You’ll rebel against everything – except maybe, misogyny.
I think it goes without saying that one of the core themes of punk, one of the only really unifying themes, is an attitude. What that rebellious attitude is actually against is as varied as the makers of the music and its fans. There are fights against war, against capitalism, against government, against every –ism available.
And yet… Punk is still brutally gendered. We talk about a revolution, and we can’t fix ourselves.
I’m not talking about the lack of credit Riot Girls seem to get for some seriously amazing sounds and zines. I’m not talking about how Glitter Rock isn’t given credit as proto-punk, and how Vivian Westwood is pretty much forgotten in the discussion of people who shaped the Sex Pistols’ image. I’m not talking about how we can’t remember Siouxsie Sioux or any of the other great early female musicians from the 70’s and 80’s, except as second fiddle to The Clash. I don’t want to talk about the ratio of female:male artists today. That’s part of the problem, but it’s the easier problem to fix. It’s easy to write a review of L7 and say “I know, dude. This is good. You should like it.”
What’s a lot harder is to challenge a culture that mimics the greater American culture in terms of how it treats women. When someone has done an action their entire life, it’s very difficult to analyze that behavior in a way that is unbiased. American woman are, sadly, objectified in their daily lives.
There are entire PHd programs supporting this fact. Women are sold clothes that sexualize their bodies, cat-called and grabbed at by total strangers. As young women, our daughters are trained to believe that men can hurt you, and women must fight back to protect themselves from those who want to prey on available bodies by wearing less provocative clothing and never drinking in public. Women who buck traditional gender stereotypes in dress and behavior are told they are abnormal, they are “other”, they want to be men, and they are ugly.
At 14 a much older male fan tried to take my pants off me as I crowd surfed (buttons, belt and all) at a Bad Religion show. I was told it was no place for a girl. To quote the caveman, “What did you think was going to happen to you?” His reaction was the most upsetting part, in retrospect. The idea that demeaning a female fan for daring to attend a concert should have been expected only goes to highlight the prevalence of the mistreatment of women.
At 17 I was told if I wanted to remain in the floor area at a concert, I would need to open up a women’s only mosh pit. When I pointed out I was more than able to hold my own, my fellow fan replied “Fuck off, dyke.” The idea that sexuality can be used as an attack is an unfortunate shame of larger American culture I was surprised to see pervade punk ethics.
I had a radio show in college, where I played punk music at the un-godly hour of 3am. It was a labor of love, to say the least. I was told routinely by callers to talk less in between tracks so listeners wouldn’t realize I was a woman. The value of my hard work was, in their eyes, lessened by my gender.
I have been told multiple times (as an almost-30 adult) not to attend shows at venues because of their reputation; to show up as a lone woman would be “asking for it.” Whatever “It” may be is always implied. No one has ever explained “it” to me; the meaning of the term is something you just learn as a woman as early as you learn language. Throughout my life, when people find out my passion for music, my knowledge is tested. Saying I like a band always seems to pave the road for an inquisitorial squad.
These experiences are not just mine. Search amazon, google, message boards or youtube and you’ll find a small but vocal listing of books, film and articles about other women who have been mistreated in concert crowds. Most mistreatment of women goes unreported; if I tell my mom won’t let me go to shows anymore, no one will believe me, I won’t be included, I should have known better, it was somehow my fault, it won’t happen again, I don’t want to talk about it.
A woman can learn to play drums just as quickly as a man can, get a few friends together, and play in someone’s basement. The problem lies in getting women to want to play drums. If the environment of a show is so hostile towards females, only the most dedicated of women will struggle to force their way in. If you don’t treat women the same as men from the ground up, no one can be surprised when the musicians on stage are all male; realistically, no one is going to strive for the stage if they don’t also like standing in the crowd. Music isn’t inherently gendered; but the crowd can quickly make it so. If a woman at a concert has her chest grabbed by a total stranger, it’s a pretty logically assumption she will remember that feeling more so than how the opening act sounded.
Bands that create safe environments for female fans at their shows are labeled as somehow lesser-thans. To be female or female-friendly is to invite attack.
Yes, women still go to shows. However, female fans are more likely than male fans to travel in packs for safety, to stand in the back and not mosh, and to be heckled at the show. On numerous occasions, I have heard men tell women, without a touch of humor or irony, that the women were a fan of a band only because the singer/guitarist/drummer/didgeridoo-player was hot.
So what’s the point? The point is, as a group we’re not okay. This is a cancer in the scene. It’s not okay to routinely have an entire portion of the fan base get assaulted for daring to like music in public. And it’s not okay to expect women to travel with “safe” men to avoid assault. Women should be as safe as men are to travel alone.
While there have been strives towards gender equality in the world as a whole, has punk really gotten that much better since the 1970s? I think it’s fallen behind. It’s not enough for artist to tell fans to treat women with respect. It’s not enough for female artists to perform in bands where their gender isn’t a gimmick. It’s not enough for individual women to fight for their own personal inclusion. While women can and will fight for themselves, men need to step up and work to be more inclusive as well.
I’m not asking for a special pass as a woman. I’m just demanding men stop assuming the worst of female fans, and keep their hands to themselves.