and do so – holding men accountable for making the music scene a hostile place.

We will fight to make sure every female-identifying musician will one day never have to live in fear like this. We all stand with you.

Read Alice Glass’ statement here.

Read Cuushe’s statement here.