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.)
The magnificent Nothing Nice to Say, co-written by Mitch Clem and Joe Briggs, with art by Mitch Clem. (Larger version)
I intend to write something more substantial about what NN2S has meant to me over the years at some point, but for now I’ll leave this here. Get ye stoked on Karen, and start thy bands!
“…where you’re only allowed to be sexy if you’re playing at it, and playing at it in the right costume.” Ces Pearson takes Ann Summers to task over their advertising.
‘Drop a dress size. Boost a cup size.’
This is the text shown on an advert (see above) for Ann Summers new range of ‘sexy control lingerie’, alongside a woman appears to be so pleased with her new shape that she is verging upon climax. Ann Summers actually has a mission statement, surprisingly. It is as follows:
‘TO HELP EVERY WOMAN FEEL MORE SEXY & HAVE MORE FUN.’
OK, so they’re on our side right? Ann Summers is run by a woman too, and every woman likes to feel sexy and to have fun once in a while. The problem is when we step back and realise that Ann Summers is defining ‘sexy and fun’ in a pretty offensive and destructive way.
Drop a dress size, boost a cup size is a perfect example of this (not that we need one after the years of objectifying advertising campaigns and window displays. I just got pissed off by it and decided to write this). We can’t be sexy and have fun unless we manipulate our bodies with various poor quality satin and lace contraptions, filled with wire and goodness knows what else to help keep our love handles at bay and our breasts jiggling around underneath our chins. Fuck it, why not start selling home liposuction kits and scalpels so we can just slice off our wobbly bits and chuck them in our uplifting balcony bras? I bet I know why the woman in the advertising campaign is pulling that face – she’s in pain. The wire in that basque is digging into her hips and she’s having to hold that position so that everything that’s been squeezed into the black lacy number doesn’t spill over the top more than is intended by the gel/air/padding in the bra. Being physically uncomfortable is not sexy and it certainly isn’t fun. Ann Summers, you’ve failed in your mission statement, and I’ve come to that conclusion by skimming over the advertising behind just one of the items you’re selling.
I personally would naively like to think that the CEO of a company would have a bit more sympathy with the women she is selling bras, knickers and sex aids to. If you really want to help women feel sexy and have fun, why tell them that, unless they are thinner and simultaneously grow bigger breasts (impossible), this just won’t happen? It’s already bad enough that your shop windows scream that we aren’t sexy without adorning ourselves with what looks like cake decorations, and medieval torture devices, now we’re being told that there’s no point in doing that at all unless we’ve got the right body shape. Sex is great, and so is encouraging women to experiment with their bodies, and their partners, and enjoy it, but the problem here is that this enjoyment is being confined to a paradigm in which women are trussed up, dressed up, disguised, and made to feel as though the body they were born with and have lived with their whole lives doesn’t measure up somehow.
Sex is an act we are all capable of, so it’s particularly infuriating when it is the heterosexual woman who is seemingly the only one thrust in the spotlight here. What about gay women and their sex? What about gay men? What about heterosexual men? Everyone’s doing it. Advertising campaigns such as Ann Summers’ not only objectify and disrespect heterosexual women, they also put on a pedestal this warped, gift wrapped, notion of the archetypal kind of sex and sexuality. Women can only pleasure themselves if it’s with a nice glittery dildo, named after a nice fluffy rabbit. That way it doesn’t threaten the great cock too much. Or does it? I think it is a bit of an insult to a man and his penis when its assumed a woman doesn’t ever want to pleasure herself with an icky replica of the real object and opts for a safe, cute, pretty barbiefied option instead. While these toys and their presentation is allowing women to be sexual, it’s still restricting it to this Ann Summers sex box where you’re only allowed to be sexy if you’re playing at it, and playing at it in the right costume. It is defining sex and women’s sexuality through the objectification of women’s bodies, through a heterosexual gaze, and setting the cutesy/vampy, non threatening, non realistic, boundaries of what is allowed to be sexy. We’re encouraged to disguise how our bodies look and how they smell, even how they feel. I can’t speak for everyone but being made to think that my body requires all of this tat adorning it and warping it does not make me feel sexy, and squashing myself into some kind of breast enhancing girdle doesn’t make having fun an option.
This rant is only scratching the surface of what needs to be examined in terms of sex, sexuality, how we perceive it, and how we are coerced into feeling about it. I’m sure not many reading this were ever under the illusion that the majority of Ann Summers products really helped us to feel sexy and fun at all in the first place. It’s not nice to be told you’re lacking in something, or that what you do have is either too much or too little. It’s even worse when you’re then exploited into working for money to buy what you’re told you need by adverts like the one that sparked off this article, only to find you’re still that one step/dress size/cup size away from sexual perfection, yet again.
If you see this window display, please tear it down, stick something over it, egg the shop, do something (but don’t get caught). No one would stand for a campaign to change skin colour to increase sex appeal (in the UK – the skin bleaching industry is huge in China and other parts of Asia, a huge issue for women and men), nowhere would put up a sign so blatantly advertising increased penis size and men’s inadequacy on the high street, so why should we put up with this? Dropping a dress size and gaining a cup size simultaneously is physically impossible, and even if it wasn’t – who the fuck is anyone to say you should do so to feel sexy and have fun?
Ces is 23, from Lincoln. She likes being a geek and reading about social policy, welfare and gender issues. She likes punk and hardcore and is angry because she’s waiting to hear back from a job and has channeled this anxiety into feminist rage, resulting in this article.
“Critical self-awareness should cause people to realise their actions restrict others…” - Amy Greer casts a sociological eye over the pit
(Andy’s note: Sociological language applied to punk/hc makes me as happy as a fistful of cherry Pez.)
Allow me a moment to set the scene. A band I’m really into has just played the opening bars of a song. I push through the crowd to get to the front of the room, to sing along, and maybe tap my feet, my preferred way of outwardly indicating that I’m enjoying the song. But when I’m a few rows away from the front, four or five guys surge forward, head down, and start stomping the floor, beating their chests with their fists, and looking as if they’re involved in some intense and troubling emotional experience I couldn’t begin to understand. I stand back, let them at it, feeling limited by this physical display, and can’t help but feel my enjoyment has been slightly compromised by this display, this ritual performance of testosterone and aggression brought to life, that everyone bar the 5 people taking up the very front of the floor are not directly involved in.
Too much of the time when I mention it, I’m told ‘girls’ don’t mosh because they’re not strong/aggressive/angry enough, presuming males are taller/stronger/angrier than all females, failing to acknowledge that only a tiny proportion of those present actual do mosh, and they are not guaranteed to be representative of the strongest in the room. The size/strength argument is embedded in so much social construction and conditioning that unravelling it would be a nightmare. I don’t wish to use something as reductivist as the female/male dichotomy card to explain what I think is happening when people, mostly males, mosh. Rather than a basic gendered distinction, I would rather argue that a complex interplay of social norms, performance, ritual and also cultural specificities intersect in an interesting way that is both generalisable to many experiences of popular music and culture and specific to my specific experiences of specific types of hardcore. I feel anxious writing this; too often the words of individuals are taken as representative opinions of entire groups. It is not my intent to represent any broad group, any ‘gender’ or experience, I am merely articulating my own opinions, as based on personal experience.
I’m hoping that people reading this are familiar with hardcore punk as a diverse genre, and as a locally produced phenomenon. They will be (hopefully) familiar with the fact that most hardcore scenes are populated and re/created mainly by males, that most producers, promoters, bands, and active participants, are male. The dominant tone of hardcore is ‘aggressive’, which in Western society has masculine connotations. This isn’t simply a question of gender, it is a question of ‘masculinity’, a descriptive tool used to create ‘male’ as powerful and domineering. It is this overtly articulated masculinity, I believe, that creates the privileging of space we experience in the specific public space that is the hardcore show, and specifically in dancing at shows. I believe that the way space is used at the show is one of the many ways that the ‘aggressive masculinity’ discourse is perpetuated in the hardcore community. I also believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Critical self-awareness should cause people to realise their actions restrict others, and while it may lead to a transformation of the way space is used, I feel it would be a positive alternative to the current state of play, where many watch passively and a few actively engage in a physical way.
Moshing could represent any number of things. A way for a very small number of people who are really frustrated to get all that anger out of them by beating themselves, and each other, up in a very controlled way, as it is often articulated by those who engage in and promote it. Or it could be seen as a ritual performance of a semiotically produced masculinity which privileges physically strong and more-than able-bodied young people, usually male, of a certain level of social standing within the community, to engage in a systematic and ordered physical reproduction and interpretation of the musical performance taking place on stage. It could also be seen as deliberately exclusionary, discouraging all but a handful of people, from standing at the front of the room. Or a combined interplay of all of the above.
Depending on the size of the show, anything from 3 or 4, to many more, people might mosh during a performance, dependent on a large number of variables other than show size. The fact is, and I’m a person who hates using the language of ‘fact’ or ‘truth’, that the vast majority of those engaging in this act will be male, to the extent that it is almost safe to say that it is unusual for a female to participate. Stylistic divisions and technicalities aside, this act privileges a specific type of male, to the extent that it excludes other males and in most cases, all females. Correct me if you will.
Rather than excusing behaviour which, if I’m being honest, seems elitist and exclusionary, I would rather it were openly acknowledged that this privileging exists, and that it is unreasonable. I see no reason why a handful of people, whatever gender, are allowed to take up a large space at the front of the room. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable for a few to have a really great time at the expense of lots of other people being allowed to just stand wherever they like in the venue, or risk having a fist to the face, or being shoved by a stranger.
If you’re like me, you may have grown tired of it by now and stopped going to shows quite as often, choosing to stand at the back when you do. You might have discovered hardcore bands that don’t encourage elitist behaviour, or other genres of music whose audience activity at live performances involves less simulated physical violence. Other than being mildly angry about it, it is a situation which now directly affects me very little. For regular show goers who deem it problematic, those active in their own scene, and those, crucially, in bands or promoting shows, or those who have a voice and the ability to make it heard, questioning a behaviour which, when exercised to a degree that it affects the enjoyment of others, and can in specific cases end in injury, can only be a positive thing. Unfortunately I don’t have a convincing solution, and I don’t believe that things will change. However that doesn’t mean that those who object to having to stand back at shows, while others get to thrash about, and take up a lot of space, shouldn’t speak out.
Amy Greer just finished an undergrad in Sociology and Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin. She hates Ireland and is moving to London soon to start a Masters at Goldsmiths/be more productive. She blogs here and here, and feels uncomfortable summing herself up in short paragraphs. She likes hearing what other people think about topics relevant to her interests. “You know, the usual bullshit people of my demographic enjoy.” She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“If this show is ‘All Ages’, where’s my damn senior discount?” - Kate Tyler Wall on being 53, female, and punk.
(Andy’s note: I’m really excited to post this, as I fully intend to live to a ripe old age, without sacrificing the things I love. Thanks again, Kate!)
(Photo by Roland J. Wall)
I have a ticket for the Flatliners/DayTrader/Holy Mess show at The Fire in Philadelphia in two weeks, and my husband is not happy about me going there alone. I was there once before, for the Evil Weevil Records showcase. I took a cab from his office, and then he picked me up after the show. He’s concerned about my safety in that part of town. This comes up a lot. He’s not trying to set limits or order me around. He’s just worried.
I’m a 53-year-old woman who loves to go to punk shows. So far, I’m often in a category by myself. The audience at a lot of shows is 85% male, period, with most of the females on the arm of a guy or in BFF duos, and certainly 20 or 30 years younger than I am. There are people my age at some old-school or rockabilly-influenced bands, like Social Distortion, but they’re guys, or couples, or with their kids. I’m almost always alone.
The younger fans I see at shows are tied into the scene. They know where the house shows are, know where to park in a dodgy neighborhood. They may not have someone at home, who’s waiting up at 2:00 a.m. on a work night, fretting about whether their car has been vandalized, or they’ve gotten hurt in the pit, or if they’ll be able to stay awake making the two-hour drive alone from Asbury Park. They might have to deal with getting hit on, but not with getting picked on, by the lead singer of their favorite local band.
I’m a born-again punk. Several years ago, around the time I realized I hated my former job and other key parts of my life, I found that the old-school punk that had been background music in my youth was now saving my soul. From there, I moved on to the current scene. To paraphrase every punk who ever lived, the music sounds like I feel. When I did find a better job, it was only part time, and right when the economy went to Hell. Suddenly I had time on my hands to seek out and listen to bands, from the Class of 1977 on up through whatever went on Bandcamp last week. Slowly, after years of not going to any kinds of shows, I began venturing out again. Live music of all kinds has become my life’s blood. Only I discovered that even my youngest friends were not willing to accompany me to a punk show, although I go along with them to catch indie acts, singer-songwriters, Danish metal bands, whatever. I was on my own.
I’ve missed as many bands as I’ve seen, mostly because of venue locations. As I’ve tried to explain to my husband, The Fire is actually pretty unremarkable compared with warehouse or basement shows. I missed the glory days of the legendary Ox in Philly, including a show by three of my favorite bands shortly before it got shut down, because I just couldn’t pull the trigger to go to that neighborhood alone. I don’t know anyone to give me the deets on some of the semi-secret performance spaces around town, and I’m not sure of how I’d be received if I went. Mostly, I’m invisible to the bros. I just get my beer at the bar and get lost in the music, and I’m usually left alone. That’s good and bad. Bad only because I’d like to talk to more people, make some friends to go to shows with. I’m shy by nature, and most people are there with their friends. Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how good it was not to be noticed until my previous trip to The Fire. I was there for six hours, checking out some bands I hadn’t heard of and some that I had listened to and wanted to see live. I was hanging on to see my favorite locals, whom I’d been trying to catch for several months and were one of the last bands scheduled. Late in the evening I found a place up front during Restorations’ set, and since I’m used to holding down my piece of real estate at big commercial barns like the Electric Factory (where I go five to seven hours without a drink or bathroom break, just so I get a good spot and don’t lose it), I stayed there for my favorites, who were up next. I wasn’t front and center, just off on one side. The moment my faves hit the stage, the lead singer pointed me out and started a running commentary about my age, claiming I was his mother. At first it seemed to be meant as fun and funny, and I took it as such. If you’re going to be the Betty White of orgcore, you have to roll with it.
But it went on too long and started to seem a little mean-spirited. I taunted them about it a bit on Twitter afterward and eventually got an apology of sorts that claimed they commended, celebrated, and congratulated my status. This was good to hear, but since the tweet also included the words “elderly” and “old”, it lost some of its intended impact. I don’t think of 53 as “elderly”. I have more physical strength and stamina now than I did when I was 30. I don’t dress like a teenager or as someone’s mom. The band underestimated my actual age by a few years while they made fun of me. I don’t bring earplugs to shows like a friend who is only 32, or bitch to everyone around me about how I’m too old to stay up late anymore like the guys I hear at every show who are in, uh, their late 20s. I just want to enjoy the music, dammit.
I do like to be up front, because there’s no point, for me, in going to see live music if I have to stand miles away looking at the back of some guy’s head. I avoid the pit (after breaking a toe at a Gaslight Anthem show last summer) unless I can be right by the stage. I’ll get slightly crushed and bruised and splashed with beer up there, but that’s OK. (My friends are dismayed when I show them YouTube videos the day after a show where I can be glimpsed amidst the mayhem. And I hesitated writing about even being near the pit, because when you’re older you actually think of things like “Will revealing this make me lose my health insurance?”) At small shows it’s really not a problem. At larger places, with more mainstream bands, it’s suicide to be on the floor unless you’re in the front row. Security guys at the big joints tend to be protective of me when I’m riding the rail. If I can’t get that spot, I’m first row up in the balcony, where I can see and not be kicked in the head by drunken crowd surfers. So that’s a concession I do make sometimes, but there are plenty of people younger than me, including guys, who do the same thing for the same reasons.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of performers, many of whom (Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, and Dave Hause come to mind) are incredibly nice to all their fans and don’t seem to care about what age they happen to be.
And I admit to playing the age card occasionally. Two weeks ago I made sure every security guy, roadie, and fellow front-row hanger knew about it so I could guilt my way into getting a Social D set list, without slipping anybody a ten-spot or flashing tits like the people who got the other ones. Security at the Factory doesn’t even bother patting me down anymore. If someone asks why I’m alone, I make jokes about being stood up by my date—Iggy Pop.
But I do regret the frustration of not feeling free to go to some shows alone, and having to worry about where to stand. There is a part of aging you can’t take back. I know the dumb things I did when I was younger, the strange parts of town I went late at night, the times I walked home alone in the wee hours of the morning. I just can’t go back to that, because many years of experience, things that happened to me or to people I know, or things that almost happened, left an indelible impression. Age does mean learning a few lessons, and while I think it’s vital not to shut yourself off to new experiences and learning new things, it’s stupid to try to unlearn things about your personal safety. You learned them for a reason.
So, in short, I’d like to find somebody, of any age, to go to shows with or even just meet me there so I don’t have to walk to my car alone or worry my husband to death. Somebody who knows safe places to park, somebody who will vouch for me at a basement show, somebody to help me feel both less invisible and less conspicuous. Preferably before that Off With Their Heads show at The Barbary in August.
Kate Tyler Wall is an editor and writer from Delaware who can still hear that rebel yell just as loud as it was in 1983, and watch Tom Gabel sing it, from the front row. Based in Philadelphia, she roams the eastern seaboard in search of three chords and the truth, and would be happy to bake cookies for any band that will put her on the guest list, or anybody who will walk her to the car after a show. She posts on Twitter as @KateBegins2Rock.
“I was just a bit worried my camera would get hit.” - Maryam Hassan (Punktastic.com) on moshing.
(Andy’s note: Maryam originally posted this piece here. It’s a response to this piece, that I linked back to and commented on last week. If you feel you could add something to the debate, please get in touch at email@example.com)
(Photo by Maryam Hassan, used by permission from Punktastic.com)
I read a piece recently that described moshing as something that asshole men do. I was generally confused by it, to be honest. It seemed to be bouncing between the fact that everyone who moshes is an asshole, and also a sexist.
I’m a 5’3 Asian girl (I’m pointing that out because everyone who writes about moshing is obsessed with race.), and from what I read I am the sort of person who should be scared of the mosh pit, and people who mosh. I assume you expect to find me cowering, with my arms stretched out in front of me, in the back of a small venue, praying none of the rowdy, selfish, sexist, men come anywhere near me and push me, or touch me, in any way. I don’t like to mosh myself, but that is not at all what I do at shows.
I’m a photographer ,and I shoot shows where the crowd is mental, the band is mental and there is no barrier. I’m right up in the middle of the mosh pit at times, but I usually find that the people around me take this into consideration, and look out for me, if anything. I can give you an example; I was at LetLive at the Old Blue Last. If you don’t know about LetLive, I’ll say they are one of the most insane bands I have ever seen live. At Download the singer kicked a security guard in the face. Anyway, the Old Blue Last is a tiny venue in East London, and the stage doesn’t have a barrier. I was at the front, and rather than having loads of asshole guys smash into me whilst I tried to take photos, I had the group of them around me pushing people away, making sure I didn’t get squashed. I didn’t ask them to do this, I didn’t even know who they were, but they saw that I would probably need a bit of help, and proceeded to help me and mosh all at the same time.
I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel like I was having my personal space violated. I wasn’t annoyed that people were shoving me. I was just a bit worried my camera would get hit. I had someone come up to me at the end and say “I can’t believe you were down the front for so long! You know you were the only girl there?” but these are things I have to put up with. If you don’t go to a show with an attitude about moshing, and instead work along with it, you’ll find that it’s all a lot easier to deal with. The only time I’ve ever got hurt in the mosh pit was when a girl elbowed me in the face at The Wonder Years, and she did it on purpose because I was taking photos.
I’m not going to say everyone who moshes is a saint, though. There are always going to be idiots who take it too far, or who have no care for how what they are doing is affecting the people around them, but I think it is unfair to generalise moshing as a selfish act. The majority of the time it is people getting excited about the music, and a lot of the time it’s encouraged by the bands playing. How many times have I heard people shout for circle pits, and walls of death? Too many to count. It seems to me that moshing is something that people just assume goes along with shows. It always happens, and you can really choose whether or not you want to be a part of it.
Really, the only point I agreed with from the piece I read was “consideration for others is punk fucking rock.” Yes! Consideration for others is amazing, but it doesn’t work one way. Saying that moshers need to fuck off and learn to dance isn’t really constructive at all, but neither is wearing a t-shirt saying “It’s a show, you’re going to get hit. Shut up and stop being a bitch”. Surely what we need to do is watch out for each other a little more to make sure we all enjoy shows! That’s what I think anyway.
Maryam Hassan is a 26 year old photographer from East London. When she’s not busy being Visual Media Editor at Punktastic.com, she enjoys big hair, red lipstick, Say Anything, and marmalade on toast. You can find her photography blog here, or email her here.
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.
“…without this community I don’t know what I would be doing…” - Angela Hatcher of Poprocks and Coke on being a female promoter in the UK DIY scene
(Andy’s note: This piece is quite short, but it’s also concise. Enjoy!)
(Photo by Matt White)
After a recent experience at a show I was promoting, I was having a discussion with someone about what it’s like to be a female promoter in the DIY punk scene, and it was suggested that I write something about it, so when I saw that Andy had put out a call for contributors, I took the opportunity.
I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I have had very few occasions where I have felt unsafe at a show, although this may be due to how small the UK DIY scene is. I have however had many occasions where I feel like I am forced to prove myself due to my gender.
When I first became involved in the DIY scene I was 18 and had just moved to a new city that scared the shit out of me. Before this I was living in a small town, where the closest shows were an hour away, and my only form of transport was Arriva Trains Wales. Through going to these shows I now have a solid foundation of people around me, and I’m in a city I love. My point in saying this is to show that without this community I don’t know what I would be doing, and I know I’m not the only one who feels like this, so when I have people who make me feel like I have to prove myself to them it’s unsettling.
My main issue is with people thinking that a promoter is always male. When I am stood alone in a venue waiting for a band to show up, with it clear that I am the promoter, I am either overlooked or asked where “the guy putting on the show” is. There have also been occasions where I am working with a male promoter on a show and, having been introduced to the band as one of the promoters, the only time any member of that band have spoken to me all night was to get me to ask the male promoter a question for them as if I am unable to answer, then later hearing that they had asked the other promoter as they were unsure if my answer was correct.
It’s a widely known truth that we need to change the view that all band members are men, but it’s not often mentioned that there are woman working in different areas of the scene that deserve the same level of respect.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“…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 email@example.com)
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.
“The game ends at midnight!”: Jane Doe revisits Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
Grant Morrison is my favourite writer. His unique style of writing, his explosive and exciting ideas and his dalliances with the world of chaos magic all make me somewhat of a fangirl. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth was the first comic by Grant that I read, and I became a fan on the spot. Not only does it possess an excellent storyline and engaging narrative, as well as outstanding artwork from Dave McKean, but there are several underlying themes that permeate every page.
But first, the plot: There has been a coup at Arkham Asylum, the place where Gotham’s most deranged criminals are held. The Joker, a longtime Batman villain, has taken over and is demanding Batman’s presence at the asylum. The story follows Batman’s journey through the house and his encounters with its psychotic inmates. The story also details the life and demise of Amadeus Arkham, the man who founded the asylum.
The first thing I noticed when I read Arkham Asylum for the second time was the preoccupation with the idea of duality. To begin with, the book features a character named Two Face who literally embodies and personifies this idea. This character, previously known as Harvey Dent, will be familiar to those who have seen Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Once Gotham’s District Attorney, his face has been badly scarred by a criminal who threw acid in his face. This caused him to go insane, and he became incapable of making any decisions by himself, resorting to flipping a coin and relying on chance and chaos to live his life. Like Two Face, almost every character and scene has an antithesis in another. The first, and perhaps most obvious, of these comes at the very beginning of the story, when Batman is summoned to the Asylum by the Joker. When asked whether he is afraid, Batman states
“Batman’s not afraid of anything…It’s me. I’m afraid”.
The very clear distinction between two separate sides of his character is something that recurs throughout the book. Similarly, when one of the inmates asks the Joker to remove Batman’s mask he refuses, claiming:
“That IS his real face!”.
The Joker himself personifies the idea of duality. Grant had originally intended the Joker to be dressed in full Madonna attire, conical bra and all. This idea, unfortunately, did not come to fruition but nicely illustrates the male/female duality featured elsewhere in the book. Clownfish also feature very heavily in the illustrations; they are notable for their ability to change gender. Amadeus Arkham’s proclivity to dress in his mother’s wedding dress when he’s feeling particularly psychotic is also another neat way of tying this theme in. In the notes of the 15th anniversary edition of the book, Grant Morrison described the male/female dichotomy as “shamanistic transvesticism”.
Perhaps the most obvious example of duality in the book is the stark contrast between ‘madness’ and sanity (the Joker is not referred to as insane but as a possible example of “super sanity”, an interesting concept I won’t pretend to totally understand). As the story progresses, the lines between the two states blur and change and are hard to define. Batman himself, perhaps best known for being the strong armed lycra-clad hunk of the kitsch 60’s TV series, seems to descend into madness. The recurring image of mirrors and the words “DISCOVER THYSELF” also seek to examine the difference between madness and sanity. If you look into the asylum, or into your own mind, you may find even your own thoughts steeped in psychosis and fear.
Dave McKean’s illustrations add to the eery, unhinged air of the book. Smudged and psychotic pictures are mixed with photographs and indecipherable scribbles. Drawings, almost like sigils, litter the pages. The way the text and the illustrations bind together so seamlessly is testament to the fact that Morrison and McKean collaborated in a very organic way to create this comic (trivia fans will also be pleased to know that Neil Gaiman posed for some of the photography featured in the book).
The Tower card from the Tarot features heavily in the comic as Batman seeks to rebuild his somewhat shattered sanity. To some, the Tower symbolises ruin and failure. Some, however, claim that it represents something being brought down to be rebuilt; new directions and revelations. (It’s also worth noting that the journey starts with the Joker, a clown, or Fool; the Fool being the starting point of the Tarot’s representation of any journey. - Andy)
Indeed, the psychologist Ruth describes her techniques with Two Face with the words “sometimes we have to pull them down in order to rebuild”. In many ways this sums up the entire book. Batman is forced to go on a journey into the asylum and into his own head in order to find himself and re-establish his sanity. It is an extremely dark book but is filled with intriguing symbols and ideas. Even if you’re not a fan of comics, I could not recommend this book highly enough.
Jane Doe spends her time stealing from supermarkets and close friends. She has never been seen in the same room as Tiger Woods.