Jewel Opens up About Sexual Harassment She Experienced as a Child Singer, and How She Coped With It
Jewel has been putting out albums in the music industry since 1995’s Pieces of You. She’s been a professional singer even longer. Jewel sang in bars with her father from the time she was eight years old. Bars are normally not a place where children are allowed, for good reason. However, because she was a performer, she was witness to some adult behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes it was directed her way.
Jewel was a guest on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast on Nov. 23. As she discussed her childhood experiences, the singer opened up about some of the sexual harassment she experienced at a young age. Warning, Jewel describes some graphic language spoken to her at age 9.
Two examples of sexual harassment Jewel experienced as a child
Jewel told one story of a drunk man who propositioned her. He knew she was too young to make a pass at, but his idea of when she’d be old enough (not to mention his entire approach) was wrong, too.
“I remember when I was probably nine or something, I was headed into the restroom and a guy was coming out of it and staggering,” Jewel said. “He goes, ‘Just a minute’ and reaches in his pocket. When you’re a kid, sometimes people will give you a dollar and weird stuff like that. I was like, ‘Is he giving me a dollar? What’s happening here?’ He puts a dime in my hands and I was like, ‘Heh?’ He closes my little fingers one at a time and he goes, ‘Call me when you’re 16. You’re going to be great to f*ck when you’re older.’ I was like holy smokes.”
Other times men would touch her throat and make comments that still fly over Jewel’s adult head.
“I’d have guys measure my throat,” Jewel said. “I was like, ‘What is he doing?’ And he’d be like, ‘You been cheating on me?’ I don’t even know what that means. I guess it’s a blow job joke, I don’t really know.”
Jewel learned a valuable lesson from inappropriate men
Jewel added that she also observed all the desperate hookups that occurred close to closing time. All of it gave her perspective on the sexual harassment at a young age.
“I really learned, because I was watching the same thing, a lot of sloppy hookups happening, it wasn’t personal,” Jewel said. “These men did not come onto these women for personal reasons. It was loneliness and desperation. It was proximity a lot of time. So I learned not to take it personal which is a weird thing I guess to say but I think it was really important and powerful. It didn’t mean anything about me. It’s not how I was going to get validated and that’s good. It’s good to know.”
Even at nine, Jewel understood what sexual propositioning was. She kept that in mind as she came of age.
“I could tell it was sexual energy really young because it was so direct, when you say ‘F*ck when you’re older,’” Jewel said. “It was so visceral and it was everywhere. It was bars. So I definitely learned to really keep my energy, my sexual energy contained before I was ever sexual. I’m really thankful personally that I learned this before I was of age, before I had any of those urges or feelings of my own because I was able to see through a lot of it. Just knowing it’s not personal. The guy’s horny. It doesn’t mean you’re pretty. It doesn’t mean you’re a nice person. You can’t take it personal.”
It helped her navigate the music industry professionally, too
Jewel said learning about sexual harassment, and how to protect herself from it, helped her in the music industry later. Not just dealing with Hollywood record labels but in more professional gigs when she got older too.
So when I was singing a piano bar, I worked my way through high school in Michigan, there was a girl who was also 16. We were both 16 and I already had eight years of bar experience under my belt. I don’t flirt with bar owners. I keep my sh*t straight and I focus on my talent. You just learn to mind your ps and qs and where your energy’s going. This other girl, it was her first time singing in a bar and first time having guys’ attention. It feels good and she didn’t fare as well because she was taken advantage of. A guy said he liked her and you can kind of paint that story out.Jewel, Armchair Expert podcast, 11/23/2020
The singer counted her blessings that she was steeled against such encounters.
“That’s a really important thing to know, especially when you’re in a job where women typically in our jobs get really taken advantage of,” Jewel said. “So I was very thankful. It was the best training for my career, the best training for my industry I could’ve had.”
How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.