Boys’ Club | How The Live Music Scene Is Pushing Girls Out

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The club mentality of these gigs is preventing girls from feeling like they can fully participate without endangering their safety.

Woodstock ’99 is often referred to as ‘the day music died’. Over fifty rapes were reported, Courtney Love’s clothes were torn off during a crowd-surf and, unbelievably, there was a gang rape in a mosh pit. Although extreme, Woodstock ’99 was not so long ago and serves as a bloody lesson of what happens when misogyny mixed with mob mentality goes unregulated and under-reported. In 2014, it’s still easy to see the scars of sexism that are apparent at shows girls go to every day.

Live music is attracting ever more female audiences, but the boys’ club mentality of these gigs is preventing girls from feeling like they can fully participate without endangering their safety. “As time goes on it becomes weirder and weirder to me that I’ve never been to a show that has more women than men in the audience, and men just never even think about that, they don’t have to”, Joanna Gruesome singer Alanna McCardle says about intrinsic male-majority at gigs. “They never have to worry that they’re out of place and they never have to worry for their safety at a show”.

The mosh pit is a prime example of a rock show prop that intimidates female music fans. When Kathleen Hanna shouted ‘girls to the front!’ at the start of her Bikini Kill gigs, she encouraged female fans to participate in the heady atmosphere of the front row, an experience usually out of reach for women who don’t value a boot in the face. A prime viewing spot at a moshing gig is one that celebrates those that are physically tough enough to get violent down front, not one that celebrates a shared, albeit primal, experience among music fans.

There’s also the patronising tag of ‘girl at a gig’ to contend with. Unless you are ‘cool’ enough to accept all the little ways that a gig can dissuade you from taking part, then, it seems, you are not cool enough to be there. So, put up and shut up. I remember going to a Los Campesinos! gig at Thekla when I was stared at by the guy next to me the entire night. It was incredibly off-putting, but I was too scared of ‘making a scene’ to tell him to move his eyes towards the stage where the band he paid to see were playing. The feeling from this kind of gig-goer is that girls at gigs are ornamental creatures that have been brought along by their boyfriends and have no musical preferences of their own. It’s reductive, rude, and exhausting. Girls who play shows have it no better; Allison Crutchfield (a quarter of Swearin’) on the first big hardcore gig she attended: “This person screamed things like ‘this song goes out to all the bitches who pay their rent with their tits’… [it sent] me into a tailspin of feeling simultaneously livid and painfully excluded”. Girls who write about music get it too. A comment on Jessica Misener’s first album review: “Jessica, Bono sings that ‘the boys play rock and roll’. Only boys should be writing about it, too”.

Last month, I went to Field Day and watched (the all-female) Warpaint. Before the gig began, two men in front of me shouted, “Jenny, take your top off”, and “yeah, lez it up!” When I saw Warpaint at the O2 a few months before that, Emily Kokal asked if there were any song requests. Someone shouted, “yeah, a threesome!” I told my male friends, expecting them to be as grossed out as I was. They laughed their heads off. The normalisation of seeing women as sex objects and the novelty of an all-female guitar band removes the respect that male bands receive as a matter of course. These hecklers felt entitled enough to catcall a band they had bought records from and paid to see. It’s a weird mindset that’s hard to grasp and even harder to remedy.

These stories appear every day. My friend Christine has a picture of her solitary female face down the front at a Bronx gig. Her friend was nearly turned away from a show for wearing a dress. At Rockfest recently, Staind frontman Aaron Lewis stopped his set to threaten the ‘fucking assholes’ that were molesting a very young girl in the crowd. I’m sure you have one too, and if you don’t, your friends do.

So, what’s the answer? From my point of view, there needs to be a change of attitude. As gig-goers we are too immersed in our own experience when a swift look around could change so much. I, for one, am going to try and start calling people out when I see sexism in action. Confronting random aggressors in public isn’t my favourite thing to do (it’s very scary!), but I genuinely feel that every time I can do this, someone might get some education and maybe start to question what they think of as acceptable public behaviour. Help me out if you can. After all, a safe, inclusive show environment isn’t just for girls: respect and inclusivity is for everyone.