Monday, April 08, 2019

BRALESS WHITE WOMEN

by Angela Yee

Growing up, when I heard the word 'feminist' I always pictured braless white women rallying and making demands that were foreign to me. The issues I dealt with in school, at work and even at home were just the norm. Of course my brother had more freedom than I did - he's a boy. Of course in high school I had to protect my reputation as best I could, while the boys were applauded for having fingers that smelled like pussy. When I had internships during college, I was able to brush off comments about my appearance and I made a conscious effort to wear baggy clothes so I wouldn't draw attention to myself. And when I graduated from Wesleyan University, armed with my English degree and a plethora of internship experience under my belt, I jumped right into the music industry.

There are too many incidents to name that happened to me and countless others during my twenty-plus years working in marketing, management and radio. I can recall the most blatant situation. I was working for a small label, and they had just secured a deal providing office space and overhead for their employees. I was the first person they hired, being lured away from my position as assistant to the CEO at Wu-Tang Management to become the General Manager. I was only twenty-three years old, so I was excited about the salary bump and the new title. Not to mention, they had one of the hottest artists signed to them, which was how they had inked the deal in the first place.

In one of my first 'mistakes', which I refer to as a life lesson in retrospect, I should have never left my position at Wu-Tang for one with a fancier title and more money. I ended up passing the days watching the clock tick and doing things like sharpening pencils for the elderly white male partner, who was adamant that I should not have any power or authority. He couldn't understand why they'd hired a young black girl in the first place. But he was still using pencils? The younger black male partner consistently rolled up to the office wearing sunglasses at any hour he pleased, with stories of deals he'd brokered and women he'd conquered, most of which I discovered were flat-out false or grossly exaggerated.

The next hire was the ex-girlfriend of one of the partners, who would sit on his lap in the office while they laughed hysterically about Lord knows what, until he would sometimes close the door. Every morning I woke up dreading another day at this hellhole, and I would often lie in bed contemplating if I should call in sick or not show up at all.

One particular day, time was crawling by as usual and I was trying to keep busy by organizing contacts. The artist, who was the anchor of the label, was erratic about showing up to the studio and the label had been paying enormous sums of money to hire producers, musicians, engineers and back-up singers. Because the artist had no music and was missing every deadline, we had no work to do. The younger partner called me to his office and I grabbed a pen and a pad of paper, thinking we were finally going to get the ball rolling. He closed the door behind him and I sat on the sofa with my pen poised and ready to write.

'I think you should sleep with me,' he stated matter-of-factly. I was completely taken off guard, and he continued to lay out his case.

'We can come to the office like nothing is happening, and I'll take you to nice dinners. You'll get paid well. It will be fun.'

I got up and told him, 'I wouldn't do that if you were the last person on earth.'

I walked out of his office shaken and confused. The first thing I did was gather my belongings and go outside to call my best friend. She had an artist who was in the process of signing a development deal at the label and she signed on as an A&R consultant. Her advice was to look for a new job but continue to get my payslip until I found something. After all, I did have bills to pay and no money saved up.

I set up a meeting for the following day with a marketing agency I had already been having preliminary talks with regarding employment. Prior to this incident, I knew I couldn't stay there much longer. When I showed up to work the next day, pretending things weren't awkward, the other partner called me in to his office and fired me. He said they would pay me an additional two weeks' salary, but for no specific reason my pencil-sharpening skills were no longer necessary. I was angry, worried and happy all at the same time. I hated this job, and I would be getting paid for two weeks to not be there. I had a meeting for another job set up that same day (and they did hire me to start immediately). Maybe I would have just stayed there in misery if this hadn't happened.

It never crossed my mind to go to human resources or to hire a lawyer. I didn't even want anyone to know because I was embarrassed it happened to me. I also feared that no one would believe me, and I would be blackballed at the beginning stages of my career. All I wanted to do was put it behind me as a negative experience, and move on. I did exactly that, and when I tried to deposit my pay cheque they had already cancelled it.

I hear conversations frequently from women of all ages who have had to deal with sexism, sexual assault, coercion and rape. And alongside those conversations I hear people who question her validity, who question why she took so long to speak, and who question her motives. They wonder if she put herself in the situation, or if she sent out the wrong signals. They accuse her of wanting a quick payout. They bring up her sexual history, the way she dresses, who she has dated, and anything that may discredit her. And then wonder why it's so difficult to come forward with the truth about men or women abusing their power.

No matter how much progress we think has been made, there will always be reminders of how far we have to go. When I got hired at Sirius for my first radio position, the rumour was that I must have slept with someone to get the job. My former boss confessed he felt that way and had voiced this to other employees because I came out of nowhere, with no radio experience. After he saw my work ethic, and the relationships I curated with guests, he admitted he had been wrong for jumping to conclusions.

Even today, when we have guests on the show, if I ask for contact information from a male guest, I've overheard my co-workers say that I must want to fuck. When we take pictures with guests, the comments are about how I was flirting or you can tell I let him hit. I've heard DJs on other stations say that I sleep with every rapper after we interview them. I've read blogs that list people who I have slept with who I have never even met. Is this still par for the course for a woman working in the entertainment industry, or in any industry?

It has become useless to argue with social media agitators, but what I can do is be part of uplifting women. I can encourage the women who are striving to get their footing in this world to keep pushing and to express themselves. I want women to feel like we are not in competition with each other. We are on the same team. Something as small as a compliment to let another woman know she is on the right path or she is doing a great job can make all the difference. We can defend each other when we are being attacked or judged. We can hire other women and refer each other for jobs when the opportunity fits. I know how much representation matters, and in an industry where we are vastly underrepresented in positions of power it has become evident how poisonous that is.

I want to make sure we are negotiating our salaries and asking for raises when we know we deserve them instead of assuming the work we put in will be noticed and rewarded. I read an article in Marie Claire when I was twenty-nine years old about women not asking for raises as frequently as men do and the most effective strategies to use, and I realized I had never asked for a raise. I put together a presentation of all the press I had received and scheduled a meeting with the operations manager at Sirius, and received a 50% raise and a bonus. If I'd never asked, I would have never got such a significant bump. And I knew I deserved it. But I also know that the male DJ who had my position before me and the one who was hired after me earned significantly more than I did.

When I was offered a job on the morning show at HOT 97, I was told my name would not be part of the show and I would be responsible for weather, traffic reports and gossip. I turned that job down in favour of hosting my own show at Sirius. I knew the freedom of being able to call the shots and build my brand was more significant than the minor role at a legendary station. I told the programme director at the time that I planned to bust my ass to be able to step into a bigger position at the right time. I also used that job offer as leverage to get another raise.

I lament the fact that I didn't have a mentor to steer me in the right direction or to help open doors for me. I believe I would have made fewer mistakes and instead of travelling up, down and around to get here I would have progressed in more of a straight line. In this day and age of access and social media, there is a lot less patience and a lot more stuntin'. The pressure to appear perfect, to smooth out lumps and wrinkles, bring in your waist, make your butt look bigger, get your angles right, not get older, flaunt designer bags, drive luxury cars, hop on a private jet or yacht can be overwhelming. But the strength and confidence it takes to NOT succumb to these pressures is infinitely more powerful.

My feminism is empowering other women to know there don't have to be societal norms and standards for you. It's OK to make more than your significant other and hold down the household. It's perfectly OK to not have a significant other. It's fine if you choose to get plastic surgery (after evaluating the risks) if you want to do that for yourself. It's also fine to shake your little booty and embrace your so-called imperfections. You can be celibate, be monogamous, be in an open relationship, have a fuckfest, leave your lying, cheating-ass boo or choose to stay. It's all on you. My feminism is not passing judgement on others, but instead listening to understand our differences. I may like you or I may not like you after that. And you may or may not like me. Regardless, every time that I'm on the radio and functioning in real life, I will continue to initiate and participate in anything that makes women stronger, especially women of colour who have additional obstacles to hurdle. That means hiring us, booking clubs for us, running clubs for us, financial planning for us, internships for us, advice for us, mental health awareness for us, sexual freedom for us, body positivity for us, and education for us.

Whether you are quietly active or loudly roaring, you are an ally.

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