Rosanne Cash Reflects on How the Music Industry Can Change Its Sexist Status Quo
Like many other woman who make music for a living -- especially as one who has done so for over 40 years -- Rosanne Cash has experienced a great deal of sexual harassment and mistreatment within the industry. The singer details some of her memories of those experiences in a new essay for Billboard about how the #MeToo movement has brought awareness of the problem front and center.
"[I remember] the regional label-promotion guy who drove me around to radio stations in his car, the menacing sexual overtones he made to me, and how scared I was, in the middle of nowhere, wondering how I could get out of his car and who would find me if I couldn't," Cash recalls. "The radio guys who grabbed my waist and slipped their hands down my back and over my a--, whose pecks on the cheek became unwelcome nuzzles on the neck. And much worse. The rock star I opened for who pursued me relentlessly, no matter how many times I rebuffed him, all in front of his band and crew -- all of whom knew his wife and kids. The sudden hostility from a renowned musician in a private moment, the verbal abuse from another that threatened to become -- and became -- physical."
As horrific as her experiences were, Cash explains that they are not unique -- nor even particularly extreme -- among the women who work and have worked in the music industry alongside her. Furthermore, the most important question of her article is how, today, the music industry can change a culture that, for years, has promoted rampant sexual assault and mistreatment of women, children and men.
Cash goes on to discuss the issue of what should be done about artists and industry members who have committed these kinds of offenses: "And what happens to those artists who realize the damage they cause, express remorse and change? Do we forgive them?" she questions. "What about the men who 'grow out of' bad behavior? I knew many men in my 20s who did evolve. Do we allow them to chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, or freeze them in amber and effectively end their careers?"
It can be difficult to know how to punish artists -- or people in any role -- who behaved incorrectly earlier in their careers, especially in the midst of an industry that has been so flagrantly permissive of such behavior. Cash says that, from her perspective, there are varying degrees of damage.
"I've forgiven plenty of men who acted like a--es, fueled by ignorance and testosterone," she writes. "I can't forgive those who acted with real malevolent intent, driven by misogynist rage and the urge for physical dominance."
Still, the problem of how to treat offenders -- especially those guilty only of what Cash refers to as "selfish promiscuity," who subsequently faced the consequences and learned from their mistakes -- highlights the need to change what is generally condoned within the music industry. Cash points out the need to refocus the climate of the business as a whole toward inclusivity, and fostering creative growth.
While that shift will not eliminate those who seek to cause damage and harm to others, it will eliminate the possibility of people mistreating others out of ignorance, or as a product of a culture of sexual misconduct.
"We should all be able to say we just don't know any men who make women -- or children, or other men -- collateral damage in the course of their creative fulfillment," she concludes.
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