Dancer Shi-Ping Lin during rehearsals for RAPE & CULTURE – Photo: Max Ott
“How good are his contacts? Can he hurt me?”
For our production RAPE & CULTURE, we asked artists to tell us about their experiences with sexualized violence and abuse of power. This is Bettina, who actually has a different name
It started a year ago. I received a private message via Facebook. A conductor, about my age, from East Germany. In the message, he buttered me up with a lot of honey, using strangely exaggerated language to make it seem special, including as many foreign words as possible. He would like to see German-German cooperation possible. Oh God, who says shit like that?
I thought: Come on, I don’t have to become best friends with him. I wrote back to him in a friendly and formal way that I don’t like this on Facebook because it’s my private account. Then the whole thing shifted to WhatsApp. Where I didn’t think much of it. You’re on first-name terms with most conductors anyway. It was relaxed, and it was very clear to me that it was about a concert. I was the only one who thought so.
He wanted to come to one of my concerts, which – thank God in this respect – was canceled due to Corona. Things got strange after that. This only began slowly with a few compliments. Oh, beautiful woman. Then he wanted to find out if I had a boyfriend. Until I was asked what bra size I was. Quite strange, it happened so suddenly, without anyone knowing how.
I kept trying to get back to this concert that we wanted to do together. It was never clear what the guy actually wanted now. He would always have had the chance to quickly change his mind and say: yes, this is a concert.
It wasn’t like we were writing all the time every day. Sometimes it was very intense, then four weeks of rest. At some point I thought: Oh, it’ll run its course and I’ll have my peace. I also thought he wasn’t quite clear in the head. Because he obviously has a major problem with validity. He wants to make himself very, very important. With whom and what he has already done. What you could learn from him. He said things to me like: You can’t do that, you’re only a soprano. Or: Honey, how are you going to take care of the texts, come on, you can’t even think. Where I then also thought to myself: Oh God, so be it. Just say what you want.
At some point he asked if we would ever meet in our lives. I said: That depends on when you do a concert with me. So I got back on the concert track. That was the first time he said: No, even in private. I asked him what we should do in private. According to the motto: If you want something from me, then say it freely. Then I can officially say no.
He wanted to bring it back to a musical level. I then told him that I didn’t want to meet him, that I didn’t want anything from him and that he should please stop. I think that was a big insult for him because he wants to be adored.
After that, there was a steady stream of insults. You have no idea anyway, you won’t get anywhere, I have contacts! Which got me thinking: Ok, shit, how good are his contacts? Can he really do anything for me? Can he pass the buck to me, spoil my career opportunities, talk me down? Can he damage my reputation if he tells people she can’t sing, she’s unreliable?
I blocked it during the night. I wanted to talk to someone about it and get some advice. I posted in a Facebook group with singers and soloists without saying who I was referring to. I only briefly touched on the story – and had a lot of comments and ten private messages. From affected women, from friends of affected women, from fellow students and men who have noticed something. And everyone mentioned the same name and that was this man’s name.
I talked to the women concerned and spoke to some of them on the phone. Some of them went much further than I did.
Where are the boundaries between a failed attempt at flirting, assholish behavior and abuse of power? I find that difficult to say here, precisely because it went so quickly from “Come on, let’s sing a concert” to “What’s your bra size?”.
If someone flirts with me, it has nothing to do with the job from my point of view. He has to say: “You, I’m here privately now, I think you’re good, shall we go for a drink? Then I say: You, this is how it is. What doesn’t work is a message: I’m listening to this piece, it would suit you well, shall we do it sometime? And by the way, I like your big breasts. – Where should I draw the line?
But it wasn’t just these sexual things, but also the power games, the belittling: “You can’t do it anyway” and “I’ll take care of it”. I think what he’s doing is quite normal in his head.
He has such a prey pattern: “I’ve seen photos of other women. Roughly speaking: they all have curves, lots of curly hair, many have a round face. Small and sweet. Something at the front and back. He also often commented on my figure: “You don’t feel good, everyone else thinks you’re too fat, but I think you’re great, you could be even fatter.
Psycho-Flirting. I thought: You can’t do anything to me now, I feel good, everything is fine. He did the same with the others. He specifically sought out women who had little self-confidence. And he found many people who jumped at the chance.
Looking back, I think: Should I have said straight away that you can’t give me compliments? Which is actually nonsense. I often thought to myself: Did I do something wrong? Did I ever make him understand that I want this or I want more? I have also had my chat proofread by men. They all said: No, just because you didn’t say no straight away doesn’t mean that you allow him to do everything.
Before this incident, I thought: It won’t happen to me. Because I didn’t have such problems in real life. I’m loud and say directly: Fuck off. Or: Leave me alone. As a singer, you think you have to behave a bit. In addition, there is this professional hierarchy gap. One is the boss over the other. I also realize that I might not always react the way I would in private.
Now I know it can happen to anyone. Who knows how much you might end up doing even though you don’t really want to and feel uncomfortable. I’ve become a bit more aware of that. I think you also have to keep an eye on your colleagues: How are they doing right now, are they perhaps not so stable?
When I tell non-musicians about this incident, they say: What’s going on with you? Is that normal? And nobody says anything? But well, even this audition situation is difficult to understand for outsiders: You’re too German, you’re too short, you’re too fat, you have too big breasts, you have too short legs, you’re too blonde, you’re so blue-eyed… You’re often told the same thing. Bam, bam, bam. If someone said that to an accountant in a job interview, all hell would break loose.
But it’s often older women who make comments like that: Oh, don’t be like that. You’re cute, that’s what you’re upset about? Don’t be like that if you knew what it used to be like. – It’s also a generational thing. Solidarity tends to develop among peers. Singers my age are more aware of such situations than older women.
Many of my male colleagues really don’t seem to have a clue what’s happening. But I think it’s important that they also extend their antennae. I think one or two people would immediately be ready to say: Oh God, what’s going on? Let me help you!
If you are acutely affected by violence, please contact a contact point. Possible points of contact:
Regional in Munich:
Crisis service Bavaria
: 0180 655 3000
Women’s helpline Munich
(Mon-Fri 10 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 2 pm, except Wednesday: 10 am – 1 pm and 6 pm – 2 pm): 089 76 37 37
Wildwasser München e.V.
(Mon 10am-12pm, Wed 4pm-6pm, Thurs 2pm-4pm): 089-600 39 331
Themis Confidence Center against sexual harassment and violence
in the film, television and theater industry (Mon 10am-12pm, Wed & Thurs 10am-12pm and 3pm-5pm): 030/23 63 20 20