End the Boys Club: Live Music is for Everyone

Recently I went to see a band that I love play at a small venue in Fitzroy. From the moment I entered the venue I felt uneasy. The room was packed. While walking the five meters from the door to the bar I was pushed and shoved three times. It seemed almost everyone in the venue was having difficulty standing up straight. This was not a comfortable crowd to be in.

By the time the second song had finished a few men towards the front had begun to push one another. Within seconds the whole front section of the crowd became a blur of men throwing themselves into each other as the rest of us were forced to take a step back to avoid being knocked to the ground. It became more of a spectacle than the actual performance.

Though I (and many women) have been in this situation countless times before, it never ceases to infuriate me. I love going to see live music, so when a gig is tainted by this absurd form of toxic masculinity, I get more than a little pissed off. Firstly, it’s very distracting and irritating to watch. Secondly it’s dangerous, especially for women and those less physically able or smaller in the crowd.

The dangers of moshing are well known and injuries are very common, not to mention a few fatalities. In 1996, a teenage girl was crushed to death by a moshing crowd at a Smashing Pumpkins gig in Dublin, Ireland. The band took a public stance against moshing and warned crowds against moshing at gigs.

Since my frustrating gig experience I spoke to several other gig-loving-women about their own experiences:

“I have countless incidences where I have physically and defensively had to push back to maintain a sense of personal space within a crowd as well as recently having to save a number of people from some idiot crowd surfing falling towards a group of girls. I feel slightly tougher than others so as well as feeling uncomfortable I also feel responsible for protecting those around me.” – Rhea

“First relevant thing I remember was an underage gig in my hometown where I was with a group of female friends (we were all maybe 14-15, if that) and one of them was groped on the arse as the crowd all pushed and shoved to get out the same exit. Guy was clearly over 18 and had taken full advantage of the crowd situation, but my friend is a boss and turned around and yelled at him in front of everyone. No one else reacted though.” – Meg

“I was at the front of a show and got king hit before the show even started by some moron. No one even batted an eyelid. They just said I shouldn’t have been standing there. It triggered something very dark in me.

“I also got molested in a mosh pit when I was 14 at a festival. A guy thought it was totally okay to put his hands up my skirt and when I told him to fuck off he said I was asking for it wearing a skirt.” – Ruby

“I was at a gig alone and there was a guy in front of me who was clearly wasted….When the gig finished I went to buy a t-shirt…on my way back down stairs I was moving against the crowd streaming out…until I came across the same guy who’d been standing in front of me. He wouldn’t let me pass and started aggressively telling me I couldn’t get through….His friends pretty meekly told him to let me through, he still refused so I pushed passed him. Once I was on the other side of him he turned around and punched me in the back. I turned around and yelled to a very crowded room “that guy just fucking punched me in the back!” no one said a word and they kept climbing the stairs. I think the lack of support from those around me was as bad as the incident itself.” – Julia

“I realised I always hold my arms in front of my chest- like straight up with forearms facing outwards as a defence mechanism- like a shield when I’m weaving through a crowd. It’s something that sounds fine but we really shouldn’t have to do but it’s “just in case”.” – Alice*

“I think often going to shows alone means I often get approached by men in particular. Often they’re just being friendly enough but I’ve had encounters of me making me feeling super uncomfortable by invading my personal space and one particular time, having a guy put his hand up my dress. Yuck.” – Holly

“One time a man in front of me in a tame mosh was getting very physical and jumping and falling onto people seemingly for the fun of throwing his weight around, ruining the gig for 15+ peeps… a boy I was dating told me he thought things like this happened because men are naturally more physical and athletic and need an outlet for their physical behaviour, so if they’re not doing enough exercise, they’re likely to get into fights and engage in physical behaviour at gigs.” – Angie

Last year after Falls Festival there were numerous reports of inappropriate touching and assault in the mosh pit area. Following the reports, Detective Inspector Steve Burk from Bellerive police released the statement: “It’s quite clear that the general belief of a lot of young people is that being inappropriately touched by someone else is what happens in the mosh pit.” This attitude needs to change. After similar circumstances at the Tasmanian Falls Festival, the Tasmanian police urged that “We would like to see the conversation turn from telling our women and girls to be on guard and vigilant, to telling our boys and men to have some respect and stop taking these liberties”. Agreed.

But it is not only physical assault or rowdy mosh pits that can cause people to feel uncomfortable in a crowd; sometimes it is more subtle signs of misogyny. This time last year I went to see a country musician perform from America. The second song he played was an old folk song that included the lyrics “Sometimes I think that you’re too sweet to die / And another time I think you oughta be buried alive.” As the song ended a woman from the crowd yelled out for the artist to please confirm he’s not endorsing violence against women. She was met with hostile moaning and eye-rolling from the crowd. Later in the set he turned in her direction and asked if he’s been forgiven yet to which she replied by asking if he was aware of what’s going on in this country at the moment. Again the crowd reacted, verbally harassing the woman until she eventually left the room. The musician went on to sing songs with lyrics such as “I never met a pretty girl I didn’t wanna kill…”.

I was appalled by the reaction of the crowd and felt very tense and uncomfortable for the rest of the set. But it’s important to remember that those who deliberately tried to intimidate and disregard this woman may not have been the majority; but they were certainly the most vocal. As is often the case in a rowdy mosh pit – it’s often only one or two who initiate this hyper aggression, but it grows to impact everyone around them.

But it’s not all bad! There are several groups and individuals who are working hard to make gigs and crowds safer places for ALL genders. One of the first and most well-known cases of this was the ‘Girls to the front’ movement, started by 90’s punk band, Bikini Kill. When the band began touring in the early 90’s, spreading their riot grrrl philosophy, their fans would get literally pushed away from the stage by the predominantly male crowds. Singer Kathleen Hanna and her band decided to change that. At the start of each gig they would call for “girls to the front”, encouraging a safer space for women and girls at gigs. This gesture is mirrored today by bands like Melbourne’s Camp Cope.

Similarly, UK campaign Girls Against is working to raise awareness of, and ultimately end, sexual harassment at gigs and concerts. It was set up in 2015 by three teenage girls – Hann, Anna and Bea (all 17 at the time). Another great initiative is Good Night Out; an independent worldwide campaign that works with clubs, bars, pubs and venues to deal with, tackle and prevent harassment on nights out. Founded in London, the organisation offers training and workshops as well as posters, which state: “We want you to have a good night out. If something or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter how minor it may seem, you can report it to any member of staff and they will work with you to make sure it doesn’t have to ruin your night.”

Similar groups are making waves in Australia; in mid-2015 LISTEN and SLAM (Save Live Australia’s Music) joined forces with Jane Garrett, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation to create the live music sexual harassment task force and take a stand against this behaviour. In September last year Camp Cope created the campaign It Takes One to help make Australian live music safer and more inclusive for everyone. They released a video with several well-known artists and music industry figures encouraging gig-goers to call out men behaving badly. (See below).

There’s a difference between dancing or swaying along to a live show, and pushing others just for the sake of it. Live gigs can be an incredibly uniting experience, when everyone is there for one purpose; to enjoy the music. But if your way of ‘dancing’ or ‘enjoying the gig’ is physically or mentally impacting others, that needs to stop. Music venues should be a safe space where everyone feels comfortable.

When I spoke to different women about their experiences with assault and toxic masculinity at gigs, there was one common theme; onlookers did nothing. If you see inappropriate behaviour at gigs, call it out or tell the venue staff. The more this happens, the less tolerated this behaviour will become and the ‘boys club’ attitude at live shows will hopefully begin to subside. This culture may be common, but it is by no means acceptable. The positive side from sharing our stories was that we were able to do so in a safe and supporting way. So talk to each other, share your stories, realise that you’re not alone and that together we can change this universal phenomenon. Keep on rockin’.

*Name changed

Maddy Crehan
Maddy Crehan is a Social Media Officer at the Victorian Women’s Trust, currently working on Rosie, a space where young women can connect with the best web resources out there, helping them to navigate life’s tricky situations. Rosie has a range of tips, links and videos all centered around a theme of respect – for your body & mind, in your relationships, at work and for the world we live in.

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