Seattle men on #MeToo, sexual misconduct and a path forward
The conversation continues on inclusion riders, toxic masculinity and the power of drag queens as bouncers. (Part 2 of 2)
In Part 1 of Crosscut’s conversation with Seattle men in the music and nightlife industries about the local repercussions of Me Too, the group talked about the shock and confusion experienced when a close friend is accused of sexual misconduct, whether to speak out in support of women (and risk mansplaining) or not to speak out (and be seen as tacitly supporting the accused), the pros and cons of social media, different levels of offenses, and the Seattle bubble.
In Part 2 of our conversation, the group discusses how the younger generation is approaching issues of sexual harassment and misconduct, the importance of including women in positions of power in these industries, a short-lived attempt at a “Bill of Rights” for women (without any female input) and how even the smallest “micro-moments” (such as challenging the expression “that takes balls”) can make a big difference in changing the culture.
This transcript of our conversation has been condensed and edited.
Crosscut: In the wake of Me Too, what is your industry doing differently or what should it be doing differently?
Ashraf Hasham: I think there is something to be said about education for this new generation that’s coming up. We already know that the new generation is a little more queer, a little more Brown, a little more progressive. So how do we get them and the pop star influencers, and other dudes that have influence and power, to say “trust women, believe women.” How do we get that happening?
That’s the thing I think is most actionable right now, and that’s what’s driving me in my day to day. And while I won’t take to social media necessarily right away, I will have that conversation in the street, on the phone, in person because that’s just the way I think to getting things done. At least in my field, where you’re talking to young people all the time. This is what they want. They want people to be called out all the time. They want people to be kicked out [of a music venue]. And I think there’s nothing wrong with telling people why they’re getting kicked out and then kicking people out. There’s something to be said there. But you can’t just tell somebody to go away. You have to give them a correction.
Crosscut: So you’re saying you do this at The Vera Project?
Hasham: Yes. The young people do it themselves.
Crosscut: And what about with your male peers?
Hasham: Yes, also my male peers, and many of them are in the food and beverage industry. I’m relatively new to the music industry, although I’ve been around the arts and nonprofits for a while.
Crosscut: Can you be more specific? What is it that you see, and what is it that you say?
Hasham: I haven’t seen anybody with anything I needed to correct in the moment — I think that would be a different scenario. It would require removing that person, taking them aside, confronting and asking the questions that need to be asked the moment it happens. Not waiting too long, because then the repression kicks in, or they didn’t know that they were doing something wrong, and therefore it was the past, not something they’re talking about now. So, as soon as it happens, say something.
For me, it’s been more about the preventative stuff. What is the now that we want to create, and how long will it take to get there? It’s been a lot of abstract conversations, to be honest. All we want to do is center women, you know? So I’ve been having conversations with women in the room, in places where young people are involved, and then asking, where do we go from here?
I think the one thing that has been the same throughout is that people don’t want to give anybody another chance. That one chance is enough. And I find myself agreeing with them, but also needing to challenge that a little bit because I do think that people can change, should change, and should be allowed to get back to restorative justice. I do think reincorporation into society should be an option. At least, I want to think that. I don’t know how to actually do that, though. I’m hoping that eventually we’ll get to a solution. I don’t think today’s that day, though.
Chris Elford: But there’s a difference between somebody who’s done things like Dave, or someone who is in that realm, and someone who makes shitty jokes and who came up in a culture where that’s okay. One of those people you can probably pull aside and have some conversations with and maybe get them at least thinking in a different way. One of those people you probably can’t. That’s just the fact. I specifically deal with the people I employ, so I have lots of these little, what you call micro-moments.
For example, I had an employee from one of our businesses make an offhand comment to an employee, a female from another one of our businesses about what she was wearing. It was complimentary, and kind of cutesy, something like, “Oh you look just like my favorite flavor of ice cream.” It seemed really innocuous, but certainly could have been taken like, “You’re an ice cream cone, I wanna …” you know.
This is the level that we need to start thinking on. Not, was the joke okay for me and for you, but was there someone else around who we offended, and if so, it was wrong. Because that goes beyond intent. We have conversations like that all the time within our company, where it’s just like, “Hey, don’t say that.” People are like, “Yeah, sorry, I got it.”
It’s learning, it’s an exercise. We’re taking pretty green bartenders and trying to teach them career skills. I teach them how to pick up a glass — we don’t hold glasses like this [by the rim], we hold glasses like this [around the sides]. And don’t hold glasses like this at home either, because the way you’re going to learn is doing this all the time, it’s going to become second nature to you. You have to change people’s culture outside of the realm that you’re in with them, too, so, don’t make those jokes at home with your buds. It’s not just about what’s in public, it’s about what’s in private that’s important.
The other thing I wanted to say, when people ask me and my wife to come and speak on panels or do pop up bars, one of our first questions is, Who else is involved in this, and is this a diverse group of people? I’m not sitting on another panel with four dudes.
Kevin Sur: Frances McDormand, who won [an Oscar last year], said “inclusion rider,” and just like, boom. I think a lot about successful musicians, and how more often than not, they’re not reaching back. A piece of advice I gave a band who broke and became world famous, was like, remember you’re in charge and you have a responsibility to bring as many people with you as you can. I think the bands that are in a position of power kind of go through the motions and don’t recognize that. I’ve yet to get a rider from a band, a headliner, that has any sort of inclusion message in it. And I think that is a fix that can be pretty immediate, but ...
It takes the artists that are six-figure bands to put their foot down and not let people down the chain dictate who they tour and do not tour with. You know, “If you want me to headline this festival, this is the definition of inclusion for your festival.” Talent buyers will absolutely adhere to it.
Crosscut: So, could you as a festival person, restaurant person, bar-owner, decide, “I’m going to make sure that x-number of women are chefs, band headliners, staff?” Have you gotten there yet?
Sur: We absolutely do. It’s very intentional, in terms of our core staff. There’s nine people, five women and four men. But in terms of when that production staff grows, it’s a responsibility that there are an equal, if not more, amount of women. This year, it was more [women] than men. But ... [McDormand] saying that word made me think about, if we’re talking about the music industry, the ones who wield the most power are the ones that have the draw.
We’re talking about bands that can just say to the festival, “Hey, we’ll confirm, but you need to sign this inclusion rider if we’re going to be a major headliner.” And hold the talent buyers and festivals accountable to that. They’ll do it.
Crosscut: Megan Jasper from Sub Pop was part of our earlier talk, and she was saying at the anniversary festival the bands were told to stop the set if you see something creepy going on in the audience.
Elford: I saw a dude get removed by a woman at the Hot Snakes performance, and everyone just applauded her. It was fucking amazing. She just grabbed this dude by his neck and threw him out. The whole crowd kicked him out, but there was this woman who did it, and we were all just like fuck, yeah!
Crosscut: What about other things your industries can do?
Steven Severin: Just having those conversations with your staff. Women need to know what they can do if they are harassed either by a patron, or by another employee, or an owner. People need to know, “What can I do if something happens?”
When all this came down though, I was really angry, and not thinking super clearly, but I really wanted to do something. What I had in my mind, which looking back was a terrible idea, not terrible, but pretty bad, was for me, [Riz], and John [Richards, business partner and KEXP DJ] to create a sort of Bill of Rights for women of how they should be treated. This is what women want, this is how they want to be treated, this is how they want to be spoken to. The biggest thing that I didn’t do is I didn’t ask a woman.
Sur: It’s one thing to create a list of things that everyone reads, signs on, and understands when they’re hired to do it. It’s another thing to make that not come across as you’re just checking off a box in the liability column. How do you make it an active thing that progresses, that evolves? What are actionable things, and where’s the fine print, because that’s really the heart of how and when you take action.
Elford: Putting a sign in your window doesn’t make you an ally.
Sur: It doesn’t make you an ally. People are hiding in plain sight.
Riz Rollins: I feel much more comfortable in the club if there are women bouncers. Women haven’t been encouraged to be bouncers, but I feel much more comfortable if there are drag queen doormen — door people. Because then I think, at least I’ve got some recourse, and this is at straight clubs.
That’s the first person you see. The first person you talk to. Often, the first person you see is going to give you the impression as to how things are going to work
Severin: The most important person at that whole venue is that door person.
Elford: People’s first interaction.
Rollins: When I worked at Q, we had that conversation. Q had been told if you want to make this a safe space on the Hill, have a drag queen at the door. And, I heard conversations: “Well yeah, but then, a lot of men aren’t going to feel comfortable” and I said, Well, fuck them.
It’s really important to have people of color bartending, gender-fluid people who are obvious, open, and there. Because I think toxic masculinity is a safe hiding space for men to do these things.
Crosscut: Steven, are you’re going to have a person of color, a drag queen, a gender-fluid person at your new bar?
Severin: Yes. One of the excuses that people always bring up to me is, well, no Black people have....
Severin: Right. I’m like, where were you reaching out?
Sur: Yeah, among your friends group?
Severin: If you’re going to try to be inclusive, what are you doing to make sure that you’re actually reaching that audience? There are plenty of us white men. We’re always around. We don’t have to worry about like —
Elford: Going extinct?
Matt Bishop: It was a mind blowing thing for me when I had my first friends of color years ago: understanding that the default is the patriarchy, the default is toxic masculinity, and the onus is on us, those of us who are in positions of privilege and power, to rip up the default. Which is to say you have to be intentional.
I’m in business school now, where only like 10 percent of the people are from the state of Washington, so they’re from all over — Dallas and Jacksonville. I was having a conversation a couple of days ago and they’re talking about the chutzpah of a specific business decision, talking about how much “balls” it took, and I said, just a small thing, “You mean like, how many ovaries it took?”
Crosscut: Did you really say that?
Bishop: Yeah, I did. And I kind of felt the two other guys roll their eyes, and then I felt a little self-conscious, like, “Am I being over the top?” And then I went and talked to a female friend later, and she said, “You know, I bet the three women who are part of your team appreciated that immensely.” The language we use and the perspectives we have, if we’re not second guessing every moment that we interact with this culture, then we’re just letting the default be what it is.
Crosscut: You both used the words toxic masculinity, and we throw that phrase around. But what does it mean?
Rollins: It is masculinity that exists at the expense of everything around it, and the highest thing is itself. It’s the “smartest” in the room. It’s the “most talented” in the room. It’s the most moneyed in the room. They get to call all the shots on every level from a very formal, codified way, to a very informal way. “I got balls.”
What happens to a woman when everybody accepts the fact that “balls” mean power? Humorously, then what happens? There’s so many different components of it.
I was embarrassed to say, I didn’t think that David was that kind of asshole. I know women who called Dave out. All those women on the Pike-Pine corridor. I talked to one that has a business on the Pike-Pine corridor that hasn’t talked about the kind of bullshit he did to them. He did it in the name of business, but he also did it because they’re women. That’s toxic. It’s toxic because it spreads. David used to talk about the “Capitol Hill Mafia” proudly.
Severin: A lot of people talked about the “Capitol Hill Mafia.”
Rollins: Three or four people whose goal was to own and run everything possible on Capitol Hill. They were the cultural purveyors. People wanted to work around them and wanted to be around them.
Crosscut: And those were all men, the “Mafia”?
Rollins: Oh yeah, absolutely. Also, he [Meinert] hired that PR firm to help him craft his [response to the allegations of sexual misconduct]. One of the women in the second wave [of allegations] was a woman that worked in the same PR firm.
Elford: You can’t write this shit.
Rollins: You can’t.
Crosscut: So can the culture be changed?
Bishop: It’s always blown my mind that music has always been filled with progressive, feelings-oriented, self-reflective people, but it’s also one of the most dominated by men. Like any industry, you look at bands. My band — seven dudes. Seven white dudes.
Rollins: It’s a great band, though.
Bishop: Thank you. Is that on the record?
Severin: “Riz said, ‘Great band.’”
Bishop: We haven’t released a record in a couple years and kind of been taking a break, and part of that is not unrelated to the conversations around some of us. Our members are like, “Do we have anything that we need to say?” Some of the bandmates have been intentional about saying, “I don’t want to do this right now. I want to go work with people who are coming from marginalized communities whose voices aren’t heard, ’cause I’ve got a studio that I want to set up.”
Crosscut: People or you?
Bishop: Other bandmates. I’m going to business school. But I had a conversation with one of my bandmates who did that. He said he doesn’t want to play with us right now because of who we are. I was like, that’s okay,
Crosscut: Because everyone’s white and male?
Bishop: Just a bunch of white guys. There’s enough of that in the world. I’m not trying to say that we did some great thing. I don’t wanna emphasize that at all.
Crosscut: But how do you feel when he says that? You’re white and male.
Bishop: Right. I think that’s okay, but I can’t expect all of the bands to dissolve and start replacing their bandmates with women. It’s such a long-term cultural issue, that again, I think is only gonna be resolved by the superheroes that are the next generation. Because they’re being intentional about it. The respect that I had for my bandmate [saying] “I don’t want to play music with you guys anymore, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I think I need to be intentional about how I can contribute a voice or help people who have been marginalized literally get their voices into the community” … He made that decision; It had an effect on me and changed my perception. I can’t expect anybody else to do that, but the model that he demonstrated by taking that step, I think is part of what I take on when I say we need to call shit out. In everything we do, and in every conversation we have, when people start talking about how big their balls are, we need to push back against that.
Rollins: I know at the radio station [KEXP] ... One of the things that’s happened in the last few years is we’ve had that whole, “We need young blood in here. The old guard, we’ve got about 20 minutes left. We’re out!”
It’s gonna take at least one more generation. I actually told somebody years ago. A guy asked me at a club, he said, “What are we gonna do about the radio station? Because we’ve got all these dudes running the station.” I said, “Well, I know what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna die.”
Rollins: I said, “No, I’m being completely and totally real. Nobody here is gonna give up a four-figure salary, even, because they wanna be fair. Nobody’s gonna give up whatever power they have because they wanna be inclusive. So those of us that can’t be inclusive need to die. We need to get old and get out the way. That’s the way it works. It’s always worked that way. It’s always going to work that way.”
The other healthy thing that we need to be doing is pointing those thumbs back at ourselves and saying, “We let him do this.” This whole Dave Meinert thing has been really instructive on a personal level.
We do this Pride thing at the [Meinert-owned] 5 Point, and KEXP has been trying to move that from the 5 Point partially because KEXP now has space for people to meet. I was the biggest proponent of saying, “No. We don’t need to move it from there. We’ve got a tradition. We’ve done it there for 10 years.”
Rollins: I mean, “It’s just Dave. He’s a little creepy.” But this was the first year that I thought, “Wait a minute. He kissed me.” And so if he’s kissing me and he’s taking his pants off and he’s drunk, what the hell do you know? So we did it again this year. And then I’m arguing for it. “Eh, Dave’s kinda weird, but this is a place that we need to do it because we’ve done it that way so far.” That’s the two thumbs pointing at myself.
Severin: I gotta say something about David, as somebody who has spent so much time with him. The whole reason I even got involved in any kind of politics outside of music was because of David, back in the Teen Dance Ordinance days. I have sat on committees with him. I have sat on panels with him. I have hung out with him in my bars and his bars, drinking. I have been to his house. I’ve held his baby. I’ve been around David a lot, and there was no point that I would have ever dreamed that he would have sexually assaulted — fuck that — that he would [allegedly] rape a friend of mine.
I sat in those limos, going to all those political parties, never saw anything like it. Never saw him do anything. I heard stuff about not wanting to be in business with him because he wasn’t good to his employees or he didn’t run a fair business, which I didn’t agree with, but that was it.
Crosscut: Does that say more about how he behaved or about you — how you could just completely not notice any of this?
Elford: He was acting differently around you.
Rollins: He can be a master at it, specifically because all the pieces are in place. I think one of the things we’ve been talking about is how to remove those pieces so that doesn’t happen.
Crosscut: So given that, is your antenna up now with everybody, with all your other male friends?
Severin: It is. I don’t know anybody else that is quite as charismatic with as much power [as Meinert]. He was really good at his part. If I would have seen something, some kind of sign that he was sexually inappropriate ... I wish I would have been able to see something.
Rollins: Can I also say that nobody necessarily wanted to remove him from power ... It’s just like that was an acceptable thing to do in bar culture, particularly and dance culture. I know more and more people are starting to question whether that should be allowed, how deep the tolerance went and how we have to change the tolerance, particularly of people in power. It’s easy to do with some numbnut that walks in and touches a woman — we could see him and toss him out — but it’s a lot more difficult when it has been codified.
Like I said earlier, it happened to me. Until somebody actually came to me and said, “I’m really sorry, I saw him do what he did to you,” I just felt like it’s a minor fuck up.
Severin: Now, 20/20 [vision].
Crosscut: Chris, we were talking about the importance of inclusion and getting women into power positions in the industry. Do you think your wife Anu has different experiences being a female owner of her bar?
Elford: I didn’t get into the hospitality industry until I was 25. I moved to New York and just worked for the right people at the right time. I was given opportunities for whatever reasons and I took the right ones and ended up, within two years, a household name in the cocktail world in New York — which is privilege, right? That’s how I met my wife. We met at Bourbon Camp in Kentucky, and I moved to Seattle. I had a job at Canon waiting for me when I moved here, and I didn’t know a single person in town except for my wife. I just strolled into town and started at a prestigious bar.
My wife, on the other hand, is a person of color. She is an Indian woman. Even in her own bar, she’ll be working the door at Rob Roy, and she’ll have men tell her, “I know the owner. It’s okay.” And she says, “Oh really? You know Anu?” And they’re like, “Yeah. He’s a good friend of mine. Me and him go way back.” And she’s like, “I’m Anu.” This is a totally regular occurrence.
Elford: Her experience is totally different than mine. I am much more involved in the day-to-day interactions with our staff. I bartend full time at our bars. We don’t have deep pockets. We try and save on labor how we can, which means I get to work with a lot of the young people that we hire. Our staff is fully, probably 50/50 men and women. We have people from all different walks.
Some of the women and people of color who work for us are going to go on and start their own bars. There could be a trickle down thing, I’m hoping. But I also understand that I’m still the loud white dude at the top of the pyramid in these bars, and I really try my best to listen and create conversations and then step back.
One thing that I wanted to say when you were doing the thumbs [pointing out your own mistakes], when I called this person out and it totally backfired, one of the things that I said to him was, “If you didn’t hear the accusations and convictions of various people that this entire Me Too movement has spawned, if that didn’t spur inside yourself a need, a hunger, when you’re alone by yourself, to think about past sexual interactions that you had with people when you were drinking, and think, “When I did such and such with this person, was I in a place where I wasn’t making good decisions?” ...
I mean, I’ve spent as much time thinking about myself and my past as I have thinking about what other people could do to change, and I feel like that’s a really valuable self-analysis. You have to understand that none of us are perfect and we all have demons, and it’s okay to think about them, talk about them, move forward or reach out and have some kind of healing. Maybe somebody else needs healing, or maybe just talking about that with someone else will make something click for them and get the ball rolling.
That’s why when you were saying your bandmate wanted to step back from the band, I was like, that’s a pretty cool move. ... In the moment it might seem that literally standing on a stage is the best way to reach the most people, but actually, it’s [by] cultivating new generations. That’s the really hard thing to do.
Crosscut: Do men not speak up because they look back and think, “Oh shit. That was inappropriate, somebody’s gonna call me out.” Do they stay quiet for fear that any bad date they’ve had will be re-examined?
Elford: Potentially. They’re worried about glass houses.
Rollins: The conversations about bad dates aren’t the same thing as conversations about predatory behavior. It is up to them to be able to know the difference. Clearly, we aren’t talking about bad dates. None of the women have called it anything other than abuse and assault.
Severin: And rape.
Rollins: And rape.
Severin: That’s a word men are afraid to say. That is a word that we do not use.
Rollins: Because the image of rape, it almost always involves violence, and so we’re uncomfortable with calling the situation rape when there hasn’t been any violence.
Those of us who have been violated have a different relationship with those words. I’ve come up from molestation, abuse when I was a kid. It took me years, I mean, decades, to say, dude didn’t just violate me. He raped me. He took advantage of me. He used his power as a church person to violate me against my will. He knew more than I knew. He had power. And I wanted to burn his house down once I realized that that’s what it was.
Elford: I wanna burn his house down just hearing you talk about that.
Rollins: At my 20th high school reunion, I went looking for him. I looked for him but couldn’t find him. I had a friend that knew another pastor — who I had told and who did nothing, who gave me a tepid response — my friend said, “An interesting thing happened to that guy. That guy propositioned an 18-year-old in the basement of the church,” or no, it was his house. The kid shot him and killed him.
It wasn’t like I wanted him to die. I wanted him to pay for what he had done.
(L to R) Chris Elford, Steven Severin and Ashraf Hasham during a Me Too roundtable at Cascade Public Media in Seattle.
Crosscut: Where do we go from here? Where does our city go from here?
Rollins: Well, we’re going. Men need to be talking, and we need to be talking to each other. And we have been talking to each other. We we’ve talked around each other and held each other up to that standard. So I think it’s actually moving.
What your band members are doing is heroic, and it’s not connected to you being called out or shamed or anything. It’s like, “You know what? I’m not comfortable with where I’ve been. I’m gonna have to reassess where I’m going.” I think the recognition that these women are not “the other.” Keep pushing that these are friends. These are people we know. They’re our sisters. They really are us, and we have, to a certain extent, failed them.
That’s a conversation we’re owning and we’re gonna continue to own in whatever way, best way as possible. But that’s happening. Just the fact that you asked us here is just the thing that I need to hear.
Severin: If you asked me five years ago, was I a feminist? Yes. Absolutely. As far back as I can remember, I have felt equal rights for everybody, which got me into a little bit of a thing, the other day. I was on a panel. I was talking to a group of Black men, some younger. They were talking about how they were treated and how it was so hard for them to be able to get on [music] shows and all of this. I was like, “I’ve always done what I can to reach out to the Black community to get them involved with doing shows.”
I’m sitting there feeling pretty good about myself. They were like, “Man, you are so fucking dumb.” I was just like, “What?” They were like, “Yeah, okay. So maybe you treat us like that, but you don’t think about how everybody else treats us.” It’s the same thing with women. You can think, “Oh, I’m doing what I can to help women.” But we don’t think about who you have to deal with on a daily basis who aren’t thinking about that. I’m okay with this person or with this gender or with this race, but there’s so many that aren’t. And it was like, Wow. That was a real eye-opener in the way that I have been thinking about things, because the gap is so gigantic on race, on gender.
I mean, I’m the rich white guy who people have called me part of the “Capitol Hill Mafia.” I’m the guy that they’re like, “Yeah. You. You’re the problem.” And it’s like, yes, I am, but I’m gonna try and use what I have as a platform as far as what we can do going forward. Use my position to reach other people and to try to get people to reflect and think differently than they have in the past. To challenge people to change and really take the time to try to educate yourself and call people on their shit, including your own.
Bishop: What I love about you, Steven, is how comfortable you are with the concept “I fucked up.” Just the way you undermine the toxic masculinity, this bravado, this sense of ego, this sense of “I can’t let go of my power.” You’re not even thinking about this consciously. But one of the most powerful moments in my life...
I had a coworker who was Black, and I wanted to be the really progressive guy. I was like 22, 23. I’d have conversations with her to try and understand. She would keep getting frustrated with me and impatient. I’m like, “I’m trying, really. Why are you so frustrated at me all the time?” She said, “I live in discomfort in this skin every moment of every day. Your mild discomfort while we communicate about this is not a concern to me anymore.” That was the moment where I said, “I’m not used to being uncomfortable.” If the only thing I learned from that experience is I need to inhabit a space where it’s okay for me to be uncomfortable, where I can be in a room full of people who are calling me on my shit because I just said something stupid, then that in and of itself is powerful. Disconnect from your ego. Disconnect from your sense of power. It’s okay to be called out. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to be yelled at.
Crosscut: We just came up with the name of your boy band: “Call Me on My Shit.”
Sur: This process, this dialogue that we’re having here, there needs to be more of this.
Hasham: So why don’t we create those spaces?
Sur: I think you guys are creating it right now. I think maybe other people can be inspired to do something similar. Maybe podcasts can happen. I actually was like [pretends to type] “Me Too podcast,” where can I find these kind of conversations? I didn’t find anything with men.
Sur: Yeah, the ones being oppressed are always the first ones being challenged to come up with a solution.
Elford: It shouldn’t be on them 100 percent.
Crosscut: Maybe we should convene women and men together.
Severin: I think most of us here would love to be able to have a talk with the women. I don’t know if they want to, but I think it could spark an interesting dialogue.