“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.