Friday, September 10, 2010

You wanna take it, but you can't have it: or, some loser fucked up my arm at a show last night.

I was at a show last night in Brooklyn when three guys in the audience started to mosh violently, shoving each other and falling into other people in the crowd. Everyone in the room, male and female, edged back and away from the instigators.

The more space we gave them, the more space they took. Even with half the room to themselves, they managed to bang into other people. One of the moshers collided violently with a pair of red-headed girls who had been watching the band with interest, and who then left the room. Shortly after that one of them bashed into my arm, andhard, and then he fell over. When he stood back up, he stayed near me. He started to drunkenly lean on me, and in an incidence of unmitigated show rage, I shoved his body away with all the strength I could muster. I wanted to say something to him, but I admit that I was afraid of how he would react, so I didn't.

It's not like this is the first time this has ever happened to me. Recently, at a show in a different area of Brooklyn, I was tolerating a set of lackluster pop punk by some generic dude band when the guys in the audience got predictable. They started hoisting each other up and launching each other onto the audience, in an attempt to crowd surf. I watched as the girls at the show, some of whom had been singing along and clearly enjoying the band's performance, retreated from the area, moving to the back to avoid being kicked in the face. Unwilling to put up with any more douchebaggery or bad music, I walked out.

I decided to go downstairs to hang out in front of the building, and in the stairwell I ran into a music blogger acquaintance. She asked me what was going on with the show, and when I told her about the ill-advised crowd surfing, she cut me off, and said "Oh, and you started to feel uncomfortable?"

I don't remember how I responded to her, because all I remember from that moment is being nearly blind with rage.

In case you don't understand why I was enraged, allow me to interpret the subtext of her statement. Her statement, said in a flat, condescending monotone, makes me the subject through her use of "you", and if focuses on my feelings rather than the actions of the people in the room. Her use of the word 'feel' implies that my reaction was emotional, and therefore not rational, and therefore not legitimate. The word 'uncomfortable' trivializes my feelings, it reduces genuine fear for my safety to minor 'discomfort', which she apparently thought I should have just put up with.

In short, "oh, and you started to feel uncomfortable?" translates to, "Oh, you were a stupid little girl who went to a show when you couldn't handle it, and it got you upset." The comment implies that my negative experience at the show was my fault, and it implies that I'm the one who's wrong here for expecting to not have to be afraid at a show, when the jerks who made it unsafe are the ones who are really responsible.

What I should have said to this person is, "No, it didn't make me uncomfortable, it made me angry." Yes, it makes me angry that I'm scared at shows. It makes me angry that I have to watch other girls leave, or move away from the front of the room, because they seem like they're scared, too.

It makes me angry that when guys act that way, I want to ask them to stop, and to be considerate, but that I don't because I'm scared of them hurting me, and I'm scared of all the other people at the show ganging up on me, and I worry that I'll ruin the show for everyone. It makes me angry because I don't want to be that girl who worries about ruining a show when she's knows rationally that none of this is her fault.

It makes me angry that at both of these shows, the bands didn't say anything to try and calm the crowd down. They didn't ask the audience to be considerate. They just let it happen.

It makes me angry that these guys feel entitled to take up all the space at a show; that I've been socialized, as a girl, to constantly think of everyone else's comfort and safety, and that I would thusly never dream of diving into an unsuspecting crowd of singing kids because I wouldn't want to hurt them, while these guys couldn't give less of a fuck.

And it makes me angry that sexists like this blogger don't want to do anything about violence at shows, that they think it's how shows are supposed to be. It makes me angry that that blogger basically said to me, "yes, they are entitled to that dangerous behavior, and you just have to put up with it or stop going to shows."

"Oh, and you got started to feel uncomfortable?" implies that the show, and what happened there, was normal, but I was not. It implies that men's violent behavior is 'natural' -- really, she might as well have shrugged and said "Boys will be boys" -- and that I shouldn't have expected anything different. To act as if such behavior is normal and acceptable is to buy into oppressive gender stereotypes, and perpetuate the sexism that tries to keep girls out of scenes and away from shows.

Violent moshing, crowd surfing and other poor behavior is not normal, 'natural', or acceptable; it's the result of a society telling its men that they are expected to do stupid, dangerous things and let other people worry about the consequences. And if it's not natural, that means that we can change it. We can have safer shows, we can hold people accountable, and we can have a space where we aren't scared. But if we want it, we have to demand it. We have to speak up, myself included -- but in order for that to happen, we have to feel safe enough to speak honestly about these issues.

How do we make that happen? No really, I'm asking all of you.

14 comments:

Jessica said...

I have to agree with you; the subtext of the comment implied emotionality, leading me to the same conclusion you had. Look, I've been front row at a hard rock show where this stuff happens. It was in California, and the audience refused to let it happen. Maybe it was because I am a small girl, but several male and larger females did their best to cage me in such that I didn't get broken ribs from the rest of the crowd pushing and acting like manic hooligans. As music lovers, we have an obligation to do what is possible for everyone to enjoy the show, even if the band sucks or the crowd is wrong for the show. If we like the band, then we fight harder so that said-band gets the support they deserve.

The two bands you allude to really short-changed themselves. Maybe one audience member doesn't make a difference, but several do.

sandares said...

Take me to the next show... Reading this made me real angry. I wish more than anything that you or anyone else hadn't gone through that.
I know more violence doesn't help the situation but even if I had to walk home bloody and with a limp I would have been glad that some jerk got my fist mark on his face.

EHR said...

There are, I would be willing to bet, a lot of people who feel the way you do, and not just women. My husband periodically tells me the story of when he was at a concert and people were crowd-surfing, so he and his (male) friend were getting kicked in the head. Finally, one guy fell on the ground and my husband's friend started kicking him out of frustration.

Personally, I always wore spikes on my wrist at shows (before I stopped going to any that would attract any kind of crowd) so that I could keep people out of my personal space more effectively. Guys who tried to rub up on me as well as moshers or other space-hoggers got a jab in whatever body part they unwisely got closest to me; none of them ever figured out where it was coming from, and all of them either moved someplace else or stopped. So while I wouldn't normally advocate violence, I think it is absolutely warranted when it's in self-defense, and I think you could get away with it too.

It would be really nice, though, if we didn't have to worry about those things. My husband has also told me about a Bikini Kill concert he went to where they stopped playing and had all of the women come to the front. If I ever get over my stagefright and actually have a reason to play live some more, I'm totally going to do the same thing - and not let people mosh.

I hope your arm feels better soon.

Star Beat Music said...

The worst violence I read about in this entry was you verbally attacking an innocent person who tried to help you, who asked a simple question. Flat, condescending monotone, as you interpret it or not, the person asked an honest question that should not have been taken harshly. Sometimes the way people say things come out wrong but the core of what they are saying is simple. Don't be so quick to assume. You blew this question out of context. Perhaps that person just simply genuinely cared about how you felt, focusing the problem away from how the situation to focus on you. Perhaps she just wanted to provide you comfort.

Star Beat Music said...

How can you say: “sexists like this blogger don't want to do anything about violence at shows”? How do you know? That is quite the statement. This person is not a sexist. If you really knew her, then you would know this and not have taken her question the way you did. Your interpretation was mistaken. Get to know a person before you judge someone and make leaps and assumptions about what someone is.

Star Beat Music said...

When someone is bothered or hurt, they attack the person closest to them. This is a normal response. The person that feels threatened in any way will attack the first person they see, even if days later. In this case that person was trying to help, but you didn't see that. If the situation was that bad and you were in genuine fear, then you should have sought help, not retreated. Don't let these same incidents pass by. Speak to someone who can help directly. Find the person in charge and let them know what's going on. Be active. Ask for help. It does suck that these shows bring unwanted idiots who think it's ok to disrupt other people's good times. I do resent the behavior of the crowd. Maybe she's been hit by idiots at shows too and doesn't like that behavior.

The Post-Apocalyptic Photographer said...

I think you missed the point, Star Beat Music, but then again, it is easier to pick at small details rather than acknowledge the greater message.

jamie said...

@ Jess: Thanks for getting why I interpreted the comment that way. Also, I had a similar experience at a huge Jimmy Eat World Show! I felt way safer there! I have mixed feelings about that, and don't know if I want to examine that conundrum further.

@Sandares: Your anger at the problem, for anyone who has ever had to deal with it, means the world to me. Can't wait to talk about it more.

@ EHR: Aw, thanks. My arm is doing alright. And thanks for reminding me that's it not just an issue for women. You have my full support and encouragement, if that helps your stagefright at all! If you play again, I hope to be at one of those gigs where you give the call for girls to come to the front.

jamie said...

@ Star Beat Music: I didn't 'verbally attack' anyone. In fact, my whole blog post was about how I didn't actually say anything because I was too afraid.

Even if I had yelled at someone, you really think that that's the worst violence in this entry? And not when two red-headed girls got slammed into a wall by a drunk guy who was at least a foot taller and 50 pounds heaver than them? Really?

That trivializes everything I've written about here, to say that it wasn't as bad as a strongly-worded blog post. So does telling me that my interpretation is wrong and that I "blew the question out of context." To say that I blew the question of context is to basically say "You're reading too much into it". Which is how sexists and misogynists have been dismissing women and their concerns since we started questioning things.

I didn't interpret the comment as one of support or comfort because nothing about those words were supportive. The comment was a question, and it felt to me like the speaker was questioning my feelings, which isn't supportive at all.

That interpretation of the comment is based on previous communications with said blogger. She's said/typed a few things, on different occasions, that have made me feel like she's not interested in feminist issues. Even if she isn't actively sexist, she seems really unaware of how complex feminism and feminist issues are, especially in a DIY context, and especially in terms of language and communication.

And as for your final comment: again, you invalidate my experience, and you condescend to me when you tell me that I was just upset because of the show, and imply that I didn't have a right to be angry over what was said to me. You also condescend to me when you question whether or not I felt genuine fear, and then say what I should have done if I were really afraid.

It's not that I disagree with those suggestions; they actually do seem like the best way to handle a violent crowd. But they ring a little bit hollow, considering the other things you've said.

@ The Post Apocalyptic Photographer: Thanks for reading and commenting! I've heard good things about your blog, can't wait to check it out.

jamie said...

@ Star Beat Music: I didn't 'verbally attack' anyone. In fact, my whole blog post was about how I didn't actually say anything because I was too afraid.

Even if I had yelled at someone, you really think that that's the worst violence in this entry? And not the when two red-headed girls got slammed into a wall by a drunk guy who was at least a foot taller and 50 pounds heaver than them? Really?

That trivializes everything I've written about here, to say that it wasn't as bad as a strongly-worded blog post. So does telling me that my interpretation is wrong and that I "blew the question out of context." To say that I blew the question of context is to basically say "You're reading too much into it". Which is how sexists and misogynists have been dismissing women and their concerns since we started questioning things.

jamie said...

@ Star Beat Music: I didn't interpret the comment as one of support or comfort because nothing about those words were supportive. The comment was a question, and it felt to me like the speaker was questioning my feelings, which isn't supportive at all.

That interpretation of the comment is based on previous communications with said blogger. She's said/typed a few things, on different occasions, that have made me feel like she's not interested in feminist issues. Even if she isn't actively sexist, she seems really unaware of how complex feminism and feminist issues are, especially in a DIY context, and especially in terms of language and communication.

jamie said...

@ Star Beat Music: And as for your final comment: again, you invalidate my experience, and you condescend to me when you tell me that I was just upset because of the show, and imply that I didn't have a right to be angry over what was said to me. You also condescend to me when you question whether or not I felt genuine fear, and then say what I should have done if I were really afraid.

It's not that I disagree with those suggestions; they actually do seem like the best way to handle a violent crowd. But they ring a little bit hollow, considering the other things you've said.

@ The Post Apocalyptic Photographer: Thanks for reading and commenting! I've heard good things about your blog, can't wait to check it out.

punksexism said...

Brilliant post! I just discussed this recently on my "sexism in punk" blog:

http://punksexism.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/bonus-ism-ableism-in-the-punk-scene/

jamie said...

@ punksexism: Thanks so much for your comment! And hot damn, your blog seems amazing. Can't wait to read more! I'm also going to add it to my blogroll, and hope to reference it in a post soon!