About four years ago, I was up in Los Angeles for a meeting with an industry bigwig. I thought it could be my big break and was over the moon with excitement. Having struggled for years already as an independent artist, I could hardly believe that someone who had done so many incredible things in the industry and worked on platinum records actually wanted to work with me. The first half of the meeting went very well. We came up with a style that we both liked, and scoured Youtube for music video ideas that resonated with us. He had said for the past few years that I had a lot of talent and he’d like to write a song with me, and it was finally happening. I had been introduced to him through my former manager, and he had always been very encouraging, respectful and friendly.
During the meeting, he stepped outside to chat with another client. It was quiet in the office, so I couldn’t help but overhear him make some horrifying remarks about things he claimed to have said to a certain queen of pop when she was starting out (the validity of which is beside the point). He also made several other comments that were incredibly demeaning to women, which I can’t bring myself to repeat. I remember feeling my heart drop to my feet and felt the beginnings of an anxiety attack. If you struggle with anxiety, you know what I mean. A wave of electricity shot through me as he boasted loudly, “I told her, just like I tell a lot of girls, ‘either gimme a _______ or get some more talent.'” I wanted to run out of there immediately. I felt my fight or flight instinct kicking into high gear. Suddenly I realized that my laptop was still connected to his computer in the middle of downloading some software, and I didn’t know how to cancel it. Looking back, I probably could have just unplugged it, but being a ‘starvingartist’ and less computer literate than I am now, I was quite concerned about wrecking my laptop. I heard him walking back to the office and my heart began racing. How had I so grossly misjudged him? What made me think he’d want to help a little indie artist like me just for my music’s sake?
Nervously I froze a smile onto my face and determined to wrap up the meeting as quickly and politely as I could. After all, he hadn’t said anything directly to me to make me feel unsafe or uncomfortable. I remember praying hard that God would keep me safe and help me to get out of there. We chatted for a few minutes about the song we had planned to write, while he finished the software setup on my laptop and handed it back to me. Then he said it. I can’t and won’t repeat it here. I didn’t write this to prove anything, to have his words measured, or to be told how to feel about it. You can most likely guess what was asked of me.
Even though I had been dreading it, the words still stung like a slap in the face. He confirmed by his proposition that he did not respect me or my talent. He made me feel unsafe, ashamed, embarrassed, and utterly disappointed. In my true fashion, I responded, “Um, I could bake you some cookies instead?” in hopes that I could play it off and sort of laugh it away. I strangely felt embarrassed for him for his words. He responded pointedly, “That’s not what men want,” at which point I abruptly left. I cried about halfway home and then put on a brave face. I didn’t want to tell anyone what happened. I felt that it diminished me as an artist. I worried that I would be told that it’s a small price to pay for fame (I have been told that before). I worried that my parents would worry.
I have been ashamed of this story for a long time. It’s hard to fully explain the complex feelings wrapped up in unwanted sexual advances and the abuse of power. This story is one among many of my own, and I’m sure it’s infinitely tamer than many other stories out there. Thankfully, I was not assaulted, nor did I let someone use their power to pressure me into anything I didn’t want to do. However, I will never forget the horrible feeling of being demeaned and objectified, and the panic I felt in that moment when I was no longer assured of my own safety. This man’s choice to use his power to try to manipulate me made me sever ties with him permanently. He is not someone I want to associate with ever again, even if he claimed to have changed. I could never be in a room alone with him. I could never trust him.
I NEVER foresaw myself sharing this story publicly. I like to keep my stories vague these days. I have been through a lot of loss in my life (see, vague!) and I prefer to speak through my songs in metaphor and lyric. Yet, the events of the past week have been weighing heavily on my heart and mind. When I watched the video released this weekend of Donald Trump, I did not expect to cry. I expected to be offended and annoyed, perhaps even shocked. Yet, there were tears just falling of their own accord out of my eyes. It upset me on a deep level, as I’m sure it did for many. How could this man be in the running for the highest office in my country? How can my country teach its men to respect women, when there are so many out there excusing this kind of talk as “locker room talk”? For the past several days I have paid close attention to all the news, Right and Left, that I could get my hands on, and what I have found breaks my heart. I understand that staunch Republicans still want to back their candidate, seemingly no matter what he does, but I cannot understand why they feel the need to dismiss his glorification of sexual assault.
I’m no politician, and still a struggling artist, but I wanted to share one of my own experience with this kind of sexual harassment and abuse of power. I hesitate to get into political debates with my friends, as I respect differences of opinion on policy. What I cannot respect is the opinion that what Donald Trump has repeatedly bragged about is mere “locker room talk.” None of the men I call friends and family would ever speak this way to me. None of them would want me to associate with anyone who spoke to me that way, and several of them would be horrified to read this story of mine, which is 100 times milder than what was bragged about by Donald Trump. I am reluctant to sum this up with a sweeping conclusion like, “Therefore, because of my bad experience, you shouldn’t vote Trump.” I realize that would be trite and presumptuous. At the same time, I feel it’s important for me to share, because I know that there are SO many women and men out there who have been victims of sexual predation and assault, many of whom can’t or won’t share. This kind of treatment of women is prevalent in the music industry, and now I fear it’s being normalized in the whole country. For those of you who haven’t asked the women in your life how the revelations this past weekend made them feel, please do. I encourage you to engage in a healthy conversation about this issue and to challenge the way you and others think about it. Whatever you decide this election, please don’t dismiss this as a “distraction.” Please take the time to discuss this incredibly important issue. It is so, so important, and it’s time things changed.
Thanks for reading.