Gigs are no place for women

I’ve become embroiled in yet another Twitter ‘discussion’ with a band’s far-more-deserving-than-I fans about whether I should be allowed to go to gigs and stand where I can see. As Twitter isn’t really the easiest place to be eloquent, or even to make a clear point, I thought I’d dust the blog off and talk for a bit about what it’s like being a female who likes to go to rock shows. Lots of them.

I’ve worked out that since The Ledge and I first started this blog back in 2005 we’ve probably been to between 450-500 gigs. At those gigs, we’ve probably seen well over 1,000 sets by hundreds of different bands, and anyone who’s historically read the blog will know that my experience was marred at more than a few shows by the behavior of others.

I would like to postulate that the reason I’ve had such issue with aggressive and unpleasant behavior at gigs is because I’m both small and I’m female.

What it’s like being a girl at a gig

Let me step back a minute first – sometimes being a girl who goes to gigs is awesome. For starters, when I was single (which I haven’t been in a very long time) it was a great way to impress guys. Guys aren’t used to women who are into going to gigs. Most of the gigs guys go to are heavily attended by guys and the women who go are there with their boyfriends/spouses. This has also meant that on more than a few occasions I’ve been the recipient of a random act of kindness where someone has seen me struggling to see and told me to move in front of him, hoisted me on to his shoulders or protected me from the ravages of an over-enthusiastic crowd.

When I stand at the front of shows where I know there’s likely to be enthusiastic dancing, or full on moshing, I rely on rule #1 of the pit: Look out for your neighbors. I also rely on rule #2 of the pit: If you push someone, expect to get pushed back.

95% of the time this is fine. The people around me are aware of the fact I’m there; they’re careful. Normally if there’s lots of pushing I get lots of apologies. It’s generally pretty obvious when the people around you are being dragged along by the crowd and can’t help bumping you; it’s  generally pretty obvious when people are simply dancing and occasionally get knocked against you; it’s also generally pretty obvious when people are using the excuse of a dancing crowd to try and physically remove someone who has a better view or a spot on the barrier.

There are 2 types of gig-goer – usually male – who cause me, and most women who attend gigs regularly, some real problems. There’s the ones who truly believe that if they are at a gig they are a bigger fan than you and can do whatever they want to whomever they want in order to get closer to the band; and there’s the ones who get riproaring drunk and decide that as it’s a gig simply anything goes – including assault both physical and sexual.

  • As a woman my male friends impressed upon me the importance of never crowd surfing – men get carried above the crowd and cheered whereas women get groped.
  • As a woman I’ve had to endure having my chest groped at the barrier by a man who used sexual assault as a means of getting me to move so he could get closer to the band. In this instance, security came to my rescue and threatened to eject the man.
  • As a woman I’ve witnessed a friend being grabbed between the legs by a man who felt sexual assault was an appropriate means to get her to move so he could get closer to the band. In this instance we both had to use physical violence to get him to remove his hand, a fact which did not go unnoticed by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, as he was stood about half a foot from us on stage at the time. When Thom remarked on it, the guy finally moved. If anyone’s interested, I have this captured on an old bootleg cassette somewhere.
  • As a woman I’ve tried to stop another woman being kicked and pushed to the ground by a man twice her size who wanted that spot at the barrier for his own girlfriend; and then been subjected to the same man kicking and punching me and trying to push me to the ground. When I tried to push him off of me, he accused me of assaulting him. In this instance security again intervened and told the guy to leave me alone or else.
  • As a woman I’ve been regularly subjected to men singling me out at the front and using the excuse of a crowd or a mosh pit to elbow me repeatedly in the neck and head even after I politely asked them to stop because it was hurting me, shout at me when I finally had to resort to pushing back, and then scream at me, “It’s a gig! If you don’t want to get hit you don’t belong here.” Of course my response of, “If you don’t want to get pushed off of me, don’t hit me in the first place” just proves that I’m an aggressive bitch.
  • I’ve been told by tall men at the front I shouldn’t be there because I was too small and they shouldn’t have to worry about hurting me. I’ve then been told by men at the back who stood directly in front of me instead of one of my taller companions that I had no business standing at the back because I was too small and I should have to go to the front.
  • As a woman I’ve had men single me out at the barrier, lean in and tell me that I wouldn’t still be there at the end of the show because they were going to see to that.
  • As a woman I have, on countless occasions generally found myself the lucky person that theone aggressive, overenthusiastic loser chose to stand behind not because I was in a particularly prime spot – I usually stand near the speakers – but because everyone else was taller and male and they felt I was an easy target.

On every single occasion when I or a female friend or a female in the vicinity has been subject to a situation like this, the man causing the problem has reacted in exactly the same way – acting outraged that his target dared fight back and with the utterly assinine remark “It’s a gig, you should just learn to live with it.”

At a gig (much like in the boardroom) if you are a woman and you stand up for yourself against the aggressive behavior of men around you then you are an unhinged bitch, rather than a person simply trying to avoid getting bullied, harassed and potentially injured.

Now, there’s many things I’ve learned to live with at gigs –

  • Poor sound
  • Revolting toilets
  • Overpriced, watered-down alcohol
  • Getting ignored by barmen
  • Other people’s sweat
  • Lack of personal space (this actually is an ongoing issue, but I’m not usually going to be an arse unless I’m feeling genuinely physically threatened)
  • Beer being thrown on me
  • Getting pushed, knocked and danced into
  • Drunk people shouting stupid things and generally behaving badly

One thing I feel I should NEVER have to live with is being assaulted, either physically or sexually, because some bloke thinks he has more of a right to see the band than I do.

Is it because I’m a girl?

I’m pointing out all of this in relation to my gender because these things have all happened to some degree or other to every woman I know who regularly goes to gigs and I regularly witness them happening to other women. Almost none of the men I know experience these problems except once in a blue moon.

The Ledge will attest to the fact that if we have problems at a  gig, 99% of the time it’s because someone has singled me out. Because I’m small, they probably think I’m an easy target and I won’t fight back. When I do, they get angry.

I’d like, as example, to tell the story of what happened to me and a friend last night.

Why Hold Steady gigs are no longer the best gigs in the world – in fact, they’ve become the worst

Last night, in a very excited state, we made certain to get down to the Academy 3 early to get to the front for the Hold Steady. We were there at doors. It was friendly. People around us were happy. Despite the gig being sold out, even when the band came on I wasn’t getting jostled like sometimes happens. I was relieved as the previous 2 Hold Steady gigs had been marred by the type of violence I’ve mentioned already.

When our friend W turned up, The Ledge moved back to stand with her 6’5″ partner so they wouldn’t be in the way of the 2 or 3 petite ladies stood behind me and W moved in next to me. The band came on. The first 4 or so songs were ace – then the violence started.

As soon as the dancing began I felt pushing behind me, hard and into the monitor, so I righted myself. He shoved back again, so I pushed up again. He started shouting in my ear. I’m not sure what he thought I was going to do – flatten myself against the monitor?  When it started to hurt and he clearly wasn’t trying to lessen the impact even though he could see I was in distress I elbowed him. Funnily enough that enabled him to move from behind me entirely even though he’d previously been saying he couldn’t help it. He moved behind my friend and started swearing at me.

Then he put his shoulder into her and started trying to push her over in order to get her to move so he could get to the front. He was screaming he couldn’t help it, but there was a noticeable gap behind him and he wasn’t  getting pushed at all. There was moshing – but it was not on top of us or him and the flow was going in the opposite direction to where he was pushing us.  W couldn’t right herself so I lent a hand, and pushed him backwards. He started calling me all sorts at that point. We told him he’d been hurting W and he needed to back off. He said to stop pushing him.

Why should we stop pushing him off W when he was hurting her if he was ok to push us in a way that hurt?

Then his friend joined in. The friend got his shoulder in against W on her right side and started violently shoving her against me. She was holding onto the monitor to try and stay upright and I had to grab hold of her to stop her falling down. At one point I smacked him (lightly) in the head to try and get him to see what he was doing – he didn’t care. The first guy started screaming at me again at this point and crowding in against W. W started to step away, decided to stand her ground and pushed back again. The 2 men only started shoving her more violently.

Then the 2nd guy took out his phone and deliberately shoved it in front of W’s face so she couldn’t see.  W saw red at this point and grabbed the phone and a tussle ensued. While this was happening Guy #1 started screaming at me again – at this point all I was doing was bracing W so she didn’t get pushed to the ground. But apparently I was being violent. Then Craig Finn leaned over, pointed at Guy #2 and said quite clearly “Fuck off.”  They settled.

About 4 songs later the dancing erupted again. At this point there was a woman about my size standing behind me and she was suddenly shoved against me violently. She was definitely being pushed as she was struggling to stay upright. I asked her a couple of times if she was ok or if she needed help and she said she was fine. Then she suddenly wasn’t fine. She practically had to crawl out as a very drunk man had started battering her with his arms and knees and elbows. Once she moved he tried it with me. I brought my DM up against his shin to encourage him to stop.

The first guy then jumped in again and started screaming at me and told the guy I was a cunt and a knobhead.  The drunk guy in question decided it wasn’t worth the effort and moved. We were, after this, swarmed by a different group of men and amazingly the elbows and shoving stopped. It turned into actual dancing. I know it was dancing because instead of being shoved against a stage and having to fight to stay upright I was only being occasionally bumped as part of the ebb and flow of the crowd.

When we got out of the gig I tweeted a couple of times about the experience and went to bed.

W woke up with bruising down her right side and she’s told me she’s “in agony down the right side of my body.”

I woke up to the same two guys having left me a string of replies in which they not only tried to get Craig Finn involved and defending their behavior but in which they also suggested that I wasn’t a real fan because I wasn’t dancing (or in the internet fan club) – never mind the back problem which had me on painkillers last night, I couldn’t have danced if I’d wanted to as I was too busy gripping a monitor to stay upright. Even so – what law says I have to dance to be enjoying a gig? He clearly didn’t see both W and I singing along. Or he was trying to justify his aggression against two women half his size.

You can read the ongoing exchange:

Let me say here and now that in no way was Craig Finn’s admonishment directed at me – he wasn’t even looking in my direction – but because later on Craig Finn did make a comment about gigs being about contact (and the word ‘bump’ was used) these guys decided that this was a sign that their behavior was entirely appropriate. It’s a problem because surely it’s behavior bands should be discouraging – both the sense of entitlement and the idea that some fans are more worthy than others AND the idea that it’s ever acceptable in any situation, gig or not, to do something that you know is causing harm to others and to pretend it’s not your fault.

I have to ask – would any of this have happened if we were men? If we’d been 5’10” instead of 4’10” would those guys have persisted or would they have found some other small women to harass? I have to ask but I already know the answer. The answer is in what we said to The Ledge and M after the gig “Next time, however tall you feel, you’re staying put. When you 2 are behind us, we never end up in pain the next day.”

Bands, venues, fans – it’s up to you  guys to step in and discourage the behavior which says anything goes because it’s a gig, the casual acceptance of violence against women because they don’t deserve to be in a male space like an indie show, and the tolerance of seeing other people causing injury to those around you who need your help.

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