On the matter of #metoo
**Trigger warning: contains content detailing sexual assault and harassment.**
I don’t like hashtag campaigns. They’re like the second worst form of slacktivism, one step up from ‘RT if you agree’.
I don’t mean hashtags used in campaigns — #voteyes on all relevant things is essential for campaign coherency. I mean the campaign where it involves little more than just the hashtag, for the hashtags end in and of itself. Just a signal, just a sign… like #metoo.
But the thing about the #metoo campaign, encouraging women affected by sexual harassment or assault to digitally put their hand up and just be seen, is that so many are going further. They’re talking.
Women across the world are telling the stories we’ve kept to ourselves for years. Most are euphemistic, don’t name names, just releasing enough details to appall the audience while retain some dignity. I applaud those women. It’s hard. Your bravery deserves recognition and compassion.
One was Mix 102.3 announcer Jodie Oddy who shared some of her experiences on air. A number of them were about media colleagues.
On reading this, I couldn’t help but recall a post I had done one one of my old blogs after Trump’s Access Hollywood video came out. I’ve reposted it below. It’s long and a bit more graphic than what Oddy shared, but the tl:dr version is that radio (commercial radio in Australia at least) has a major, systemic problem and there’s no one to turn to.
Abuse in the studio
Originally Posted on October 20, 2016
Many women around the world are documenting their lives of abuse — predominantly sexual abuse — in response to Trump to expose how common it is. I have stayed out of this so far for two reasons: firstly, I believe this is a moment for our American sisters to voice back against their Presidential nominee, and adding to the noise may give an excuse for the Trump camp to say ‘most of this is not in America’; and secondly, most of the violence I have experienced in my life is at the hands of women.
That being said I do have my own catalogue of sexual abuse from men related to when I worked in radio, and after wrestling with it a bit, I have decided to note it here on my media blog as it may give some insight for those colleagues as to why I quit the career that I loved so much, as well as a side note on how it can be so very hard to get help when you need it.
I started on air very young. I was barely 15 (although had already left home) when I started doing paid voice overs at my first station in southern NSW. I was seduced (but not assaulted) by much older and married announcers there.
I was still 15 when I started a traineeship at a different NSW station. The GM was very fond of unreasonably stopping me in hallways, touching my bum, resting his hand on my upper thigh and looking down my top. I sought help from the union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) who said there was nothing they could do as nothing had really happened, so I went AWOL after I’d only been there a couple of months to get myself fired. (You needed to get fired to get the dole in those days — and because I couldn’t really go back home, quitting wasn’t an option.)
I was quickly hired by a station in Queensland, doing nights, networked to three other stations with a cume of about a mil. I was 16 by then, and initially things were ok. Then a new GM arrived, and the same unwanted attention — stopped in the hallway, standing way too close, never looking at my face. He asked me out on a number of occasions, then started requesting I do breakfast OBs and other crazy obligations so that I would be around the station during the day. I had a stalker issue of guys waiting outside the station for me and instead of responding to that as a security threat he responded somewhere between apathy and jealousy. Then I was fired because, and I quote, “I didn’t say good morning to him”. (I wasn’t rostered to start work until 3pm.)
I went from there to another regional station who took my security issues seriously and arranged for guards to escort me from studio door to home after each shift. Kyle Sandilands was the promo manager for the sister station at the time, and he was an absolute sweetheart to work with — let me say that loud and clear lest anyone want to use this piece to take a swipe at him. One of the other announcers though believed he had licence to grab any body part he pleased and call me all kinds of crude names, and the GM was just a generally demeaning and abusive prick. I again managed to create a situation to get myself fired in a short period of time.
I was still pretty rattled when I went to the next country station. Didn’t last long was quickly fired after accidentally dropping the ‘f’ word on the air during a technical stuff up while panelling Lawsy — that wasn’t intentional. I went home for a while crashing at a friend’s place, commuting for a few casual shifts here and there, and then moved to Sydney after I met my fiancé. He followed me back to Queensland for a stint which didn’t last long as the PD changed not long after I arrived and the new guy cleaned house. There was a sales guy who was a tad inappropriate, but I wasn’t there long enough (or during the day enough) for it to be a significant issue. Sought help from the MEAA again with the abrupt ending of my employment and being ripped off with pay and entitlements; waste of time.
After going back to Sydney again and a short break out of radio to keep the other half happy, I got the call to help launch Zoo FM in Dubbo — this was 1997, and I was two months short of turning 19. I’m naming this station because this f*!ker was the worst offender and if he has a problem I have no problem seeing his sorry arse in court. The then Program Director at Zoo, who was drunk more days than not, regularly groped me, put his hands inside my clothing, forced me to expose myself, talked about sexual acts, discussed my genitalia and breasts, would do things like force me to dance with him cheek to cheek in the office area and a litany of other inappropriate things for the 18 months or so that I endured it. I again sought help from the MEAA and was again told they could do nothing except maybe get me some more money when I left. Because apparently my only option was to leave a job that I loved and was so good at I could barely walk down the street without getting mobbed by fans.
The PD’s behaviour was, in part, fuelled or egged-on by the Assistant PD, whom I worked with at 4 stations. Those who know me know that my history with that individual is complex, to say the least. For better or worse, it is the relationship that made me the announcer I was. I have come to appreciate in hindsight that he groomed me from the age of 14, preying on the violence of my mother and my need for stability and safety; that the endless pressuring and coercing of such a young girl to deliver head jobs under the panel and other sexual favours “as a reward” is beyond screwed up. I have heard and can understand the argument that any relationship in the 14 years that followed such a beginning can in no way be considered consensual, although I am not yet reconciled to accept that argument. That said, he did things that were inappropriate, regardless of any history or relationship, at all 4 stations.
It was after Zoo that I started my exit from radio. The next station was the last at which I worked full time — it had another cretin who often crossed the line, but didn’t with me because he considered me too fat. By the by, I deliberately put on around 30 kilos when I was 18 to stop the men I worked with hitting on me all the time. It worked for the most part — I lost it at Zoo, and then put it back on again. I started studying at uni and began the transition in to politics.
But before the manhunt begins… I have seen the evil of real misogyny many times in my life but my response to it has always been tempered by the evil I have known at the hands of women. Gender is not what makes people violent, or gives them the incorrect notion they can violate another’s rights or person and just get away with it. And many men — particularly young men — in radio stations are victims of extreme sexual harassment, joke, innuendo and indeed needing to perform favours for their careers to exist.
All in all, it’s a lot of shit to endure for a job that pays, under the current award, about $22 an hour.
We do it for love. But as much as I loved being on air, I will never again feel safe in the station. That damage can never be undone — as great as my psychologist is — the hair on the back of my neck instinctively goes up at the smell of a mic sock and the sound of the airlock doors for the very wrong reasons.
I wanted to write this not just to add to the global stack of woeful tales of abuse, but to point out the side issue: what happens when the services that are supposed to help you fail?
Radio has always been a male dominated industry. Hell, I was often the only woman in the building save maybe the receptionist. And I’ve never had a problem working with the boys… but if your General Manager or your Program Director (Content Director as they’re called these days) is the one assaulting you — who do you go to? Your union. If your union doesn’t care, you are pretty well screwed, other than a complaint through the Human Rights Commission (which didn’t have the same teeth and presence 20 years ago) which is a fairly formal and nuclear option.
The MEAA is a bad union. Radio — perhaps media, because they aren’t doing journo’s any favours lately… look at Fairfax — needs a better one.
End note | To my friends and former colleagues who read this: I apologise if you find the above confronting. Don’t feel bad or responsible. And I’m perfectly ok.
So that’s that… and yeah, #metoo.
And that doesn’t include the guy who raped me in my home in 2011. I had to leave Australia for a while to feel safe again after that one.
I’ll reiterate my position that gender is not what is evil, and urge this movement, for want of a better word, not to become a man hunt in the process, as women can be violent and abhorrent and sexually harass others too. And women didn’t believe us, didn’t help us, and covered it up just as much. It’s not about us versus them. It’s about changing culture.
Stay strong, and take care of yourselves.
Need help? In Australia, call or chat online with 1800 RESPECT or go direct to the wonderful NSW Rape Crisis Centre