Yasmin Lajoie, a 29-year-old music manager in the UK, wrote this letter on her experiences with sexual assault in the music industry. She also appeared on BBC News to speak about what she's been through. Yasmin, along with three other prominent women in the industry, started the 'Stop 2018' campaign aimed at ending bullying, misogyny, sexual harassment, assault, and rape in the music business.
2010. I remember the first day: my dream job. I was 21 years old when I was offered the position of A&R assistant at a major music publisher in London. I upended my whole life, packed up my meager belongings in a suitcase and headed for the bright city lights.
It was a cool, young office. Ideas bounced off the walls and music blasted from every speaker. Department meetings were hotbeds of creativity. We worked hard. We went out, gigs every night; we partied, the drinks flowed. The line between work and play became blurry and ill-defined. Anything went. Casual misogyny was everywhere, inappropriate jokes beeped via BBM (Blackberry Messenger), sexual innuendo was rife. Bosses would comment on my breasts if I wore a sheer top, give unsolicited massages while I was hunched over my computer keyboard trying to meet a deadline, gossip about the sex lives of co-workers. Senior members of staff kept ornamental dildos and vintage pornographic magazines on their desks. I remember one A&R manager had a rug in his office that just said in bright white lettering “FUCK EM”.
I was raised to believe that what you say and what you do are worth so much more than what you look like. Work hard, be nice, good things will come. But I soon realized that to get ahead in music as a woman, you had to look great. Former models were hired to do administrative office work. Girls who’d been on the covers of lads’ mags. Skinny socialites from reality television shows. Plain, plump girls never got called back for the second interview. If I turned up to work with no make-up, people asked if I was hungover or sick. Pretty girls got ahead. Presentation was everything.
When I was 23, I was molested by a man who managed an artist we were trying to sign. We’d met at a gig and gone back to my house. He fell asleep on the sofa and I went to bed. He crept into my bed in the dead of night, and I woke to find his fingers inside me. He’d lit all the scented candles in my room like it was some sort of ceremony. As I groggily came round, I asked him to stop, and he did, but the damage was done. When I mentioned what had happened in an A&R meeting, it was dismissed as not so much of a big deal. I felt violated and betrayed. They believed me, which was something, I guess. But the whole ordeal had me shook. And every time I saw one of his artists pop up on my Facebook feed or heard their songs on the radio, it was like being assaulted all over again. His name would be casually mentioned in meetings and I would have to leave the room. Choking, that’s what I’d compare it to. It feels like choking.
Every incidence of sexual harassment is a paper cut that never heals. It wounds you ever so slightly. Every wolf whistle, every grope, every lurid joke and throwaway remark. They’re just paper cuts. But imagine being covered in paper cuts. It hurts to move. You lose the ability to embrace people, to laugh and to love. Your soul feels lost, and you start questioning the motives of everyone around you.
And then you get raped or assaulted and feels like a knife through the heart, and the next time you get a paper cut it doesn’t hurt as much. You think “well, at least he didn’t rape me”. And how fucked up is that?
I don’t know many people who can say with all honesty that they’ve never been harassed. Even a few men I know have tales of women and other men making flippant, obscene comments, making them feel awkward, forcing them into situations they’re not comfortable with. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse affect people of all genders. This is not a woman versus men situation, it’s a societal problem that brings us all down, wears us all out, and ultimately destroys self-confidence, livelihoods, and lives. I just hope that by shining a light on the problem, we empower others to speak out. It will take an army to overthrow the centuries of rape culture, homophobia, and misogyny that has become embedded in our collective psyche. But I feel like we have an army. We are that army. We just have to stand up and fight.