Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Note: Before preceding, please be aware that sexual assault and abuse are mentioned throughout this article. I also refer frequently to men and women. For the sake of inclusivity, I ask that readers keep in mind that I am referring to cisgender men and female-identifying individuals. I would also like to acknowledge and include non-binary folks, as they can also be just as deeply affected by the cis-men in the music world.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to shows, staying up late getting a few bruises in a mosh pit then going to school at 7 am the next day. It was and still is what I lived for. But things have changed, or at least I have. My world shifted as realization grew over me like vines, telling me that as a woman going to shows, I’ll never be safe, not even from my idols. Even with my dad sitting nearby, after having gotten me into some 21+ show, boys in bands would boldly hit on me, even if I visibly looked around 16 or if I clearly told them my age. My dad shaped my music taste so I was never ashamed or embarrassed to point him out as the great cool dad who brought me to the show on a weekday. I never understood why the band boys would slowly slip away from me once they saw I had a protective male figure nearby. I figured these men could do no wrong. They looked immaculate on stage so they must be offstage too. Even if they weren’t, they could do whatever they wanted and it would be okay because they were so cool that it made my high school head spin. Soon I realized these men in bands were doing more than some drugs backstage and leading pretty older girls on. No, they were targeting girls like me, young and naive, sometimes already even conveniently wrapped around their finger.
Every woman I have spoken to who either is a musician, a person who operates within the music industry, such as myself, or is simply a dedicated fan, has endured trauma at the hands of some guy that’s a musician. It’s almost expected. I’m starting to question whether or not I can trust my favorite artists anymore, or even the local ones who I compliment casually after their set at some house show. They all seem so nice until you find out, with a knot forming in your belly, that they’re not. It’s hard knowing you shook a hand that you should’ve broken. This realm I choose to reside in is intimidating and sometimes threatening, yet I continue to choose it every time. I choose it because the walls of a music space have felt sacred to me for as long as I can remember and I refuse to let anyone take that from me. I can’t recall when I realized these idealized temples weren’t always safe, or at least not as safe as I thought. I think it built up over time, filling me like lava starting at my toes and boiling up to the top of my head. I could get into the specifics of all the recent stories exposing abusers in the music industry but the list would be endless. Or I could talk about the first time (to my realization) that an older band boy looked at me the way a predator eyes its prey. I was 16, in a blue velvet dress that took me years to wear again. I was mature for my age, according to him at least. He played the bass and he wanted me. I remember the butterflies, feeling them throw themselves with a flourish against the inners of my stomach. For the sake of not resurfacing trauma or triggering others as well as myself, I will let the readers fill in the blanks. Now, I’m not saying I know what the answer is. I’m also not saying every guy in a band is evil or a predator—I know wonderful individuals that are willing to listen, learn, and make this music world a safer place for both underage and of age women. All I know is we need to do better.
The next thing I want to get into is what it’s like just being in the crowd at a show. I notice the girls at these events, afraid to be loud or push as hard as the men do in the pit. I notice how fragility is forced unto us. Still, at the same time, we are treated with a subtle type of violence that just doesn’t feel right. At a certain point, it becomes more than getting a bloody nose in a mosh pit from catching an elbow. It’s the men whose aim is a little too precise and who grab you differently than they do their fellow man. But how do we talk about these issues when they’re subtle enough to go unaddressed yet not unnoticed? The answer may be hidden somewhere under murky water but we must be willing to dive in, even if there is no end in sight.
In November of 2019, I attended a show of a local Chicago band called Twin Peaks. They’ve been a favorite of mine for many years now and I have always enjoyed their live shows. However, they have a lot of male fans and the pits get incredibly rowdy. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m sure we’ve established, I love me a good mosh pit and am not afraid to take a punch or crowd surf into/over the barricade rail (yes that happened—ouch). With that being said, things have gotten questionable in their crowds. I distinctly remember one of the members on stage noticing the men in the crowd becoming too violent with the women and calling it out. It’s a complicated situation though because exactly how much can they really do from the stage? Something I greatly respect is a tweet that came from them a month later in response to a woman (on a now-private account) stating, “Luv Twin Peaks forever. [I] don’t love the new male fan base which yelled that my friend is “a loud bitch” and the other 30 something-year-old men who kept approaching young girls insisting that they should crowd surf because he wanted to cop a feel.” Twin Peaks, that same day replied, “Giving this a lot of thought. What are some ways we can make sure this doesn’t happen? It’s hard to tell from [the] stage when the rowdiness has taken a turn/has gone too far. Don’t think any1 wants us to shut down all rowdiness cause most of the time people are kind & just have fun w/ it.” They continued in a second tweet, “You guys are what keep us doing what we love to do and we are here to listen to any and all suggestions. Bottom line, your safety, and security is incredibly important to us. We want anyone to be able to attend a show of ours and leave feeling welcomed and safe.” Suggestions started to roll in in the comment section, some recommending that the band give a speech before each show, indicating that if inappropriate behavior is observed, the perpetrators will be kicked out, or other options such as a number to text if you feel unsafe at the show, turning up the house lights, posting signs with guidelines at the entrance, and in-crowd security. All of these are good ideas and although there is no definite answer, this is a question all bands (and even fans) need to be asking. Like I said before, I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not sure that I ever will. The thing I do know for certain, however, is that the conversation needs to happen and keep happening. Every minuscule change is enough to save someone. It’s enough to have saved 16-year-old me in her blue velvet dress.
It all happened gradually, at least for me. It wasn’t distinct enough to be burning in my brain, playing on repeat. If it ever was, I submerged it in freezing water until I ever forgot it was there, perhaps thanks to nothing but numbness. Maybe willful ignorance. It’s something to learn over time, most often the hard way. I wish I had read an article like this when I was trusting every man with a pretty voice and an oh-so-edgy cigarette. I’m sure they existed somewhere, but the community wasn’t nearly as strong, or loud, as it is now. Now, survivors are shifting their own shadow of shame unto those who cursed them with it in the first place, weaponizing their grief and fear in the bravest of ways, taking the cowards to a long-overdue war. Music spaces should no longer be a place where predators feel comfortable—they should be terrified to even come near the havens we craft. I don’t know if 16-year-old me would have accepted the help that my current self would offer to her if I could. All I (and we) can do is try and salvage a world where everyone can feel safe in the space surrounded by the walls I’ve considered sacred for as long as I’ve danced within them.