Girl at the Rock Show

[First of all, sorry it's been a little quiet around here. The holidays have found many of us traveling and taking a break. This week should mark our return!]

A while ago I started to draft a blog post about being a woman at rock concerts. I had just come from a particularly fun, up-against-the-rails-avoiding-the-pit type show and had been reminiscing about all of the shows I went to as a younger woman, when I was more enthralled with concert culture and less likely to linger on the hyper-masculine “show us your tits” kind of garbage. At 14 I remember being really impressed with “mosh pit ettiquette.” People would help you up if you fell; older, grizzled men routinely asked me if I was alright or stepped in to block the impact of someone careening toward me. I would look down on girls who spent the entirety of a show safely tucked in the embraces of their boyfriends, like didn’t they know the whole point was to crash around WITH the boys? That it was fun, and a bruise here or there, well that was just an occupational hazard! It didn’t occur to me until much later that perhaps some of those girls had went that route before with terrible results. Just last year I was at a show with a male friend, and in between sets we found ourselves standing behind a couple of drunk guys. One of them (in an FDNY shirt, gosh I hope he wasn’t an actual firefighter) kept complimenting my male friend on my breasts, assuming that my friend was my boyfriend and thus he owned me and my body. At one point this charmer actually reached out and touched me, purposefully, kind of just patted my chest as his buddy started to pull him away, aware that things were getting out of control. What an unpleasant reminder that rock-concert space is so often male space, where a female body are at best an annoyance and at worst a plaything. (Not to mention a white space—the white FDNY guy’s white friend kept trying to engage my male companion in conversation about India and his Indian co-workers, assuming by his skin color that he was also Indian. He isn’t.)

I started to look for other accounts of girls who have been harassed or felt out of place at rock shows, my favorite being this one over at Female Impersonator, because Amelia gives voice to the dissonance I’ve often felt—how do you enjoy this music and this culture without feeling complicit in its misogyny? I still don’t know the answer. But it’s impossible to deny the sexist and often violent undertones of male-dominated concert spaces. This week, Amanda at The Sexist is doing a number of posts about public groping, and she begins with the groping of women, particularly crowd-surfing women, at rock shows. She starts with a message board for fans of the band Pantera, where some guys have this to say about groping (potentially triggering):

“Any girl that goes crowd surfing either wants to be groped or is too fucking stupid to realize that that’s all that’s going to happen and deserves to get groped for her stupidity,”

“always like seeing the chicks who crowd surf but then are obviously offended by the groping that occurs. The naivety alone is funny.” 

“I like when you see a concert on TV or on a DVD or something and the girls crowd surf up to the front. They look like they’re having fun as they go up, then as they make their way to the front of the crowd the smiles turn to frowns. Then when the security pulls them down they just look violated and are usually covering their bodies with their arms.”

“there was this one occasion in which i groped a young lady at a danzig show…after screaming ‘you grabbed me’ into my ear and i responded that i couldnt hear her, she gave up.”

It’s striking victim-blaming—she chose to crowdsurf, what did she expect? But here’s the reality: she chose to do something that men do all the time without expecting that they will have someone purposefully grab their genetalia. What these men are really asking is: why should she expect to be treated like a guy, or rather, why doesn’t she know that we are going to “treat her like a girl?” And treating her like a girl means treating her like public sexual property. It means not giving her inside status by refusing to give her the same respect as their male peers. It’s another way to mark the space as distinctively male—women can enter, but at their own risk. They should KNOW what they’re getting into, and since they’ve been warned anything that happens to them is their own fault. Attitudes like that lead to events like this, which continues to disturb me beyond belief. Since Woodstock 99, popular music has changed a bit. The men of mainstream rock are a little more sensitive and a little less likely to devote entire songs to “breaking stuff.” I wonder if as the musicians change, their fans will follow suit?

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