By Jake Amy, Ella Clair, Hugh Heller, Yara Alkurd, Rose Bassett and Emma Volard
Halfway through a year that has seen eruptions of public outrage at systemic discrimination, victims of sexual misconduct at the hands of Melbourne photographer Jack Stafford rallied together to share their experiences and call for justice. In a time when the isolated nature of life has necessitated an increasing reliance on online activism, Gretta Ray has sought to use her platform to support victims, and add her voice to the call for those in a position of privilege to take responsibility. This is the first interview in which Gretta has been outspoken on these issues since rising to prominence in the Australian music industry in her late teens. Jake had the opportunity to speak with Gretta last week.
Recently, photographer Jack Stafford admitted to being an ‘abuser’ after Jaguar Jonze posted #MeToo accusations. What was going through your mind when this happened?
That was a very confronting week. For all of us. And it did hit quite close to home because there were so many people that I knew, or knew of, who were affected by that particular scenario. I’ve always felt that the Australian music community is so close; we all know each other and collaborate with one another, and I love that. It seems that we all have each other’s backs until something like this occurs, and suddenly becomes very public. I mean, of course you hear about how these things are still very much prevalent in our scene all the time, but it is shocking when someone in your circles turns out to be causing damage to the people you know and your community.
In terms of what was going through my mind, it’s hard to verbalise, to be honest. For the most part, I just feel really sad. There was a lot of anger, and of course a lot of frustration and concern for the people that came forward. I didn't have experiences [with the perpetrator] similar to those people. As much as I’m in awe of their bravery, I’m overcome with disappointment that this is still such a massive issue.
If there was a silver lining amidst it all, it was the fact that women (and gender non-conforming) in the industry really flocked together instantly. It was really beautiful to see, and definitely restored some of my faith in knowing that there is an immense amount of support for each other in our circles. I had a lot of inspiring conversations with other women in the industry over the phone that week when the news broke… not to mention that it was definitely quite a shock for many of the guys as well. I found myself in multiple conversations with male friends of mine who asked, “What can I do better?”.
Should bystanders still speak up if they fear falsely accusing someone of sexual misconduct?
Yes, absolutely. Sure, at times there is a grey area to navigate before it becomes entirely clear that someone has done something really bad and really damaging, but the consequences of falsely accusing someone of sexual misconduct are nowhere near as bad as refusing to believe the victim. In doing so, you invalidate that victim’s experience, you potentially silence them forever, and furthermore contribute to the trauma that they’re already having to work through. And I know that the fear of falsely accusing someone of sexual misconduct is seemingly more difficult for men to navigate, because often it’s their male friends or family members who are the potential perpetrators. But I have always thought that until a case has been further unpacked and reached a point where it’s a “yes” or “no”, “this did or didn’t happen”, you believe the victim. You only have to see how many people were victim [to this photographer] to realise how ridiculous it is to not. As I'm talking to you, I'm realising now… like… wow, yeah. It's such an emotional topic.
"The objective success of someone can be so blinding and disgustingly powerful in how it can silence somebody else, or in this case, so many people. It’s never enough to assume that everything’s okay, just because of someone’s success or popularity, in fact it’s incredibly dangerous."
Why do you think there’s been a recent spike of artists speaking about this issue on social media, considering that this type of discrimination is happening all the time?
Well, for me, the most shocking aspect of that scenario was the sheer amount of people who were affected by the same perpetrator (105 different people). Jaguar Jonze and @sheisaprodite have really helped shed light on the fact that these victims aren't alone. And not only are they not alone, but speaking up about their experience is potentially going to help somebody else speak out, and name their own experience. I’m really grateful to see the amazing, supportive space that has been cultivated and expanded over the past couple of weeks. Everyone should feel that this massive community has our back.
Do you think that online activism has taken the place of offline activism?
Hmm. It's interesting to think about that during this period of time, actually. I’ve usually associated offline activism with getting out into the real world, going to protests, showing up and having conversations with lots of different people in order to learn and to grow. I guess right now there are limitations that mean we can’t physically do that.
I wouldn’t say that online activism has totally replaced offline activism. Regarding the current civil rights movement, I think online activism has assisted in further amplifying a) the issues at hand and b), the voices we should be listening to. I think the fact that we’re all connected on the internet at the moment has helped us to inspire one another to go out into the world and do that activist work properly.
However, with online activism, I think there is a huge danger in people feeling like they’ve “done their part” by sharing one post or resource on their Instagram story. Doing one #blacklivesmatter post and then resuming your shit as normal is very worrying, and appears to be an easy vortex for people to fall into. I am trying my best to not do that, because there is so much work that I need to do; a lot that I need to learn and also to unlearn. To me, a big part of my offline activism right now has been reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and learning from the incredible resources that are being shared. It’s unsettling how little I know, but I am inspired by my discomfort to remain as switched on as possible. I’m slowly but surely beginning to do the work that I need to.
How do we spread these messages outside of our bubble?
Yeah, that’s something that I’ve been really fascinated by. Naturally we surround ourselves with people that share our views. For a while there I thought, “Well, we’re all reposting the same thing”. It's good that we’re on the same page, but how can we actually push this further? For me, it’s come down to listening, being patient and open minded, and becoming more enlightened about certain topics so I can support my arguments when I find myself in a difficult discussion with someone who isn’t entirely on the same page as me.
Working independently as a freelance creative, you’re not employed by anyone. Where can you go for help if you’ve experienced incidents like this?
I’m mindful of speaking on someone’s behalf when I shouldn’t do so. I haven’t personally experienced an incident like this, so I don’t know where I would feel like I could or couldn’t go for help if I did. What I can say is that it has been really inspiring to see Jaguar Jones giving the victims of this recent incident a voice. She provided us with this amazing research she’d done about what next step those victims could take if they chose to, saying, “These are some options that you can take forward, here is why it would be good, here is why it’d be helpful”. Doing something like that… I just thought that was so incredible, selfless and responsible of her. I feel as though our industry is so small. We’re all mutual friends and most people are just a stone’s throw away. At its core, I think that this community is trusting, and particularly amongst women, I feel like we can talk about anything. In these scenarios, having those conversations with one another is a good place to start.
You were 16 years old when you entered the industry. What was your experience?
Yeah, I stepped into this industry when I was very young, and for the most part I've been lucky to have had a really wonderful community around me who inspire me to work hard and ensure that I’m connecting with great people. I worked with Charlotte Abroms for years and have had a lot of other really incredible women in my circles. When I started working on my first EP, I had no experience in working in studios, but I had so many ideas for how I wanted my songs to sound. I was 16. And I was so fortunate that the first producer that I worked with was Josh Barber. I feel like it’s a very common story for a young female artist to get put in a room with a male producer who, often without even realising, plays into the stereotype of taking control, overriding a female’s project just because they’re excited about it. That did not happen to me at all. Josh would wrap up every recording session with, “Are you happy? What is it that you want to do? You make the final call here”. It’s fundamental for mentors to provide emerging artists with the space to discover who they are. At the end of the day, it’s the artist’s project; they’re in the driver’s seat. The type of behaviour and approach to working with a younger artist who is trying to find their feet, is more impactful than I'll ever be able to put into words. I’ve never felt that I can’t use my voice, express my opinion, or make the final call and influence decisions in every session, co-write or rehearsal that I’ve gone into since working on my first EP. Josh’s brilliant mentorship played a large part in this being the outcome. Then again, amidst everything, it’s wild to think about the fact that, as a female, I’ve felt the need to thank men when they’ve provided this space for me…when that should actually just be the norm! The reality is, unfortunately it still isn’t. As women, we have this shitty ingrained tendency to thank a man just for being a decent human being, or apologise for things when we don’t need to. There are so many phenomenal female-led projects oozing confidence and boldness right now. That energy is solely because that woman is doing her own thing, trusting her gut and taking charge, and not because a man permitted her to do so.
Does reformation come from empowering women?
Um, yes, but not entirely. There has been a huge increase in conversation around gender inequality in the media, and though I feel like that has made an impact, and that we have made a lot of progress, there is still a heap of work to be done. I mean, to be specific to the music industry, one day I’ll be like, “Wow, look at all of these incredible female artists that are topping the Hottest 100. This is so great”, (Billie Eilish won the Hottest 100 this year and that was the first time a female has EVER won it). But then only two years ago at the Grammys, there was this insanely backwards comment made from the Recording Academy President, a male, who said, “Women need to step up”. I do think change has been made by empowering women, and of course we need to continue naming the issue and being loud about it. Gender inequality is something that we’re dealing with in every industry, and if we look at the issue globally… just look at who America voted in as their president. That alone clearly demonstrates that despite the fact that great things are happening, ultimately women are still being dismissed and spoken over. We’re still under threat and suffering. Empowering women isn’t all we need to do to make this change. I think while that’s great, let’s look at where the issues are actually coming from… what are we going to do about the men? You can gauge the extreme sensitivity within males when a comment such as, “And then, like all men do, he said this”, is made. Their ears perk up. So many of them feel attacked by that. I just wish we were more focused on educating the boys.
J: I don’t think that should be your responsibility though. Men need to educate themselves.
That's absolutely true. It’s not really up to the women at this point - they’re doing fucking great. What I mean is in society, as a whole, there needs to be more energy put into educating the boys. Reform, in a way, comes from empowering women, absolutely, but men need to sort out what they need to do in order to fix this huge issue. And I wish that was more of a priority. Even the terminology used about women being harassed… rather than saying, “Woman sexually harassed”, how about saying, “Another man has, yet again, sexually harassed a woman”? We're conditioned to talk about this stuff in a certain way, you know? That needs to change.
I’ve spoken to a few guys in the industry about gender inequality and they have the opinion that, “If you’re good, you’ll get the gig”. What’s your opinion on this?
Oh, well, that's just completely not true, is it? This industry is still very much dominated by men. Certain genres are even more so dominated by men. That is so disappointing to hear. Have you spoken to any other women about this?
J: Oh, everyone thinks it’s bullshit. Of course it is.
You know, that just further exemplifies my point that there needs to be so much more of a focus on educating men. That’s an ignorant comment, and I would think that there’s no doubt that the people who said that actually genuinely believe that it is the case. Boys: there is so much that you don’t know; there’s so much going on that you don't see, or worse, have come to normalise. You say that because the issue at hand doesn’t affect or impact you personally, and never has or will. I vividly remember playing a gig with Japanese Wallpaper when I was 17. At the merch desk after the show, I had these drunk boys towering over me, wrapping their arms around me without my permission. Like, the number of times I’ve had a guy run up to me after a show and assume he can hug me, kiss on the cheek even, or tell me “you’re hot”… that kind of stuff is so rampant. And what’s worse is, I remember at that particular gig, being so conscious of what I was doing, and assuring that I didn’t do the ‘wrong thing’, or behave too defensively… I was a young girl, I had no idea how to handle that scenario and shouldn't have had to. I just had this ingrained misogyny in my own brain telling me to “be nice” and “not make things difficult”. If there was anything that I could say to those guys who have that opinion of “if you’re good you’ll get the gig”… (apart from the fact that they need to do their research - remember when there were only 9 women in total on the 2018 Falls Festival line up?)… actually look for the gender inequality, I promise it won’t take you long to see it. Notice the issue rather than dismissing it. Look for the mistreatment, and then call it out. If you notice behaviour that doesn’t quite sit right, say something. Hold your mates accountable. Have the conversations, and do the work. The chain effect that I can only imagine that would have, would do a lot of good.
Keep up to date with Gretta here
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.