Even a Feminist Punk DIY Show Is Not a Safe Space for Female Music Fans
After an overpriced vegan dinner in Silver Lake, my friends and I park half a mile from a hidden warehouse DIY venue. It’s around 9:45 p.m. The six of us are trekking to the venue, each in our own variation of chunky Doc Martens or stained high-top Converse. We carry cans of PBR in the pockets of our second-hand denim jackets and windbreakers. We pass barred windows and chain-link fences and turn down a narrow alley.
Sounds a little dangerous, right? But we are un-harassed on the dark streets of L.A. Not a single cat call or whistle. All the creepy sexist shit starts after we enter the venue — to see a feminist punk band.
We get to the front of the line, hand over our five-buck cover and get smiley faces drawn on the back of our hands with red Sharpies. We hang around outside the warehouse doors waiting for the headliner, Chastity Belt.
Chastity Belt is an all-female feminist band from Seattle. They have a song called “Cool Slut.” Do I really need to say anything else about them? It makes sense to go to a Chastity Belt show expecting the crowd to be filled with friendly girls (cool sluts) — in other words, a safe and nonthreatening environment for a group of girls in their early 20s like us.
I’m not expecting four San Diego State bros, who apparently didn’t come for the band, to corner my friends and me for 20 minutes, pestering us with stupid questions. Have you guys been here before? Have you guys been drinking all night? What are you guys doing after the show?
We are openly bitchy; we didn’t come here to talk to boys, let alone have them hit on us. Their ulterior motives are obvious. Why else would they care about how much we’d been drinking?
We laugh awkwardly and give them one-word answers. Eventually they get the hint and stop pestering us, at least for the time being. Not the worst thing that can happen, but still annoying and unwanted. And it's about to get worse.
Chastity Belt goes on and launches into “Drone,” and most of us head for the pit, except for my friend Jillian. During the set, the same four guys surround her. They’re egging each other on, smug smiles on their faces. Jillian is glancing around, as if she’s looking for an escape route. She’s clearly freaked out.
Things don’t improve over the next hour. Eve and Kaysi spend most of the night trying to escape a drunk guy who wanders in from the street. They keep backing away from him, and when Eve retreats to our group, he follows. He’s blundering around, rocking on his feet and mumbling incoherently. He rambles something about Eve being his daughter, trying to keep himself between her and the rest of us. Eve is clearly feeling hounded and doesn’t know how to respond. A bouncer eventually moves him out of the way — not because of what he is doing to Eve but because he’s blocking the exit. He finally slumps on the floor after loudly announcing he needs a joint.
With all the weird dudes prowling around, we naturally clump together for safety. Unsettled, we assume our best restless-bitch-faces and stand together on the floor. We are wary but determined to have a good time.
Then I feel hands around my waist. Sure enough, some stupid guy is groping me. He doesn’t even seem drunk. And it’s not that the crowd is so wild he has to brace himself against a stranger. This parasite is violating my space. I glare at him and stiffly tell him to get out of my face. “I’m sorry,” he tells me. “I didn’t know.” Later the same guy grabs my friend Selina’s arm, and she has to wrench it away and back out of his reach.
But come on: Guys should know. They can strut into any venue without feeling threatened, but their vulgarities and dogged advances are overtly menacing to girls. Their harassing, sexist behavior at DIY shows turns what should be a safe space into a dark room where men can victimize girls without consequence.
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It’s ironic that a group of girls can’t even feel safe at a feminist punk show. Like most women, my friends and I have been taught to be friendly, passive and polite. Pushing back requires mindful rebellion against the way girls are socialized to behave. I wanted to channel my inner Kathleen-Hanna-Bikini-Kill rage, but all I could manage was a small act of assertiveness, masking a shitload of fear.
I shouldn’t need to apologize for wanting to have fun with my friends without interruption. I shouldn’t have to tell other guys I have a boyfriend, just to get them to back off.
In the stand against “locker room talk,” we also have to fight the impulse to look the other way. DIY venues are supposed to be spaces of creative energy and safety for anyone. All of us have to channel Kathleen Hanna: security guards, band members, boys — not just the girls who are looking over their shoulder during their favorite band’s set.
Ladies, publicly shame guys who treat you like this at a show. And guys, if you see some other dude making his move, empower your female friends to respond with aggression. A girl should never feel obliged to be polite when a guy is trying to get at her. Not only will you end up having a better time, you’ll make the venue experience more agreeable for everyone.
That night Chastity Belt plays “Seattle Party” as their second encore. We are having a party tonight/We are inviting our best friends/So they can have a good time.
When the song is done, and the applause dies down, the venue clears out. We wait until the coast is clear, until the guys are gone, until it feels safe enough to head through the dark streets back to our car.
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