Alibi V.24 No.46 • Nov 12-18, 2015 

Music Editorial

Women, Concerts, Misogyny

Fans and the scene deserve better

Bikini Kill in concert
Bikini Kill in concert
Courtesy of the artist
There’s a reason that Kathleen Hanna used to shout “girls to the front!” at Bikini Kill concerts. She knew about the kind of bullshit that girls put up with at shows—like being harassed and treated in a generally unwelcome fashion—and she wanted to save her fans from it as much as possible.

Audience interaction is a facet of the sexism in the music world that you might not think about unless you’ve experienced it yourself. We talk about how women in the music industry face extreme marginalization and exploitation at the hands of their male colleagues and we talk about how female musicians face impossible double standards to look sexy-but-not-too-sexy. Those dialogues are important to have. But there’s one contingent we tend to neglect when we talk about sexism in music: the fans.

Female music fans are often demeaned and made the butt of jokes. They’re either “groupies” or “fangirls”—their love for the music is written off as a crush on the boys in the band, as if they are incapable of appreciating good music for its own merits. At music festivals their presence is treated as a sexual perk for the male festival-goers—as demonstrated, for instance, by the notorious dude who wore an “Eat Sleep Rape Repeat” t-shirt at Coachella this year. And at concerts women in the audience are groped, harassed and otherwise made to feel that they’re unwelcome there.

Here are some of my personal experiences as a woman who goes to concerts: I’ve been spit on, groped, creepily hit on, told I was “too pretty to be in a mosh pit” and had entire drinks poured over my head. Once a man put his hand down my shirt at a concert—when I was 15 years old. After that one I was too scared to go out to shows at all for a while. But now I refuse to let a few belligerent dudes scare me into staying at home.

What does frighten me is that this terrible trend of being jerks to women at music venues is still so alive and well. Where it spawns from, I can only hypothesize: The frat-boy rape culture that consistently paints harassment as acceptable instead of the very real problem that it is? The larger capitalist structure that defines women as second-class citizens and as things to be acquired rather than individuals to be respected? The use of drugs or alcohol as a qualifier? Although harassment certainly happens at punk shows and small house venues, the smallness and intimacy of that scene makes perpetrators less likely to get off scot-free. But at big box concert venues, where the size of the crowd lends an air of relative anonymity to the space, some dudes think they can get away with anything without getting called out.

My appeal to everyone who attends shows where bullshit like this happens is to do just that—call it out. It can be scary to confront a harasser, but the large crowd will be in your favor here, as the situation isn’t likely to escalate to physical violence if there are a lot of onlookers. If there’s security at the venue, don’t be afraid to get them involved. If security tries to brush you off, make it clear that your (or somebody else’s) physical safety is feeling threatened. Don’t be convinced by anyone that what you’re experiencing is normal or not a big deal. Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable at concerts (and everywhere else, for that matter).

Thankfully, there are folks in the scene making noise about sexual harassment at concerts. In the UK, a group of teenage girls called Girls Against are encouraging fans to not tolerate this behavior and urging musicians on tour to be aware and on the lookout for it. In September, indie band Speedy Ortiz launched their help hotline [(574) 404-SAFE] that audience members can text while at SO concerts to alert security if they experience harassment or feel unsafe. I hope that musicians and fans can continue to work together like this to make concerts a safe and welcoming space for everyone.

Last month, Jessica Hopper, the Senior Editor of Pitchfork and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, tweeted this: “Imagine what music would be like if we didn’t make young women jump through such demeaning hoops to show they belong here.” In this case she was referring to women within the music industry, but the principle applies to music fans as well. Imagine, ladies, what it would be like to go out to see your favorite band play without the fear of getting harassed in the process. We deserve that feeling, because we belong here too.

Bikini Kill in Concert, 1992