I recently found myself engaged in a brief but civil exchange with the person running @FRONTmag, the official Twitter account of FRONT magazine. For those who don’t know what FRONT is, feel free to use the search engine of your choice, but be aware that what you find might be classed as ‘Not Safe For Work’.
Anyway, we’ve hosted guest posts discussing FRONT before (like this one, from the wonderful Nathan Stephens-Griffin), but I reckon there’s a lot more to be said on the matter, so I’m inviting anyone with a view on the topic to get in touch with ideas for guest articles. Here are some possible starting points:
- How do you feel about FRONT’s history as a publication, and how that history relates to the way it is currently presented and perceived?
- Do you feel that FRONT has a legitimate contribution to make to punk and hardcore?
- What are your feelings when bands you enjoy work with the magazine?
- How does FRONT as a phenomenon fit into contemporary discourses around pornography? Do you feel that it represents female sexualities in a positive way? Do you feel it represents male sexualities in a positive way?
I’m aware that a lot of these questions could be read as leading questions, but I really do want to present a range of perspectives on this one. I Live Sweat was always intended to spark intelligent and respectful debate and reflection within punk and hardcore (and comics), so if you’ve got an intelligent and respectful view, whichever side you come down on, if indeed you do have a firm view, I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, please get in touch via ilivesweat AT gmail DOT com.
(Note: If you’ve got an idea for a guest post that has absolutely nothing to do with this, get in touch too! Always looking for new writers.)
Adam Obernauer of Born in a Cent on how men can take steps to counter sexism in their community
(Photo by Eleni Vradis)
Growing up as a white man in the punk scene, sexism is something that I had initially never thought about. There was nothing more fun to me than hanging out with a bunch of friends, going to a show, seeing a bunch of bands play (generally all men), running around in a mosh pit, and just letting loose. I grew up with my sister as my best friend, a radical feminist, organizer/activist, anarchist, and continual I’m-going-to-push-the-limits-and-challenge-you type person. I remember coming back from shows all the way back in high school, and having a very different interpretation of what happened than she did, and getting pretty defensive when she critiqued one of my favorite bands, or the crowds that they associated with. After these arguments I would always feel horrible, realizing that this type of behavior did not make her feel safe, nor did it make the majority of women feel safe. At first I had always thought that this was her interpretation, and that she was over analyzing the situation, until I realized that it truly is the overall common understanding of the majority of women.
Once I got more into thinking about and understanding my privileges as a white man (which is a never ending road), I became more and more aware of the ‘silent sexisms’ that are so apparent in the punk scene, that I hadn’t noticed in my younger years; The whole culture of moshing, hyper-masculinity at shows, men being homoerotic, men not taking women musicians seriously, standing in the front when you are clearly larger than other people that cannot see the show, etc. The best way I’ve learned to check myself is to ask the question, “How much space am I taking up?” If there are a bunch of men continually speaking, interrupting, conducting themselves in a loud, masculine way, and not making room for women, the space is not safe and women generally do not feel comfortable.
How to be an ally to women in the punk scene: I’ve put together a list of questions to think about in order to better understand how to be an ally to women. These questions are by no means original and have been created by women in (and outside of) the punk scene and have been echoed in feminist circles for a long time.
- How present are the men at this show?
- How many female-identified musicians are in the bands that are playing tonight? (This contributes to how much space is being taken up by men and how inclusive the show is.)
- Am I in a band with all men? Why is that the case? (Did it just happen to be that I was good friends with a bunch of male-identified musicians? Is it because the scene that I’m part of is dominated by men and in my close circle there are many more men that play music than women that do?)
- When women are around, do my male-identified friends talk about women differently?
- Do any of my friends use offensive language? If so, how should I tell them that I don’t think they should speak that way?
- Do I take leadership from women who have directly experienced sexism from men in the punk scene?
- Do I take leadership from queer-identified women who have experienced both sexism and heterosexism in the punk scene?
- Do I assume heterosexuality in the women that I talk to?
Now to all the straight white men out there, please understand that this is not about censorship or being “PC”. It’s about not saying hurtful words that could potentially be triggering to people. Saying words like “bitch” or “faggot” is problematic because it makes many people feel unsafe and uncomfortable. A lot of people have been called hurtful things at times when they’ve been beaten up for being gay, or sexually assaulted, and hearing these words over and over again can trigger memories that people don’t want to think of. Not acknowledging that the words you’re saying are hurtful, and just saying the person is being “PC” is silencing the voice of the person that you are offending. If you don’t care that you’re being hurtful, making people feel uncomfortable, or silencing people, then you are just being disrespectful and inconsiderate. We can’t have the typical straight white man-punk preaching about how he should be able to say whatever he wants without acknowledging the privilege that he’s sitting on. We should realize that it’s not about censoring our language, but working on and eliminating the thought process that would lead us to say sexist or fucked up things.
We should ask ourselves the question, “Why are we doing this ourselves? What is the point of this DIY counter-culture?” People are obviously drawn to punk music for different reasons but much of us become interested at a young age because it offers an alternative to the mainstream (or from a radical perspective, an alternative to capitalism).It’s unfortunate that, in many instances, the punk scene perpetuates the same ideas that the patriarchal, racist, and homophobic mainstream culture does.
I am not trying to claim that I am an expert on sexism in any way. The real experts on sexism are our mothers and sisters that experience it every day. Men that are allies to women need to be open to, and listen to, what makes them uncomfortable and should be ready for some difficult conversations. Challenging and changing our preconditions is a lot of work, and can be very hard. I’m not saying we all need to have a grandiose vision of dismantling the entire institution of patriarchy (which should be the ultimate goal, but is extremely overwhelming), but we can at least choose to begin to create a society without sexism. If we can just be open to honest critiques of our scene, behaviors, language, mannerisms, etc. we can begin to change and create new ways of inclusion.
I remember seeing Ashanti Alston, an anarchist Black Panther and former political prisoner, speak at this year’s NYC Anarchist Book Fair and he said something along the lines of “I would have rather done a bank expropriation than challenge my inner sexisms.” Obviously this was a joke but was meant to bring light to how hard it can be to challenge yourself and the deeply ingrained conditioning that we all have. We can start by looking around at the shows, and bands, that we support and see how many women are present. If you’re a man that plays in a band, try to be conscious of not playing shows where all the bands are composed of all men. Try to offer more support to the women in the scene by asking them how you can be more supportive. If we all just take it one step at a time, starting with letting our guard down and truly hearing the voices of women and their experiences, we can get closer and closer to the world that we want to see.
Disclaimer: I tried to stay focused on the specific topic of sexism but under the realization that these same models need to be thought about and applied to racism, heterosexism, transphobia, classism, ageism (and other –isms) as well. If we want an inclusive scene that will feel welcome people of color (for example) we need to have these same conversations with people of color that are in the punk scene AND outside of the punk scene itself. I’ve realized over the years of organizing shows, benefits, and attempting to build radical community through music, that there needs to be a sort of abolishing of genre to include different types of music and different people with different backgrounds. I haven’t yet figured out the best approach or answer to the limitations of the punk scene, but that is an entirely different discussion that is extremely, extremely important. I think the more we ask ourselves challenging questions, the closer we are to changing ourselves, and creating the inclusive scene that we all should strive for.
Adam Obernauer plays guitar and sings for indie/punk band Born in a Cent, books shows and lives at the queer/feminist show space the Manifesta Loft in Brooklyn, and is an activist/organizer with the Community/Farmworker Alliance.
“If someone’s down, help them up.” Dianna Settles of The Wild on building an open and inclusive underground.
(Photo by Stephen Yang)
“SHOW YOUR TITS! SHOW YOUR TITS!”
This is the refrain I heard at my first ‘punk’ show. I was 13 and it was the first time that my parents agreed to let me go to a show with my best friend Ian and his mom driving us. I heard this whenever a girl would crowd surf or try to dance. I didn’t understand why people would yell this or why the girls who did lift up their shirts looked so embarrassed or guilty afterwards, if it was something they wanted to do. Let’s start out by clarifying that I don’t consider this a real punk show now. Sum 41 was the headliner.
That isn’t the same scene that I call home today. I feel grateful every time I walk into a show space and find zines about immigrants’ rights, ableism, and feminism. It’s really amazing that through this sort of do-it-yourself/do-it-together ethic we’ve managed to loosely knit together a family for a lot of folks who didn’t feel welcome in other crowds. Sometimes though, there are circumstances where a zine library or a “safe space” sign isn’t enough. We have to be ready to create dialogue and really challenge the actions that oppress us, or be willing to listen and try to educate ourselves and one another even if we aren’t the ones who are feeling oppressed. It’s daunting sometimes to speak up about a situation that makes me feel inferior or alienated, because I don’t like to be thought of as someone who complains, or isn’t strong enough to roll with the punches. Especially if I know that my band mates, or male friends, won’t be able to relate to me. I think this is all part of the problem. If there isn’t discussion on all sides, there can never be any resolution.
We can’t just say that we’re past sexism. Or racism, homophobia, or classism for that matter. As long as these injustices exist in the dominant ideology we will have to fight to disarm them. Through the mainstream, small occurrences of hatred are slipped into everyday life, phrases, and terms. This language is enough to alienate certain groups of people and is casual enough to go by unnoticed. I notice sexism when I see fliers with hyper-sexualized women used for advertising, and when I hear a guy from one of the bands say, “I wanted to fuck that girl, but she’s a bitch.” I don’t feel included when we get to a venue and I’m the only one asked if I’m really in the band, or when a man comes up to me to ask where else I’m tattooed. And it’s hard not to notice when we play a show and someone comes up to everyone except me afterwards to say “good job.” I know that these occurrences are well outnumbered by amazing experiences, but it isn’t any less unnerving to watch the guy who just came up to me asking about what we sound like walk over to one of my male friends and laugh saying, “Just trying to get some pussy.”
This isn’t a call for a separatist punk scene. Quite the contrary. I think that it’s extremely important to have men involved in creating a women-friendly punk scene. Guys can relate to other guys on another level. It’s crucial to have a unified front when it comes to building safe spaces and show spaces. We’ve created such an inspiring community, and there’s so much more potential. There isn’t any reason that we have to accept anything because it’s “just the way it’s always been”. The DIY scene bloomed out of this same realization. Our community is able to grow because of the folks who don’t hesitate when they’re told that something is going to be hard work. It might not be any overnight resolution, but if we can be honest enough to say what we want, and when we feel threatened, and can be brave enough to speak up, we can make it known that there isn’t any room for sexism here. The reason that we are able to maintain such a brilliant community is because of our ability to communicate and support one another. You can see it in every basement that sweats and swells with people singing together to a band, or in the tiny kitchen shows, where the handful of folks sit quietly and captivated. You can hear it in the conversations afterwards, the clumsy introductions and the friendships that follow.
In order to overcome any sort of oppression, we have to understand that if we do nothing to challenge it, we’re providing the grounds for it to grow. Sexism and patriarchy are things that people participate in. While it’s intimidating to be called out, being proactive and trying to understand how you’ve wronged someone (intentionally or accidentally), will take us farther than being defensive, or dismissive. I once read “what each of us needs to do about what we don’t know is look for it.” It’s simple, but if it could be applied to this arms race for the last word in, there would be more room for discussion, and less time wasted making women feel like their personal experiences are invalid. Something I’ve noticed, since the inception of the series on sexism in punk, is that a lot of the folks arguing against what the contributors have to say use sexism and moshing at shows interchangeably. While sexism and detrimental ideas of masculinity can exist in the pit, it isn’t the isolated occurrence. I love it when I can see people dancing and screaming and singing along, but I’ve reminded them to look out for each other, and make sure that no one’s getting hurt. If someone’s down, help them up. We’re all in this together.
I believe that the punk scene cries out for more ladies to be involved. Women and female-bodied persons are inherently valuable to our community, just as men are. There is strength in our diversity. If we all wanted to participate in the conventional, monotonous everyday, full of hypocrisy and bigotry, we wouldn’t have built our way out of it. We wouldn’t have the scars and the dirt under our fingernails to say, “I worked for this”. We built this ourselves, and we’ve threaded our way out of the institutions and the calamity that excluded us, and sought a place to call home. That’s why it feels unsafe when that same racist, sexist, heteronormative, classist, ableist, ageist bullshit we’ve struggled so hard to escape makes its way into our community. We are different. Our experiences are valid. Everyone’s are. Our dialogue and the decisions we make affect more than ourselves. We can challenge negative behavior. We can influence one another in positive ways. We can eradicate bigotry from our scene. And once we’ve accomplished a truly safe space in the punk scene, we can have more shows, more friends, better turn outs, more bands, and more grrls.
Dianna Settles is an artist, vegan food enthusiast, and volunteer coordinator for a bicycle co-op in Atlanta. For more information about The Wild you can visit www.thewildatl.com and facebook.com/thewildatl for tour dates and more. She has a food/travel blog that she’s sort of bad at updating littleroadhome.tumblr.com. You can write to her at email@example.com.
“…I needed an alternative to mainstream society - the space to be who i want to be.” Lou Hanman of Caves on strict gender norms and their impact on punk and hardcore.
(Photo by firstname.lastname@example.org)
It was really great to be asked by Andy to contribute to his series on sexism in punk. When he said he’d been trying to think of someone from a band in the UK punk scene, to write something from a UK point of view, it sounded like he couldn’t think of many people.
This makes me feel sad and reminded me of a question I recently answered for a zine - “What it’s like for a woman in punk - do I feel outnumbered?”
Yes, there are definitely less women and girls in punk, and I’d need to have gone on to do a postgrad course to go into exactly why. But I guess one of the reasons is that, in the rules of 1950s gender roles which are still so ingrained in society - it’s not very lady-like to be sweating and yelling your head off in a punkrock show.
I cannot stand these archaic rules that people are still bombarded with every single minute of every day - through our working lives and home lives. (If anyone has got a few hours free I’ll tell em some things that happen at my work and the Victorian England where my folks came from). I’ve never felt I conform to these rules and gender roles - how you dress/how you act/how you should be in society.
Maybe another reason why girls don’t feel encouraged to join punk bands - it’s the boys club that they are confronted with - in music shops, in rehearsal rooms, in gigs, record stores etc. It’s such a shame that there aren’t more girls getting into playing in bands - it’s so much fun.
I hate this unspoken discouragement that it’s not normal for a girl or woman to play in a punk band. Fuck that. I’ve not felt like those rules apply to me. You don’t have to act the way that society tries to make you act. This goes for both men and women.
I got into the punk scene because I needed an alternative to mainstream society - the space to be who i want to be - be able to live how I want to, feel free from negative judgement (both musically and in lifestyle choices), gender roles, homophobia etc. I have found my voice and place in this DIY punk network and I feel respected and empowered when I play a Caves gig. It is outside of this (pretty small network of great people) that there is sexism and all the same issues of the mainstream are present.
I go out of my way to avoid the lad/frat party vibe of alot of punk bands and scenes. I’ve been at hardcore shows in Bristol where there have been what I can only describe as homophobic rallying from the stage and acoustic gigs where the guy performing has told a rape joke. I’ve had guys ask me if I need help changing my strings. At some shows because of my height, I hide behind big tall guys when a pit gets too violent for me (I’m too fucking busy to get knocked around and get a broken limb). I also can’t stand it when people use the word “gay” to describe something shit that they want to take the piss out of (I don’t care if kids have started saying it - it’s still homophobic).
I’ve felt alienated and marginalised by all of these things - and I hate it, and i shouldn’t feel like that at a punk gig - where it should be freer from the gender roles/white male privilege rules that are still so ingrained in society.
I could go on and on writing but I’ll stop there - there’s so many things to say.
Obviously, no one is perfect but through peer to peer talking and thinking about whether your actions are alienating someone we can all be better to one another, we need a punk lifestyle to work when the values of the mainstream don’t.
Lou Hanman is a songwriter, singer and guitarist in the DIY punk band Caves. Based in Bristol, she also teaches drums and plays drums as a freelance musician. You can find Caves on Tumblr, Bandcamp, and Twitter. Go and see them. They’re fucking rad.
“My gender role, as defined by me, is an equal one. I can do anything a man can and I can’t imagine it any other way.” - Lisa Garelick from Kind of Like Records on women in the independent music industry.
Photo by Yvonne Marie Haddock
Let me begin by saying that I have shared some of the experiences already discussed in these segments and have found myself both humiliated and confused by others’ actions. But those experiences are not what I’d really like to focus on with this piece. Instead, I’d rather discuss gender equality behind the scenes of our little world.
Since becoming a part of the underground punk community, I’ve promoted shows, booked tours, worked for a PR/marketing firm, managed an artist, and even started my own record label. Through all these endeavors I’ve had few issues with my gender getting in the way of or keeping me from doing anything that I’ve set out to do. I’m treated fairly for the most part – only being asked once, “Did you sleep with someone to get where you are?” Seriously, someone asked that.
My main issue is that I’m one of very few women in my field. I can name about 15 women off the top of my head that work in punk rock, which may seem like a lot, but I can probably name 100+ men easily. These women, whom I’m thankful to have met, work in all aspects of the field, from PR to booking to promoting shows. Some own their own businesses, and others work for established institutions such as SideOneDummy, Deathwish Inc., and more. These women are not only inspirational—they are respectable people who are great at their jobs.
Problem is, I get frustrated when almost every writer, manager, publicist, booking agent, and record label owner is male. Not because I have a vendetta against the male gender, but because I wish more women would get involved and realize they can be an active and integral part of our music scene.
Some people may argue that more women aren’t involved behind the scenes because there aren’t a lot of women into the music or who go to shows. I’d cite the bigger shows (Bouncing Souls, whatever passes as The Misfits these days) as a prime example where I’d look out at a vast crowd and see an even ratio of men to women scattered throughout. A few days later, I’d go to a DIY basement show and see those numbers tip drastically. I’d be one of three girls in the room and I would be so upset. Why was it that the other girls didn’t want to be a part of this? Was it me? Was it them? What was the problem?
Over the years I’ve drafted several theories—some silly, some sincere—as to why there weren’t more women surrounding me in the basements and behind the scenes. I’ve mostly settled on the idea that gender roles in our society emphasize what women should and should not be doing and one of the ‘should nots’ is being an active part of an alternative underground community such as punk rock.
This idea is enforced by a voice that exists below the surface, deep down, constantly reminding me that I should be focusing on the “more important” things in life such as finding a boyfriend and settling down. Even when I’ve found that special someone, the voice continues, telling me that I should be caring about his feelings and emotions over my own. That instead of trying to accomplish something for myself, I should be thinking about his needs and stop working towards accomplishing my own goals. That I should try to make him feel “more like a man”, by hanging back.
I have no idea where this voice came from, but it’s been there all my life. I’ve mostly ignored it, knowing that in reality these things aren’t true. That any guy who asks you or makes you feel like you should become stagnant for him is not worth it. And to a greater degree, I’ve realized that the good ones don’t mind and even encourage you. But the constant feeling that what I’m doing is wrong is a hard pill to swallow.
As a member of an alternate thinking community, I recognize this feeling and take actions to counteract it. Not to ‘rebel’, but to realize that our society puts emphasis on gender roles and even though I’m not told face to face that I should not be working to accomplish my goals, there is a pressure. This pressure is enforced by the media, your peers and even yourself, through this inner voice. Sometimes it’s funny how sexism can come from within.
I think the best way to combat these defined gender roles and overall pressure is to let both men and women know it’s not only okay, but encouraged for women to get more involved in the music they love. Whether it’s playing in a band, booking shows, or putting out records, everyone is welcome to be a part of what we’re doing. These segments are a great start, as are the ‘lifer’ sections of Alternative Press, NPR’s women in the industry pieces, and various bits and bobs I’ve noticed over time. But there needs to be so much more.
Of course, I’m not expecting an overnight change as these feelings date both you and I, but I am asking that women think twice about their decisions and try to decide if society’s view effects the way they feel about their involvement in the music scene. What is and what is not “ladylike” as well as any and all societal pressures should not be an issue. Being punk rock is about acting outside the societal norms and recreating gender roles as we see fit. My gender role, as defined by me, is an equal one. I can do anything a man can and I can’t imagine it any other way.
So please, ladies, start a blog, book shows, run your own label, do more than your share for something that’s already done so much for you.
Aside: If anyone (men included) is looking to get involved in the music scene, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at info [at] kindoflikerecords.com and I’ll be happy to help you as best I can on your way.
Lisa Garelick works for an online music marketing company in Manhattan and runs Kind Of Like Records out of her apartment in Brooklyn, NY. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking spicy food, watching too much Netflix, and listening to records. Follow her on Twitter at @KindOfLikeRecs and learn more about Kind Of Like Records here www.kindoflikerecords.com.
“…we fall woefully short in practice.” - Aaron Attica!, aka. Attica! Attica!, on punk, sexism, and how men can help.
(Andy’s note: Plenty of readers have been asking after a male perspective on the sexism issue. Here’s one. For my money, Aaron’s done us proud here. Enjoy.)
I am a straight male who loves punk music. By pure chance of my sexuality and gender, I am a person of immense privilege. I am also a member of the demographic that comprises the majority of the punk scene. I’m writing this in the hope that fellow members of our demographic will take a deeper consideration of our role in sexism within the scene. While we supposedly value ideals of inclusiveness and egalitarianism, we fall woefully short in practice. And we, as males who love punk music, can and should take an active part in dismantling sexist norms and coming closer to realizing those ideals.
As you are undoubtedly aware, a significant majority of the songwriters and performers in punk are male. The male voice and experience is exaggerated by the heavy disproportion of male lyricists and singers. This is similar to most other male-dominated spaces in our society where males create, frame, and bolster the normative views of the scene at large. Because of this, a male can comfortably express misogynist viewpoints (whether in song, in conversation, or in action) because he knows he’ll be insulated from reprisal. I experienced this firsthand when I began writing songs as a teenager. Ignorant lyrics that I wrote expressing hostility towards females received only one kind of feedback from the boys around me: praise. When surrounded by dominant male culture, a valid emotion such as “I’m sad that she broke up with me” can easily be turned into lyrics that both demean her and fantasize about violence against her without controversy. These lyrics are paired with punk music, recorded and replayed, performed repeatedly, and memorized and passionately regurgitated at shows to the point that they become part of our common vernacular. Considering this environment, a female must be truly audacious to contribute her voice to the scene.
I don’t want to accuse the punk scene of being more sexist than any other male-dominated sector of American culture. But I do want to hold it accountable for being pathetically average in its sexism. I was attracted to punk not just because the music kicked ass, but also because the culture provided an alternative to all the bullshit of the mainstream. That alternative included a proactive interest in being inclusive and minimizing oppressive behavior. I think the punk scene excels at that inclusiveness in some ways, and yet it still feels like a bunch of straight white males who could give a damn about whether anyone else really feels welcome. We’ve had decades to build upon the energy of punk’s emergence and create a culture that is more just, fair, and respectful than the patriarchal institutions that we escaped. But what I see in punk is a replication of many mainstream male-dominant attitudes and behaviors that are protected under the false banner of a post-sexist haven for all.
We, as the dominant gender, have some serious work to do to make the punk scene a place where females feel empowered to operate with the same agency as males. How do I know this? Because the women I know in the scene tell me so. A few women have already said as much on this blog, and the resulting denigration and dismissal of their ideas and experiences has been a classic exercise in male entitlement: Even after hearing direct testimonials from women who were brave enough to say what was on their minds, we insisted that they must be wrong. Whether our egos would be too bruised to acknowledge the validity of their statements, or we’re just too stubborn to be convinced, either way we’re more interested in maintaining the foundations of our privilege than relinquishing the slightest amount of power to the women around us.
Most males I’ve met in the scene over the years certainly have no problem with women playing punk music or coming to shows to enjoy it. But this passive and unsophisticated sense of egalitarianism retains sexist elements. Most of us have made no effort whatsoever to foster an environment that encourages female participation. This apathy towards creating an inclusive environment is what I find most disconcerting (read: most fucked up) about the present state of the scene. We don’t care who is playing, as long as they rock. We don’t care whether the women feel safe at the show; we’re fine with the fact that they are simply allowed to be there. And when someone asks us to be more considerate with our language, to remove certain types of jokes from our socializing, and to expand our understanding of women beyond the beer commercial dichotomy of fantasy-sex-objects/emasculating-girlfriends, we shrug our shoulders and say, “Why should I?” Or we point to those females in the scene who don’t seem to think it’s such a big deal and say, “They don’t have a problem with it, so I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”
We can be so much better than that. We don’t have to cling to the self-involved, insecure, ready-to-fight masculinity of old. We don’t have to talk the most, listen the least, and insist on rating each woman we encounter by her attractiveness. I know we don’t have to be like this because I see a new kind of masculinity in the men I admire in this scene. These men actively work to build friendships with women. They write songs that reveal their sensitivity and they are considerate with their words. They explore topics beyond beer, breakups, and videogames. They dance the way their bodies want to move, without fear of judgment from other males who only honor moshing and spinkicks. They ask questions and they listen to the answers. They are brave enough to defy the longstanding unwritten codes of male behavior, even if it means challenging another male’s oppressive behavior. They are thoughtful enough to consider the welfare of other people within the scene and seek to be allies with those who endure this oppression. And they are strong enough to acknowledge that it’s unjust to leave the work of dismantling sexism to women. We’ve created an environment where it is uncomfortable for females to express themselves, and if we demand that only females speak up about it, we’ve successfully orchestrated a catch-22 that only the most courageous of females will violate. Because we had the power to create such impossible circumstances for females, we also have the power to undo it. More significantly, it is our responsibility to undo it.
I don’t intend to make this sound like a burden. In fact, it’s an opportunity for us all to have a more rich and diverse experience within the scene. I can testify that the tours I’ve been on with women have been some of the best. This mixed gender experience was completely different (and actually far more pleasant and interesting) than tours with an all-male echo chamber. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being in bands with women, and found that our difference of perspectives was fertile ground for building understanding and writing better music and lyrics. And I’ve become a more reflective and aware person as a result of talking with women who love punk as much as I do but who have experienced it differently.
If you need suggestions for how to make women feel welcome, then I suggest you ask the females in your local scene. They probably have some pretty specific ideas. To that end, I agree with what Katie from P.S. Elliot said in her essay: we’re trying to start a dialogue. And even though I’m saying this on the internet, I believe that truly courageous and effective discussions don’t happen online. That’s why they need to take place in our local scenes, and we males need to make it clear that we are open to the conversation by either starting it or continuing it.
Additionally, it is incumbent upon us to use our influence to increase the visibility and support for females in our scene. We need to book more bands that have female members, invite more females to start bands with us, and make sure females know about shows and feel truly invited. We need to sign more bands and artists that espouse the female perspective, and we need to try harder to check out new bands that don’t echo the textbook male perspective. We need to interview more females in bands, and expand the focus of the interviews beyond female-specific matters. We need to solicit more record reviews, essays, and stories from females, and not just when the subject at hand is a female band. When we write lyrics from our perspective, we need to make a greater effort to mine our creativity and thoughtfulness to express our emotions in ways that don’t implicitly or explicitly perpetuate hostile attitudes towards women. And we need to make flyers, album art, and advertisements that depict women in more diverse and respectful ways than exclusively as a means to sell a product.
If you’re reading this and my suggestions sound like too much work, or you think this isn’t important enough to put effort into, then you are experiencing the lavish pleasure of privilege. Unfortunately, the females in our scene don’t get to choose whether they have to deal with this shit. And therefore, neither should we. It’s time to get to work, start some conversations, and take some real action.
Postscript: I’m aware that many of the elements of privilege and oppression that I speak to in this essay are present and equally troubling when it comes to matters of race, sexual identity, ability, and so on. These issues have parallels to each other, but I think they are complex enough on their own respective terms that they warrant their own discussion.
Aaron Attica! is a musician from Portland, OR. He plays folk punk under the name Attica! Attica!. You can submit stories to his blog about house shows here: Please Don’t Hang Out In Front of the House.
“We owe it to ourselves to grow and learn together…” Jen Twigg on her experiences of sexism in the punk scene
(Andy’s note: Thanks for all the support so far. The guest writers and myself are all extremely grateful and humbled by it. Without further ado, here’s Jen.)
“A thousand tiny paper cuts.” That’s what my friend calls it when so many little injustices happen — you wouldn’t make a big deal about one on its own, but a thousand of them together are a gaping wound. Add them up: some bro cheerfully telling a rape joke to a room full of laughing people, women-hating graffiti on the wall of the bathroom in the bar you’re about to play, the door guy not believing you when you say you’re in the band, any man in any situation talking over you to the guys in your band. That intangible, sinking, isolated, feeling of trying to be accomodating while retreating a little bit further into yourself for protection every time.
I came to punk through east coast hardcore, and everyone I knew was into it, so those were the shows I almost always went to at first. I remember standing in the back of a large room once and still getting punched hard in the face by a beefy dude. Afterward, I was talking with my ex-partner, just beginning to realize how much I was not into these displays of performative machismo, and he kept saying “this is just how it is, how it’s always been. it’s not going to change.” I’ve written about violence at hardcore shows before so I won’t rehash it all again, but I’ll repeat this: privileging the antiquated notion that men will be men and need to blow off steam violently is not progressive, it’s just mirroring mainstream values of entitlement and privilege. Allowing the posturing that happens in these cases to continue undermines any other progressive politics you might be supporting (commonly veganism and straight edge). There are ways to get stoked and go buck wild without being violent and creating an oppressive space; I’ve seen them at a million other shows.
Although I don’t think we can ever talk too much about these things that happen to us since it never seems to sink in with those who need to hear it the most, and I have my fair share of stories, I want to address another side of it right now. If you think you don’t do the things that we call out in pieces like these about gender (and race, and sexuality, etc. etc.) in punk, then prove it by being a good ally. The simple fact that you don’t think you condescend to female musicians and don’t tell rape jokes isn’t enough; you need to be actively helping us have this conversation with folks who don’t get it.
How can you be a good male ally to women (and everyone) in punk? It’s really not that hard, I promise! All you have to do is listen to women and believe what they tell you about their own experiences. When someone comes to you with sexual assault allegations, don’t pull the “he’s always been cool to me” or “where’s the proof?” cards (The only time punks love cops and believe the justice system works is when their friend has assaulted a lady in the scene.). When someone tells you they feel alienated, don’t tell them they are taking it too seriously, or they should suck it up just because you have never felt alienated yourself, and don’t think “Oh, well i know a woman who says she doesn’t feel alienated, so that must mean you are wrong about how you feel!”. Don’t set up a system of competition where you privilege women who can hack it with the dudes, and look down on those who don’t want to get in the pit. When you’re standing around shooting the shit with a group of men and someone tells an off-color joke, speak up and let them know it’s not okay, even if there are no women around. Will it be uncomfortable? Probably. Welcome to our world.
Don’t condescend to women, even if you have more experience with gear and writing music than they do, because you may have been more supported in the past than they were. If they ask for your help, teach without judgment and value their input. At the same time, never assume that someone doesn’t know lots about gear or writing music just because they are a woman! Educate yourself about consent. Most of all, don’t expect to get patted on the back and heaped with praise every time you do something decent as an ally. Acting this way should be the norm, not the exception.
Punk is fiercely emotional for a lot of us, because we are tied so deeply to the community, and it can be hard not to take it personally and be defensive when something about it isn’t perfect. We owe it to ourselves not to be defensive, though. We owe it to ourselves to grow and learn together in this community, to listen to each other, to actually be as progressive as we said we’d be when we left the mainstream to come here.
Jen Twigg is a writer, zine fest organizer, and enthusiastic girls rock camp volunteer living in Chicago. She will never give up on the Baltimore Orioles and has a guest column in this month’s MRR. You can find out more about her band The Ambulars on facebook or ye olde myspace at theambulars.bandcamp.com and her personal blog is at jtwiggjtwigg.tumblr.com.
“I think it’s something that’s hard to recognize if you don’t experience it yourself” Mariel Loveland of Candy Hearts on her experiences of sexism in the punk scene
Photo by Stephen Yang
(Andy’s note: What follows is the second in a series of guest posts about sex and gender discrimination, and how these issues relate to the wider punk scene. If you missed it, you can find the first part here.)
Let me start this by saying that sitting down to write this was not easy for me because not only does it make me upset to think about, but I know that when people talk about this topic, it’s mostly taken with a grain of salt. I don’t like people rolling their eyes at me; I don’t like being preachy; and I hate sounding like I’m some sort of victim—all which I think is part of the problem. I shouldn’t ever feel like I have to apologize for wanting to be treated like one of the guys or even wanting to be treated like I’m different because girls are different.
The difference wasn’t always clear to me. Before I was completely immersed in any music scene, let alone the DIY punk community I now call home, I’m ashamed to admit I was the first person to roll my eyes when the stereotypical Bikini Kill-obsessed, cut-off-shorts-clad punk girl complainedabout the way men treated her at shows. I just didn’t believe it was true, and I think it’s something that’s hard to recognize if you don’t experience it yourself, which is why I’d never fault anyone for thinking that the punk scene is immune to sexism—especially because it’s empowering and supportive in so many ways.
My slow realization started when I was about thirteen years old. My father warned me not to crowd surf because “that’s how girls get molested,” and like any 13-year-old, I wrote it off. Two years later the idea surfaced again when I attended Warped Tour with my sister. This is obviously something that’s so far removed from the actual DIY punk scene, but again, it was my first experience. I’ve always been someone to hold my own and kick any malicious boy who tried to mess with me in the pit, but that festival was the first time I didn’t feel safe.
I stood on the outskirts of the crowd for the entire show knowing I wanted absolutely nothing to do the mass of 15 to 20-year-old boys pushing each other around, but the minute the closing band struck its first chord, I was shoved right into the middle. I immediately tried to look for a way out but was completely surrounded, and no matter how much I pushed, I couldn’t move. I was getting punched, kicked, and pummeled until I eventually fell down, and all I could see was a wave of dust and sneakers kicking and stepping on me. I couldn’t get up, and I couldn’t breathe. I choked on dirt and started sobbing until one man, probably someone’s dad, heard me screaming for help. He reached underneath the crowd and threw me over his shoulder. As he was pulling me away, I heard one voice cut through the music: “That’s why you don’t bring your little girl to shows.” I was 15.
From then on, the difference became clear. It’s the male band members who don’t take you seriously, and when you get upset with how you’re treated, ask you if you’re menstruating. It’s the promoters and planners who screw you, then call you a diva when you assert yourself. It’s the kids who don’t talk to you after your set, but talk to your male bandmates because they assume you’re only there for show. It’s the people who think you’re sleeping with the guitarist, the people who assume you’re queer, or the journalists who mention your weight in reviews. It’s every single time a producer has told me I can’t play guitar on my own record because “sweetie, you’re not a studio musician” or “sing it again, but naked.”
Most importantly, it’s the baggage I have to carry that my male bandmates don’t. I have to worry about walking to the car alone to grab my guitar; I have to worry about where we are staying and if the strangers who own the floor I’m sleeping on will assault me in the middle of the night, even though it’s unlikely. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve clung to the side of my male bandmates when we’re sleeping, just to feel safe. I can’t drink too much or take a drink from a stranger at an after-party wherever we are staying, because I can’t be out of control.
Let’s face it: I’m a 22-year-old, straight, petite, overtly-feminine female who weighs just over 100lbs. I am different than the typical male in even the smallest of ways. I can’t even carry my own amp out of the van because I’m not strong enough. Still there is one thing many feminists will disagree with me on—the power women have over men because we are different, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it in relation to the punk scene. Anyone who thinks that being successful in music is purely based on talent is naive. While good songs are at the forefront, there’s a whole range of things that make bands successful, and a lot of it has to do with who the members are individually—their personalities, the way they carry themselves, and yes, sometimes their attractiveness both inside and outside. I’ve fallen completely in love with a band because I was enamored by their singer, and you’d be lying if you didn’t admit the same. Our bodies and our choice to have or not have sex are pretty powerful. It’s something that is ours—something that every guy who’s ever wanted to sleep with the girl in the band doesn’t have—and we can do with it whatever we want.
Mariel Loveland is a writer, blogger, and editor who lives in New Jersey. She sings and plays guitar in the band Candy Hearts, dabbles in graphic design and photography, and watches way too much reality TV. You can check out her band on http://candyheartsband.tumblr.com or some of her writing on her personal blog http://www.writing-the-ship.blogspot.com/.