(Photo by Stephen Yang)
“SHOW YOUR TITS! SHOW YOUR TITS!”
This is the refrain I heard at my first ‘punk’ show. I was 13 and it was the first time that my parents agreed to let me go to a show with my best friend Ian and his mom driving us. I heard this whenever a girl would crowd surf or try to dance. I didn’t understand why people would yell this or why the girls who did lift up their shirts looked so embarrassed or guilty afterwards, if it was something they wanted to do. Let’s start out by clarifying that I don’t consider this a real punk show now. Sum 41 was the headliner.
That isn’t the same scene that I call home today. I feel grateful every time I walk into a show space and find zines about immigrants’ rights, albeism, and feminism. It’s really amazing that through this sort of do-it-yourself/do-it-together ethic we’ve managed to loosely knit together a family for a lot of folks who didn’t feel welcome in other crowds. Sometimes though, there are circumstances where a zine library or a “safe space” sign isn’t enough. We have to be ready to create dialogue and really challenge the actions that oppress us, or be willing to listen and try to educate ourselves and one another even if we aren’t the ones who are feeling oppressed. It’s daunting sometimes to speak up about a situation that makes me feel inferior or alienated, because I don’t like to be thought of as someone who complains, or isn’t strong enough to roll with the punches. Especially if I know that my band mates, or male friends, won’t be about to relate to me. I think this is all part of the problem. If there isn’t discussion on all sides, there can never be any resolution.
We can’t just say that we’re past sexism. Or racism, homophobia, or classism for that matter. As long as these injustices exist in the dominant ideology we will have to fight to disarm them. Through the mainstream, small occurrences of hatred are slipped into everyday life, phrases, and terms. This language is enough to alienate certain groups of people and is casual enough to go by unnoticed. I notice sexism when I see fliers with hyper-sexualized women used for advertising, and when I hear a guy from one of the bands say, “I wanted to fuck that girl, but she’s a bitch.” I don’t feel included when we get to a venue and I’m the only one asked if I’m really in the band, or when a man comes up to me to ask where else I’m tattooed. And it’s hard not to notice when we play a show and someone comes up to everyone except me afterwards to say “good job.” I know that these occurrences are well outnumbered by amazing experiences, but it isn’t any less unnerving to watch the guy who just came up to me asking about what we sound like walk over to one of my male friends and laugh saying, “Just trying to get some pussy.”
This isn’t a call for a separatist punk scene. Quite the contrary. I think that it’s extremely important to have men involved in creating a women-friendly punk scene. Guys can relate to other guys on another level. It’s crucial to have a unified front when it comes to building safe spaces and show spaces. We’ve created such an inspiring community, and there’s so much more potential. There isn’t any reason that we have to accept anything because it’s “just the way it’s always been”. The DIY scene bloomed out of this same realization. Our community is able to grow because of the folks who don’t hesitate when they’re told that something is going to be hard work. It might not be any overnight resolution, but if we can be honest enough to say what we want, and when we feel threatened, and can be brave enough to speak up, we can make it known that there isn’t any room for sexism here. The reason that we are able to maintain such a brilliant community is because of our ability to communicate and support one another. You can see it in every basement that sweats and swells with people singing together to a band, or in the tiny kitchen shows, where the handful of folks sit quietly and captivated. You can hear it in the conversations afterwards, the clumsy introductions and the friendships that follow.
In order to overcome any sort of oppression, we have to understand that if we do nothing to challenge it, we’re providing the grounds for it to grow. Sexism and patriarchy are things that people participate in. While it’s intimidating to be called out, being proactive and trying to understand how you’ve wronged someone (intentionally or accidentally), will take us farther than being defensive, or dismissive. I once read “what each of us needs to do about what we don’t know is look for it.” It’s simple, but if it could be applied to this arms race for the last word in, there would be more room for discussion, and less time wasted making women feel like their personal experiences are invalid. Something I’ve noticed, since the inception of the series on sexism in punk, is that a lot of the folks arguing against what the contributors have to say use sexism and moshing at shows interchangeably. While sexism and detrimental ideas of masculinity can exist in the pit, it isn’t the isolated occurrence. I love it when I can see people dancing and screaming and singing along, but I’ve reminded them to look out for each other, and make sure that no one’s getting hurt. If someone’s down, help them up. We’re all in this together.
I believe that the punk scene cries out for more ladies to be involved. Women and female-bodied persons are inherently valuable to our community, just as men are. There is strength in our diversity. If we all wanted to participate in the conventional, monotonous everyday, full of hypocrisy and bigotry, we wouldn’t have built our way out of it. We wouldn’t have the scars and the dirt under our fingernails to say, “I worked for this”. We built this ourselves, and we’ve threaded our way out of the institutions and the calamity that excluded us, and sought a place to call home. That’s why it feels unsafe when that same racist, sexist, heteronormative, classist, ableist, ageist bullshit we’ve struggled so hard to escape makes its way into our community. We are different. Our experiences are valid. Everyone’s are. Our dialogue and the decisions we make affect more than ourselves. We can challenge negative behavior. We can influence one another in positive ways. We can eradicate bigotry from our scene. And once we’ve accomplished a truly safe space in the punk scene, we can have more shows, more friends, better turn outs, more bands, and more grrls.
Dianna Settles is an artist, vegan food enthusiast, and volunteer coordinator for a bicycle co-op in Atlanta. For more information about The Wild you can visit www.thewildatl.com and facebook.com/thewildatl for tour dates and more. She has a food/travel blog that she’s sort of bad at updating littleroadhome.tumblr.com. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.