It’s taken a while but at last the Scottish folk and traditional music scene is witnessing its own #MeToo moment. Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by male predators have rocked film, theatre, entertainment, classical and pop music, but who would have thought such gross behaviour could possibly taint the cosy, friendly folk world?
Well, most women within it for a start! We’ve known for a long time that some men in positions of influence and power within the trad scene are behaving abominably. With ability to offer gigs, work, career advancement, promotion, publicity, inclusion in their ‘inner circle’, these predators target female (often young) musicians, harassing them for sex.
It happens after gigs and concerts, at festivals, in drink-fuelled environments such as pub sessions and open mics, in educational settings, sometimes using coercive and physical pressure, and even mis-using public funds to further their nefarious activities.
It’s been what you might call an open secret in trad; lots of people know it’s going on and who some of the perpetrators are, but no-one talks openly about it for fear of reprisals, disbelief, damage to their music career, bullying and backlash. And yes, we know that the culprits include fellow musicians, gig and session organisers, radio presenters, pub owners, educators, event hosts, festival directors and more.
Encouraged by female Irish musicians starting the ball rolling by highlighting sexual harassment within their trad music scene, women in Scotland have in recent days added their voices and accounts of their own experiences.
The BIT Collective, who campaign for equality within Scottish trad music, have issued a mission statement, endorsed by other organisations, and are taking forward a campaign to address the problem, call out predators, and find ways to change the culture within our music scene to ensure a safe environment for women to follow their practice and careers.
With some well-known perpetrators employed and funded by the public purse, this investigation is going to have to go in with stiff resolve and rigour to weed out those whose positions of influence are higher up the food chain, who until now have been enabled and protected by silence; the Teflon men, as some have called them.
Middle-aged and prominent male musicians having teenagers in their hotel rooms, or offering them gigs and then expecting ‘payback’, using physical and psychological pressure to get girls half their age into bed, bombarding them with unwanted sexual messages – all these kinds of experiences, currently being voiced by female folk musicians, are, in any right-minded person’s book, repulsive and utterly unacceptable.
The time has come for those responsible to be called out, for young women to be equipped with the knowledge to identify an abusive situation and confidence to deal with it, for organisations to step up and make changes. And for those who know what’s going on in their band, on their premises, within their organisation - time to stop turning a blind eye. #itendsnow
(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 4th September 2020)