When we hear the words “music industry sexism,” it’s often images of Beyonce performing in front 2m high letters spelling the word “Feminist” or thoughts of blatantly misogynistic rap lyrics that come to mind. What we fail to see is that sexism in the music industry really isn’t that different from everyday sexism that everyone will experience in their life. When we talk about instances of misogyny and discrimination in the music industry, it’s so easy to feel removed from it. It’s happening all around us on our screens and in our headphones, but really industry sexism is just a series of more widely publicised instances of things which affect people on every level of society.
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Kesha’s struggle against Sony and Dr. Luke is not just an example of “music industry sexism,” it exposes the basic and inherently unfair underpinnings of the justice system. If we strip back Demi and Tay’s spat about what “real feminism” looks like, and ignore the criticism of male pop stars not speaking up for Kesha, what we’re left with is yet another victim of abuse who, like many more victims (celebrity of not) has been failed by a justice system which would favour a capitalist concept (large money-making corporations like Sony) over the testimony of a real human being.
Kesha is what Alice Vachss, author of “Sex Crimes” says the justice system sees as a “Bad Victim”. A “Good Victim”, according to Vachss, is someone with a respected profession, estate agents or accountants, someone who has a high social status, say with a member of law enforcement as a spouse, well educated, articulate, demure, presentable to a jury. Kesha as a performer is very few of those things. Sony capitalised on her image as a loose teen, singing about sex, drugs, and alcohol, and it’s this very same image that the masses think of when Kesha comes to mind. That’s the image that will be nagging at the back of the minds of the judge and jury in the courtroom, and that shouldn’t be the case. This alone considered, the odds really are stacked against her when it comes to filing and winning suit against her abusers. Aged 18 she entered the music industry, not even legally an adult in the USA, under the guidance of influential and hugely successful hit-making machine Dr. Luke. This imbalance of power has essentially perverted the case so that Kesha is basically the one on trial. Sony has basically been awarded the same status as a real person.
Dazed magazine’s Alexandra Pollard said Kesha is being “treated like a human jukebox”, and to be honest that’s hard to argue with. Judge Shirley Kornreich ruled against Kesha, saying that it was the “commercially reasonable” option not to terminate her contract. As Jezabel writer Madeleine Davies neatly summarises:
It’s likely that “commercially reasonable” will almost always beat or “ethically reasonable” and is certain to beat “morally reasonable.” Our courts and culture have a hard enough time believing women’s accusations of sexual assault in the most clear-cut of circumstances, so what chance do we have at legal, emotional, and physical protection when details are contested and a corporation stands to lose millions?
Lena Dunham wrote an essay in support of Kesha, and in a few brief lines has perfectly summarised what the court’s ruling represents on a larger scale:
“Kesha’s case is about more than a pop star fighting for her freedom… what’s happening to Kesha highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers.”
In a statement released yesterday on Facebook, Kesha re-iterated that the case and its outcome is bigger than just her personal situation.
“…This issue is bigger than just about me.
I think about young girls today – I don’t want my future daughter – or your daughter – or any person to be afraid that they will be punished if they speak out about being abused, especially if their abuser is in a position of power.
Unfortunately I don’t think that my case is giving people who havebeen abused confidence that they can speak out, and that’s a problem…”
The hashtag #FreeKesha exploded on twitter after ruling last Friday, but Dr Luke has taken to twitter in response to defend his innocence. In doing so, perpetuating harmful rape myths. Having a “feminist mom” doesn’t justify abuse, and having “3 sisters, a daughter, and a son with my girlfriend” isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card. Moreover, more than 50% of victims of abuse are abused by people they know, so claiming Kesha was “like a little sister” to him doesn’t stand. Luke also claims “lives can be ruined” when people expose instances of abuse. Of course, he’s talking about the lives of the accused, without thinking about the victims whose lives could have been ruined from the moment the abuse occurred, and are equally if not more beaten down by the trial, which all too frequently will not sway in the victim’s favour. Out of every 100 rapes only 2% of abusers will spend a single day in jail.
#FreeKesha is at least a sign that people are waking up to the unacceptably unjust mechanics of the justice system. Furthermore, Adele has become the latest of a string of celebrities to publicly voice their support for Kesha. Hopefully these little steps will be the starting point for the necessary breaking-down of unfair structures that give the already successful and wealthy greater privilege over the vulnerable and minority groups.