I’m in a small and incestuous field. My current employer has boundary issues and doesn't respect my time - it's driving me up the wall. I have to be very careful about how I handle this, since he has fingers in most of the pies in town. How can I assert myself without jeopardising my chances of future work?
I’m a Celtic fiddler. I was hired for a series of gigs starting with St Patrick’s Day, but the guy convening the band is... problematic. He ignores or forgets what I say and doesn't respect my time. I'm not very assertive at the best of times, but this guy's basically railroading over my attempts to assert myself.
For starters, he’s sleazy enough around women that the (male) musician friend who recommended me to him had noticed and felt compelled to warn me about this. He’s apparently prone to those small insidious types of boundary violations that are difficult to call out: He’ll stand just that bit closer to women than is friendly, finds excuses to touch them, leaving his hand on their arms just that bit longer than he should etc. Things he wouldn’t do to men of course, but all small encroachments that are so often brushed off as “friendliness” and lead to that awesome “why are you making such a fuss? He’s only being nice, crazy bitch!” reaction if you complain. Though that said, he also bragged after a gig that he’s been blacklisted from one big band in the area for “going after every skirt in the place.”
I mention my husband around him a lot and try to keep my distance, so I haven’t had much of a problem with this yet. Though he’s been eager to suggest that I stay late after rehearsal or meet up with him alone to discuss duet work and the like.
He’ll call me over and over if he doesn’t get an answer, even after he’s left voicemail. Even when he does get through, I can expect at least three phone conversations the day before a rehearsal or a gig. There's rarely anything said that couldn't wait until we meet up or left in a message.
He’s also either not hearing or forgetting things. I’ll tell him that he hasn’t sent me the charts or setlist for a gig, and he’ll say he’ll get on it, then won’t do anything. When I turn up to rehearsal and remind him that I don’t have the charts, I get “You should have told me,” but no response when I remind him that I did.
I’ve lost track of the number of times he’s asked me “So, remind me: You’re Irish, right?” and I’ve said no, I’m English. He asked me once whether I’d ever played in Ireland and I said I hadn’t, although I’d travelled there once; two minutes later he was introducing me to the owner of The Gaelic Club in our city as “This is Anon, she’s Irish and has played professionally in Dublin and at-” and he rattled off several prestigious festivals in Ireland that I’ve never even been to. I don’t know what he’s thinking and I didn’t know how to contradict him without making him lose face. But I worry that at some point his making up things about me will cause me trouble.
The biggest annoyance so far is that we organised a rehearsal day back in Jan to get the band together and run through everything before the St Pat’s gigs. It was done early enough that everyone confirmed they were available. Makes things easy, right?
In one of the four calls the day before the rehearsal date, he mentioned that the drummer might be unavailable so we might need to reschedule. Annoying, but whatever. I told him I was available any day but Monday, when I have another commitment. He said that would be fine and he’d let me know that same night if we were going ahead with the rehearsal the next day. I heard nothing else about the drummer, and the fourth call finished with a “see you tomorrow” so I thought all was well.
So of course, less than an hour before I have to leave for the rehearsal, he started calling. I was busy so I didn’t answer the first few calls, but I read the transcript of the voicemail: The drummer can’t make it so we’re rehearsing on Monday instead. He kept calling, and when I was free I answered. I reminded him that I’d said I wasn’t available Monday; he said Monday is the day that works for the drummer, so I had to be there.
I wanted the gigs (and need the money) so I said I’d see what I can do, but that I wasn’t happy that he’s scheduled things for the one day when he knew I was committed elsewhere, at which point he demands to know what that other commitment is. I tell him I’m volunteering at an event that a friend is coordinating, and his response is “Well, at least you’re getting paid for my thing.”
At that point, I was shocked enough that I didn’t know what to say. I don’t always react well in the moment, and I couldn’t find a good way of saying “Wow, that’s really disrespectful. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if I threw over my commitment to you for someone who offered me more money. So I’m disappointed you think that’s okay when you’re on the other end.”
I don’t know whether he sees my time as less important because I’m a woman or whether he does this to everyone. But honestly I’m not sure it matters.
The trouble is that this guy is a big name in our small niche. He’s been in this city longer than I have and has fingers in practically every pie in town (barring that one big band group) - he’s cozy with all the big folk clubs, venue owners, and local festivals, he performs with several bands, he even has connections with the city’s Symphony Orchestra. If I piss him off, I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t get hired by the folks he has influence with. I’m good, but there are plenty of fiddlers around of my caliber.
TL;DR So how do I handle this? He’s getting me work, which is great, but he doesn’t seem to have any respect for my time or listen to what I say. I don’t know how to talk about this with him without upsetting him. I’m seriously considering finishing up the gigs he's booked and then being “unavailable” any time he calls me in future, but don’t want to burn any bridges.
What would you do?