A few weeks back, I (alongside quite a few others around the internet) took a look at the issue of deep-rooted misogyny within the scene. The response was quite overwhelming and the comments ranged from exceedingly positive to dismissive and critical. I gave quite a lot of consideration to how I could back up my ideas with tangible proof and I realised the one way that we could show that women experience sexism within the rock circuit is by actually asking the musicians themselves. Hence, below is a piece with the opinions and experiences of the members War On Women
(punk band recently signed to Bridge 9 Records) and Chumped
(pop punk). Enjoy. War On Women
Everyone in War On Women has either experienced sexism in our local music scenes or has been a witness to it. We’ve all been in various touring bands over the years (decades for some of us!) and even though we should know better, it never ceases to amaze us when some random show promoter, sound engineer, door guy, audience member, or member of a band WE’RE ABOUT TO PLAY WITH has some shit to say.
Are you the girlfriend?
So you play… keyboard?
Nice of you to carry his amp.
Oh here, let me help you. (It’s the grabbing of my belongings from out of my hands that I take issue with, not a genuine offer to help, btw)
YOU’RE the GUITARIST???!!?
So you sing, right? Oh, really? You play, too? Oh…OK.
What kinda stuff you do? Folksy shit? Riot Grrrl?
Show me your tits!
(the creepy stare that shows he doesn’t give a shit about the music, he’s only up front to get a close up view of our bodies)
You got a nice ass!
Why don’t you kiss each other?
So angry! Why are you so angry, baby? (um… the patriarchy? How do I answer that?)
You’re pretty good for a girl band!
You guys sound just like _____ (enter the one female-fronted band he knows of/likes)
Your voice is just like ______ (Tori Amos/Kathleen Hanna/Courtney Love….seriously…. all people I sound NOTHING LIKE)
Good show! You’re ACTUALLY a good guitar player.
You play bass just like a dude! (with my penis?)
When did you learn to play guitar?
I’ve never seen a girl play guitar before, at least not in person… (this really happened)
And let’s not forget trying to grab us while we play or if we jump into the audience! Groping people is a non-consensual, ILLEGAL act. And it’s not fucking cool. And none of this even mentions the homophobia, cis-sexism, or racism we’ve witnessed or overheard (we’re soooo tired of hearing guys telling their other bandmates how they are “****”, how they are totally NOT “****”, or how someone is being “faggy” - ugh).
For folks that don’t experience this kind of discrimination or harassment, I get that it can be really hard to wrap your head around the fact that these little things bother us. BUT! There’s this thing. Micro-Aggressions. It’s an unbelievably accurate concept. Basically, if these sexist statements and actions were actually rare, then it would be way easier to call people out for being an asshole, or to at least not let it get to you when it happens. But they’re not rare. They happen all the time. And they’re all “small”, “not a big deal”, or “just a joke”. At least, until they add up. And they happen in every club in every town. It builds and builds and builds until you can’t help but understand that because of your gender, because of who you are, you should not be playing music. In the larger scale, I, as a woman, am not welcome here as a participant, only an observer. And even then, someone still expects me to give them a blow job.
The world is not a safe place for women. We look to music and our local scenes to give us a voice; to share in a community experience. That makes the act of being talked down to or objectified in our “safe” punk environments even more of a bummer, and a reminder that the threat of violence against us is always present…and possible.
Stop putting “actually” in your compliments.
Stop commenting on my body and pretending it’s a compliment.
Stop calling us girls. I’m in my fucking 30s.
Stop making your girlfriends hold your coats and stand in the back.
Stop being surprised that some women like heavy music.
Stop assuming you know more about gear than us.
Stop using the pit as an excuse to touch women so inappropriately.
It takes a lot for for someone (and it shouldn’t be expected of everyone) to continue to navigate a scene that continuously tells them that no one will take them seriously. Only an attention-hungry, only child-turned front person like me could be expected to do that
Show us that we’re welcome and I guarantee you’d see more women coming out, booking shows, and playing good music.Chumped
I went to visit my 8-year-old sister this past winter holiday. We were spending some time with a friend of hers, a little boy her age. He showed us the skateboard he had just received for Christmas.
See my new skateboard? He said. Its really cool. I would let Nevaeh borrow it but she cant skateboard.”
Why is that? I asked.
Because shes a girl, he said. And girls cant skateboard.”
Girls cant skateboard, he said.
Girls cant skateboard. I wondered how many times he and other little boys like him had told girls they can’t do things that they can do. How many girls had been told they can’t skateboard or join the football team or play guitar?
Girls can do anything boys can do.” I said, “Including skateboard. Never let anyone tell you different, and hoped that it stuck.
Skateboarding could be likened to punk rock in this situation. Its not that there arent thousands of women who can skateboard or who are currently skateboarding or who are phenomenal skateboarders but theyve been told from early childhood that they cant. Its not that there arent thousands of female musicians wanting to play the shit out of punk rock and hardcore, who arent currently playing music or who want to. If there just arent enough girl bands its because they either havent been started yet (because girls have been explicitly or inexplicitly told that they cant or shouldnt), or they havent been given a chance to be seen.
Not seeing is a big issue. There are currently a plethora of really outstanding woman-fronted bands or bands with girl musicians in them. Seeing and hearing them can be difficult when there are plenty of people opposed to listening to them simply because they are women. We still live in a society and scene where people dont listen to bands with girls in them. This is a statement Ive heard from more punks than Id like to admit, women and men. If there are listeners, promoters, and record label owners who just dont like girl bands and feel that they dont need to give them a spot on a bill or in a festival or put out their record or even listen to their record because they dont prefer the sound of a womans voice, than women are once again disadvantaged from the outset. What is a womans voice anyway? What would those people say about Against Me! or The Distillers? I dont like bands with girl singers is a statement that collapses the diversity of all women into one voice and masks sexism in preference.
Girls cant play or sing x” and I dont listen to bands with girls in them are discriminatory phrases that marginalize women
all women, queer women, straight women, trans women, women of color, girls. If starting a band, let alone getting anyone to listen to it, is a challenge for women in music than I feel it is my responsibility as a member of the punk community to create opportunities for them to be seen and heard. Especially if you are a punk in a position of power aka someone booking bands on a festival, at a house show, choosing music for a podcast, you should be creating platforms for diverse voices. Even if you dont like the music its important for stories from girls, queer youth, people of color to be told; stories from people who are on the margins and who have less power by virtue of the fact that they werent born a straight white male. Even if a band isnt the best band according to you, they still need a place for encouragement and visibility, especially if they aren’t usually given a space to be seen.
Because punk is not a meritocracy, it is a community. A community full of nerds, freaks and weirdos who need a safe space and a platform where their voices can be heard instead of silenced, where their ideas and art are embraced and encouraged, not dismissed by mainstream channels of culture and society. Punk is a place where marginalized people can and should be brought to center stage. Bringing voices on the margin into audible territory sometimes means going out of your way to make a conscious effort toward inclusion and diversity. So the next time you get to book a show or make a play list or recommend a band for a festival, think about the position of power youre in and try and create an opportunity for someone. And for fucks sake, the next time youre talking to an 8-year-old girl, tell her she can skateboard (and be a rock star).