Friday, June 10, 2011

Exile in Lon Guyland.

When I wrote this blog regularly, my posts typically focused on events and musicians based in Brooklyn, and I do sort of still end up there a lot. But as part of my 'quest to heal' or whatever and figure out what to do with my life, I've been visiting my friend Cary a lot out in Long Island.

Cary and I while away the hours watching Daria, talking about sports and philosophy, going through his record collection, and taking the occasional derive. Most of the time, his housemates are there, so I end up getting to hang out with them as well.

A couple weeks ago we were in Cary's living room when he started telling me about the recent RVIVR/Iron Chic show out there. Apparently the crowd got very unruly and violent during Iron Chic's set and the band was unable to calm things down, which bummed Cary out. But RVIVR's Matt Cannino wasn't having it: during their set, it seems that he chastised the crowd, and also called out the Long Island scene's culture of sexist exclusion. He referenced the song "Killing Me Softly", and asked everyone in the crowd to consider the song's themes of appropriation, and he referred explicitly to this coming weekend's Long Island Fest, and the lack of female musicians on the bill.

A great live video of RVIVR, in case you've never had the pleasure.

According to one of Cary's housemates, who was in one of the other bands on the bill that night, Cannino's comments drew the ire of the organizers of Long Island Fest. If I understand correctly, there was a heated confrontation after the show between Cannino and one of the offended parties.

While this whole story kind of sucks, I feel like it's pretty awesome that Cary and his housemates -- both male and female -- and also Matt Cannino were unafraid to critique something that they thought needed calling out. I listened in Cary's living room as he and his housemates expressed their appreciation of Matt's onstage and off-stage comments, and further criticisms of the scene, Long Island Fest, and male defensiveness. It made me feel lucky to know them.

I felt even more lucky later that week when I went to a show in Hempstead, and Cary and his friend Dave joined me in discussing the matter with a Defensive Male. Well, actually -- it's more like Dave tried to have the conversation with this guy, and Cary and I joined him. The first thing I heard was this Long Islander saying "I don't understand why you're making it about there not being girls in the bands. Isn't that putting that before the music? Isn't it supposed to be about the music?"

Dave and Cary were gracious enough to let me respond, even though this guy wasn't really talking to me. I told him that it's not just about Long Island Fest, but that it's about the larger, structural issues that prevent girls from participating fully in their local arts communities. Bro said "Okay, fine, I understand that," and I said "I don't really think that you do," and he said, "Okay, fine." I told him that bands and artists have a responsibility to their audience and community, and he said "Okay, fine," to that, too. He was civil, but just barely, and though I don't even know this person, it felt to me like he was pointedly refusing to listen to me or consider anything that any of us said.

I feel grateful that Cary and Dave let me speak, and that they supported me. I feel grateful that they made their own arguments, and that they challenged him. They didn't try to shut me up, and they didn't try to shield me, either. They held to their critiques, and they didn't back off when this guy said he felt they were 'ganging up' on him.

I might have been most grateful for Dave's final comment though. He said something to the effect of, "Three days and not a SINGLE girl in the lineup? What kind of message does that send?" This question cuts straight to what I believe is the crux of the matter. Both Cary and Dave asked why there aren't any bands with female musicians playing Long Island Fest when the island definitely has its share of talented female performers. Defensive Male claimed that it just happened that way, that it's just a coincidence, that it's not his fault that none of these bands have girls in them -- but we know that that isn't entirely true.

Three days of bands comprised entirely of dudes is absolutely NOT an accurate representation of Long Island's scene. Worse, that complete lack of representation of female musicians actively discourages would-be and aspiring Long Island girl musicians from getting involved, whether or not Defensive Male gets that. (I'm still pretty sure that he doesn't.)

Remember those larger, structural issues I mentioned earlier? Well, this is one of them: the disproportionately low numbers of girls involved in music aren't given the credit they deserve, they aren't represented, and it keeps other girls from trying to participate. If you're already disadvantaged, if you lack support, and then you don't see other girls managing to get onstage and makes themselves heard, why would you think it's possible? Why would you keep trying?

It's because of this myth that punk and hardcore is only for straight white male middle class audiences, and the continuing limited visibility for female artists in the genre, that I really want to continue writing here despite how absurdly complicated my life is right now. I'm certainly not the only person talking about these issues, but there is strength in numbers, and I want to contribute my voice.

But in case I can't: I want to use this space to encourage any one who might be reading who feels like they are being marginalized in their scene to say something about it. Because trust me, you are not alone. If you see something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable or disempowered, say something about it, somehow. Because that's how you'll find other people who feel the same way and who will support you. My experience is that that's how you stop being and/or feeling like an exile, wherever you are.


Bri said...

jamie, i never want you to think your writing is bad! (i saw you mention so on the link to this on tumblr). your posts always inspire me. they are critical and smart while still being on a level that is accessible to many. i do hope you'll continue writing and making your voice heard, but at the pace that you are comfortable with.

i am so happy you have friends who support you like that, too. i found out recently that the blog post i made criticizing the local scene was read by several of my friends, yet none of them are discussing it with me. instead, they're talking about it behind my back and apparently are upset. it's just so frustrating. but again, this is why i find your writing important- because it reminds me that even when my friends aren't being totally supportive, there are other people who agree with me/know what i am going through.

and just...ah, rvivr. they are crawling to the top of my favorite bands list.

jamie said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Bri, and for your support/reblogging.

It sounds like your friends are really resistant to opening up a productive dialogue about what you thought and felt about the Joie de Vivre show, and that's super-upsetting to me. But I'm glad that what I had to say resonated with you.

I hope that I get to hear more about your town and your experiences sometime soon, as much I hope to hear music from you soon! Your post about that show put me in touch with a lot of issues I was already thinking about, if that makes sense, and really helped to motivate me to start writing again. So thanks for being awesome and speaking up.