I felt safe there because there were girls on stage, playing hard, fast, loud hardcore punk songs about being tired of feeling powerless and oppressed as women. I felt safe because I knew one of the vocalists from rock camp, and I knew that she was a cool kid and a dedicated feminist activist. I felt safe because there were lots of other volunteers in the other bands that played that night, and in the audience as well.
I didn't really think that anything dramatic would happen to me at the show, but I did feel like even if something unfortunate did happen, it would not go unnoticed. I trusted that those girls I'd volunteered with were not the types who would look the other way while anyone was getting hurt.
Those girls. Those girls who were already speaking up and demanding to be heard. Who were getting up on stage or dancing and pogoing in the crowd no matter how vulnerable it made them. Who were volunteering at rock camp and other places and encouraging other girls to do the same.
Those girls, and their bravery -- their willingness to speak up, to support those bands, hell, to just be feminist punks in a world that hates both -- was what made me feel safe. It was their willingness to act, to resist, to exist, and to do so vocally.
To say, "How we can make spaces feel safe enough so we can say when we don't feel safe?" doesn't make any sense, I get that now, after intense consideration of the issue. I get that it doesn't work that way. I get that you can't sit around waiting to feel safe, because that will never happen, or sit around trying to come up with what will make you feel that way, being silent until you figure it out. Because your silence won't protect you.
"Your silence will not protect you" is one of my favorite quotes from feminist literature of all time, and one that I say to myself frequently. I've been thinking about it a lot lately because Trophy wife sings those very words in their song "Sister Outsider", which I've been listening to on repeat for the past few weeks. Over the weekend, I managed to find the source of that quote, Audre Lorde's "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action", which is from her collection of essays called Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. I read it, and I found an even better, though less pithy quote:
"We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us."
If we want to feel safer, and if we want our friends, male and female, to feel safer at shows, and within the community at large, this is the work that we need to do. We need to learn to speak not when we are unafraid, but when we are afraid. We need to learn to speak in spite of fear, instead of waiting until whatever threat we perceive has passed.
And to whom should we speak, in spite of this fear? Most of the time, this blog is about asking questions that don't have any clear answers. But I try to provide solutions when I can, so here are some suggestions:
1. Tell all your friends. Talk to the people who care about you if you don't feel good at a show, or after a show, or about shows in general. If you have friends you hang out with at shows, tell them how you feel, and ask them if they ever feel that way. It might make you less alone, and you might come up with some strategies for dealing with show violence.
2. Get confrontational. If you're at a show and someone is doing something that bothers or scares you, just say so. If someone is blocking your view, bumping into you, or doing something else that gets in your personal space, say "Excuse me". If they start doing something that puts you and the other people in the crowd at risk -- moshing violently, crowd surfing, etc -- try to tell that person that's just not cool or right to risk injuring other people. This can be really scary, trust me, I know it is. But it's necessary.
Now when THAT fails: take some suggestions inspired by the Beastie Boys (the good stuff is at 1:20) :
3. Figure out who's running the show, literally... and talk to them about it. DIY spaces might be DIY, but they're still set up and run by someone, and that someone should be concerned with safety (if for no other reason than their own personal liability). If you don't feel safe at a show, ask the people who run the space to do something about it. If those people seem unmoved or unconcerned, don't go back to that space, and tell the people you know to avoid going to or booking shows in those spaces.
4. Reach out to the bands. I will admit that I regret not confronting the band that was onstage when my arm got bashed into last Thursday night. I saw them, talking and laughing it up together after their set, while those two redheaded girls who also got hurt sat outside, both shaking slightly. I wish I'd said, "Hey dudes, thanks for saying something when those kids started to get violent. Oh wait -- you didn't say anything. Nevermind."
...okay, so you don't have to be snarky or anything, but asking bands to speak on their audience's behalf is a good way to remind them that they do have the power and opportunity to talk about violence while onstage. Some bands will really think about it; I imagine others will dismiss your concerns or shirk their responsibility. If that happens, again, tell your friends and withdraw your support.
None of this is necessarily easy. I don't think it's easy for anyone, and I also know that some of us are introverts, and that a lot of us don't like or feel good at confrontation and public-type speaking. But this isn't about personality traits: this is about all of us learning to verbalize our needs and protect ourselves, regardless of our preferences. It's something we all need to work on, both for ourselves and our own safety, and for that of our communities.