Sarah Hangartner

Artist Relations and Marketing

July 1, 2016


How old are you?


Where are you from originally?

Portland, Oregon.

How long have you been in New Orleans?

This is my third summer.

Why are you still here?

Once you’re here, no place else will ever feel quite as good. There is culture and community and joy here. People make that a priority. Happiness and celebration and cooperation are priorities here. Portland is very artistic but it’s a basement culture. No one works together. Everyone does their own thing. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I may never leave.

In what capacity would you say you are a part of the music community of New Orleans?

I worked at a popular venue on Frenchmen Street and that was when jazz became a part of my life. I worked the door and so I dealt with a lot of the musicians and they became my friends. And when I left The Maison, I began consulting for those same musicians on their business and computer and marketing needs. I build websites, do PR, collect data, apply to festivals. I am helping musicians do the things that are time-consuming and they don’t necessarily have the time for while they are writing music and practicing all day.

Do you remember being told or taught anything growing up about your behavioral expectations as a girl?

It comes through little comments and expectations people have about how a girl acts. My parents went through the Woodstock era but then the 80s happened. There was a lot of ‘woman can do anything’, ‘you have to stand on your own’, feminist vibes but there was still also this attitude of ‘you have to know your place’. I’ve always been outspoken and I’ve always gotten a lot of slack for that. I say what I mean and I want to be heard and I want to know that people are listening to me and that doesn’t happen a lot when you’re a woman. You don’t get eye contact. You don’t get respect. People speak after you like they didn’t hear you. A girl isn’t going to be labeled a musician.

What do you mean by that?

You’re not going to be given that title. You’re not. A boy who fiddles on the guitar, they’re going to be encouraged to do that. Maybe it’s because that will keep him out of trouble. I didn’t know any girls growing up who were labeled musicians. One was labeled a singer, one was labeled an actress, but there weren’t musicians. There weren’t artists. The artists were dudes and I don’t know why that is.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

That’s something I struggle with because I don’t know where the line is. Is it discrimination based on sex? How do I determine where this discrimination is coming from? Is it ageism? Is it sexism? Is it something else? But it’s everywhere. Sometimes I can’t even leave my house. If I want a break from it, well then I better not walk down the street. It just comes out through every little thing. I don’t know anything about cars and it’s assumed that it’s because I’m a woman. But I don’t know any man that knows anything about cars either and it’s because we’re not mechanics, not because of our genders.

How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?

Scared. Terrified. Not seen. Devalued. Everything comes with an excuse or an apology before we say what we mean or want. It’s an engrained trait that so many young women have learned and hold onto for their entire life. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen how that limits you and your growth and professional growth. Honestly, sometimes I wish we could just be anonymous. You don’t need to know my name, you don’t need to know what I look like, we don’t even have to talk. In terms of work, it’s frustrating. In terms of a personal life, it’s scary being a woman. I don’t know how many times I’ve been walking home at night and being like, “Fuck, I don’t have my mace with me so I’m just going to hold my keys in my hand and punch you.” You shouldn’t have to walk through life thinking about that constantly. Have you seen the “rape-proof” underwear? It comes with clasps on the waistband and on the thighs and you snap them closed. They’re made of things you can’t cut through. And if we live in a world where women have to buy rape-proof underwear, that’s not a safe world.

Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you?

When I was first hired at the Frenchmen venue, I was new meat and I was treated like that. I got comments on my appearance from every male staff member I met and I was told by the woman who trained me that “That’s just how it is around here.” That’s a hard bullet to bite. I wanted a job. I wanted to be in that type of environment. I wanted to sing and dance at work surrounded by people enjoying themselves. So I ignored it as much as I could but when you’re the door girl, you’re the bait. I was on the verge of quitting but I couldn’t do it. I was too emotionally attached to my friends and the experience that I was having there. One night when I was off I was there watching my friends play with my roommate who also worked there and we were just dancing and singing along. One of my managers was working the door because that was my day off and I was talking with him about how I wasn’t getting respected. It got heated and I got pretty upset and he asked me to follow him into the back. So he walked me back into the green room and closed the door behind us and he kissed me. I didn’t know what was happening. Then I felt something going on and he had placed his flaccid penis in my hand and said “It’s not even hard yet. You can have this whenever you want it.” And then he turned around and left the greenroom. I was totally in shock. I had no idea what had happened. I walked out and I told my roommate what happened and on the set break I told everybody in the band what had just happened but I didn’t even understand until the next day when I could really process it. That Thursday I was scheduled to go to work and I made myself go because if I didn’t go, I would never go again and no one would know what happened. I was shaking the whole time. The next day I sat down with the owners and told them exactly what happened. We had a meeting with every manager and the man admitted he had done exactly what I said he had done. And he got to keep his job. He got to continue working there. I didn’t know what to do. My mother didn’t even know what to do. I wasn’t told to go file with the police. It took me months—that happened in November and it wasn’t until January that I finally talked to the police. I was scared for my life. I couldn’t walk through my neighborhood. I finally filed with the police and they just kept on asking me over and over again why it took me so long. I filed with the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission—that’s who you talked to about discrimination—and they apologized but nothing ever happened. There was no follow-up from the police and the EEOC dropped the case or decided to not pursue it. I’m not the only person who has been assaulted at one of their clubs. One of my peers was raped by a manager. I’m not the only one. This could be a large sexual harassment case but instead, it gets ignored. It still really impacts me. I work for bands that play there all the time. My partner plays there all the time. I can’t go in there. I can’t go into any of these clubs and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. I lost my job. I lost freedom to act correctly in my new job. I feel like I can’t walk down Frenchmen Street. I lost my roommate, my apartment, my job, everything. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t think about it. I don’t know what I can do. I think the thing that hurts is not being heard, not being seen, being told again and again and again that I’m lying and that it’s not as bad as I say it is. Is he the issue or are the owners the issue? He fucked up, he hurt me, he scared me. But he should’ve lost his job immediately and that should have been the end of it. I shouldn’t get told that it was ok because I was drunk. I shouldn’t get told that it was ok because I have been known to be flirty. You know that what you’re doing is wrong but you don’t have the guts to stand up. But it’s a boys game. That place is run by men. And they only use women because they’re attractive. It’s the service industry so it’s disgusting but that’s not an excuse.

I wish I could take away that pain for you.

What do I do? This is why I’m talking to you because maybe the more I talk about it, it will feel better. Maybe the more I cryptically post about it on Facebook, it will feel better.

I’m sorry that happened to you.

Me too. I just don’t want it to fucking happen to anyone ever again and if I ever hear of anyone else getting raped or assaulted there in any sort of way, we have to stand up. This has to be a class-action lawsuit. This happened to me a year and a half ago but it stills feels like it happened yesterday. I don’t know how one heals from that other than asking their community for support.

I know that you and I are just meeting but I’ve found that one of the really wonderful things that has come out of this so far is that I’ve gotten to have this conversation with so many people that I know and that I don’t know. I have people texting me when something goes wrong or when they feel threatened or sad or scared. Text me, call me, send me a smoke signal. We’re all hurting because of this much larger issue.

These conversations that we’re having are so important. We have to have them so we can reconsider the way we raise the next generation. It’s especially important to talk about it in front of our males friends. We’re taught at a young age that if somebody is picking on you, it’s because they like you. I’ve heard that so many times. It sets people up to assume that abuse will lead to love and that they only way that you get to love is through abuse. Men don’t understand that as a woman you can be solely intimidated by the fact that they’re a man. Or street harassment? There’s no good way to react to that. You can ignore it but you’ll continue to get harassed. You can talk back, you’ll continue to get harassed.

Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?

I don’t know how we change this. The scene is run by money hungry men that care about making money. They care about cheap booze and entertainment that drags people into the door. They don’t care about the quality of life and that’s what ruins this city. We can’t allow that to persist because we’re just going to get more and more disconnected. There’s going to be more and more impoverishment and more and more anger. The city is angry. We have a lot of healing to do and we can’t heal without communication and collaboration and getting rid of the stigma behind that conversation. You see women getting harassed no matter what situation that are in. What do we do? We have to brave it. I lost my job standing up for myself and it sucks but I made everyone listen to me again and again and again and again. They got an earful of what consent was and that makes me feel ok about it. In that moment I did would I could. If there was something I could do to make sure that didn’t happen again, I would do that but I don’t know what that is yet.