Lydia Night Takes on SWMRS—And Starts a New Phase For #MeToo

Lydia Night of The Regrettes attends KROQ Weenie Roast & Luau on June 08, 2019, Dana Point, California. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for KROQ)

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urger Records folded this week, under the weight of multiple allegations of sexual assault, harassment and coercion by members of bands signed to the label.

Days before the decision was made to shut down, and in light of survivor stories that had emerged, Oakland quartet SWMRS (who have released albums and EPs through a variety of labels, including Burger) stepped forward to share their stance on the issues at hand. The band’s four-part Instagram statement was, on the surface, a thoughtful acknowledgement of the cultural and systemic problems that can enable men to victimize young women.

“The music industry is deeply rooted in abusive patriarchal values,” the band wrote. “It’s impossible to overstate how deeply this permeates our culture ... Subverting patriarchy is a lifelong commitment to unlearning this abuse that we are conditioned to accept and regurgitate.”

The following day however, Lydia Night, singer and guitarist of The Regrettes, put out her own detailed statement, accusing SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong (son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) of pressuring her into a sexually coercive and emotionally abusive relationship when he was 22 and already in a popular band, and she was 16 and just starting out. She also said that Armstrong first made contact with her via Instagram, under the guise of working together in a touring capacity. She said their relationship began in secret while on one of those tours.

“We had multiple conversations where [Armstrong] would say something along the lines of ‘I want to move at your pace,’” Night wrote, “but then would act in a completely contradicting way, pressuring me into sexual situations ... He was essentially my boss ... shaming me for saying I wasn’t comfortable, gaslighting me or ignoring me when I didn’t give my consent.”

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The gulf between SWMRS’ statement of feminist allyship and Night’s account of her experience is symbolic of a wider problem that stretches beyond the confines of the music industry. And it’s this: Just because someone knows sexist abuse is bad doesn’t necessarily mean they recognize it in their own behavior—or the behavior of those closest to them.

Missing both of these cues is fairly commonplace.

In my own life, I think about the ex who considered himself a feminist but would sulk and badger me if I said no to sex. (I stayed with him for a long time because I was young and thought this was normal.) I think of the guy who disavowed sexual harassment on Facebook, but repeatedly forced my hand down his pants in the middle of a party until I had to leave to get away from him. (I stayed on friendly terms with him because we had so many mutual friends, it was awkward not to. When I brought it up, everyone kept telling me what a Nice Guy he was.)

Night’s story also reminds me of the affable, liberal man I was friends with for far too long because I failed to recognize that he was abusive to the women he dated. Shamefully, my eyes only opened when one of them broke down on my shoulder, told me what he did behind closed doors and asked if it “counted” as abuse.

These things always seem very complicated when you’re in the middle of them and pretty clear cut once you’re out. I’m sure everyone who knew about Night and Armstrong’s relationship had their reasons for staying quiet at the time. Maybe they dismissed Night’s age because she was in a band and already touring. Maybe they justified it because Night and Armstrong weren’t just a casual hookup. (According to Night, their involvement went on for “about a year.”)

Who knows where Night’s bandmates were in all of this. She says she kept the relationship secret from her parents, her best friend and her therapist at Armstrong’s behest. But it’s unclear what her band knew or whether they recognized the gravity of the situation Night was in.

Where the lines are drawn, of course, shouldn’t be this complicated. But women’s ability to talk openly about sexual abuse at the hands of friends, colleagues and partners—and to be believed en masse—is fairly new as a practice. Remember how many survivors it took to bring down serial predators like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Cosby? Too many.

The tireless work done by those survivors is the reason most people in America now understand the impact power structures have on people’s abilities to truly consent. (One needs only to examine how Monica Lewinsky was treated in 1998 to understand how recent a development this is.) That new understanding has paved the way for Lydia Night to be able to tell her story now.

Even just a few years ago, despite her age, Night’s abuse allegations may have been dismissed outright. Night herself has acknowledged that it has taken her “years” to recognize her own trauma. But she also understands inherently why her story needs to be heard now. In her statement, she explained:

I know how hard it is to feel valid in something that’s so nuanced and exists in a space that’s not black and white ... You can have feelings for someone and be in a technically consensual relationship and still be a victim of abuse and coercion.

Night’s statement—especially when read alongside some of the testimonies of the Burger Records survivors—doesn’t just force SWMRS (she directed her statement at the entire band, not just Armstrong) to acknowledge they’re not the “good guys” they thought they were. It also acts as a prompt for the hundreds of thousands of people who liked it (192,000 and counting) to examine their own behavior and ask themselves some hard questions.

Something similar occurred in 2018 after a Brooklyn photographer went on a now-infamous date with comedian Aziz Ansari. Her Babe.net story about the disastrous evening opened up valuable avenues to talk about sexual etiquette and vocalizing consent. Still many—including a CNN anchor—dismissed her story as merely “a bad date.”

Over the last few days, Night’s Instagram post has filled up with comments of sympathy and support. By contrast, SWMRS’ account is flooded with accusations of “performative wokeness,” and questions around why Armstrong’s brief attempt at an apology did not acknowledge Night’s underage status at the time of their involvement.

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The overwhelmingly supportive response to Night’s statement leaves the impression that we as a culture have come a long way since #MeToo exploded into the mainstream in 2017. But Night’s account, and the stories of all the other women caught up in Burger Records’ toxic culture, remains a stark demonstration that we’ve still got a long way to go.