FEATURE: Boundaries and Borders: Making the Gig Experience a Safer One for Women


Boundaries and Borders

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Making the Gig Experience a Safer One for Women


YOU can look at ways music has evolved through the years...


 PHOTO CREDIT: @jazminantoinette/Unsplash

and it is quite mind-blowing seeing the advances we have made. In terms of technology, there have been these amazing leaps and progressions. Not only are we able to access pretty much anything we like through streaming services but we can produce music from our bedrooms. That was not possible decades ago and, now, it is amazing what we are capable using basic technology and very little effort. In human terms, have we come as far as we should? Venues are becoming more attuned to the needs of different people. Many are making it easier for disabled patrons to get in and out and enjoy gigs like everyone else. In other areas, there are plans to help tackle anxiety and gigs and mean those who feel stressed and overwhelmed will be okay. I talked about Lewis Capaldi and his venture, LiveLive, and shall not tread over old ground – suffice to say, he is helping his anxious fans fight their fears and enjoy his music. Whilst one cannot patrol gigs and section off men from women, it seems that abuse and inappropriateness is something we have not got rid of. The problem extends to a small percentage of men but, when reading this article from The Guardian, it opened my eyes. I have known, for some time, there is abuse at gigs and many women feel unsafe. Even when the gigs have plenty of women attending, it can still feel very unsure and unsafe.

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I have been to a few gigs in my time and, for the most part, I attend small venues. You do get hassle and, when trouble brews, it is easier to intervene and separate those being hassled from those doing the hassling. It is not only groping and sexual abuse that happens at gigs. I have already mentioned Lewis Capaldi’s venture and the attempt at helping those with anxiety. Everyone should be able to enjoy gigs and not have to fear being overwhelmed or assaulted. The Guardian’s piece reveals that, despite some promising moves forward, things are still bad:

Gigs, festivals and nightclubs remain hotbeds of abuse and assault. Groping remains a huge problem at concerts, while one in five UK festival-goers – and two in five of all women under 40 who attended a festival – reported that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed at an event. There are also further questions of inclusivity: often venues, artists and promoters don’t take into account factors such as the mental wellbeing of attendees, wheelchair accessibility, how strobe-lights might affect those who are neuro-divergent, or even affordability”.

I feel anxiety and mental illnesses are hard to deal with in the case of gigs. It is quite complex and I hope, with time, there are ways and spaces where those most vulnerable and susceptible can go and feel safe. Those with disabilities are often excluded because venues are not set-up to accommodate them or there is not the necessary support.

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Maybe it will take a while before all venues change and make disabled access easier. It seems crazy that, with no real amendments needed, we still have abuse and problems at gigs. It is, of course, men who are the main problem and, as I say, there are only a small minority who are culpable. I have heard stories from women – artists and fans – who have been harassed, harangued and assaulted at gigs. Whether alcohol is involved or not – that is not an excuse and does not change a person – it seems like many women are avoiding gigs because they fear they will be assaulted. Returning to the aforemtioned article, there is hope that things can improve:

Good Night Out is a campaign that trains staff at venues, bars, pubs and festivals nationwide to deal with sexual harassment and assault. The organisers say all the venues they have worked with reached out to them first, which is a promising insight into conversations within the nightlife industry. Campaign co-director Jen Calleja agrees that expecting an immediate turnaround is not the way to create behavioural changes in these spaces: “You have to remain positive and hold on to a utopian prospect if you want social change, but we live in a society that is patriarchal, and that’s not just in these venues – so it means we have to start looking at taking education in schools on consent and relationships and how we treat people more seriously.”

Calleja is pragmatic about the likelihood of ending sexual assault for good in these spaces: “Just because we’ve trained venues, it doesn’t guarantee that harassment and assault won’t take place – what we’re doing is trying to improve the infrastructure around what will happen if you report it”.

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Those who feel groping and sexual inappropriateness at gigs is a small problem need to read articles and actually attended gigs. It is not the case of a few blokes getting lary and throwing their weight around: there are some serious instances where women are being assaulted and abused. Back when the Riot Grrrl movement of the early-1990s spawned bold icons like Kathleen Hana pushing women to the front, it seems we have moved back in many ways. I know there are gigs with women-only in the audience; others that have divisions where the men and women are separated and do not come into contact. I do like the idea that there are gigs exclusively for women because, as misconduct and assault continues, this is a way of avoiding it altogether. Where there are cases of serious assault and abuse, is it right that the well-behaved and conscientious men who attend gigs should be punished and isolated? If we have all-female gigs or put up borders to ensure men and women are kept apart, does this make gigs a less human space? There is that line we have to draw. If we make venues a space where everyone is being watched and there is security all over the place then it can make people nervous and means people are more inhibited. If things continue as they are then it means then there will be cases of assault and many women will stop going to gigs.

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Assaults at venues and festivals is quite high but it seems that a lot of cases are not being reported. Maybe there is an issue of fear or wanting to forget the incident. In any case, we know there has been a problem for years now. Maybe it is more prevalent at festivals and less easy to monitor and eradicate. I do think that alcohol plays a role but it is near-impossible deciding who will cause trouble and ensuring they do not have any alcohol on them. Back in 2017, LOUDER ran an article that reacted to allegations of assault at gigs and highlighted ways we can all be more vigilant and informed:

Last week, in response to a series of allegations of sexual assault levied against a variety of musicians, TeamRock reported on the ‘epidemic’ levels of abuse happening within our music communities. As part of that story, we spoke with Bryony Beynon, a music fan and musician who founded the Good Night Out Campaign. Now, Beynon has shared with us with a series of tips and practical advice on how we can all make gigs safer experiences for everyone.

“If you’re a man and you’d like to make a difference, there’s so much you can do [to encourage change],” says Beynon. “At its root, this is about women and gender non-conforming people being devalued. So simple cultural changes can be huge. Seek out and support bands led by women, queer and gender non-conforming people. Challenge sexist stereotypes wherever you see them...

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Challenge your mates on their sexist banter. Practice saying ‘Mate, that’s a bit sexist’ or ‘That’s a shitty thing to say.’ Heading to a festival? check out how gender equal the lineup is. If it isn’t, demand better from promoters and vote with your wallet. Remember, a queer black woman invented rock’n’roll, so don’t fall for excuses.

“UK law defines sexual assault as non-consensual touching of a sexual nature of another person’s body,” explains Beynon. “It actually doesn’t have to be on an intimate part of your body, because it’s about the intent behind the touch. Sexual harassment if its verbal or non-verbal (like staring at someone, or writing about them online) is defined in civil (rather than criminal) law as any act that could violate someone’s dignity, or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. So if there’s any touching, it’s assault”.

Now, in 2019, we have come a little way but not reduced cases of assault at gigs drastically. We need to make things inclusive and safe but not at the expense of interaction and fun. Any form of assault and abuse is very serious but something as drastic as separating the men from the women is taking things too far. I think there should be a safe space for women, nearer the front of the stage, where they can be close to security and the artist/band performing. I do like all-female gigs but, for most gigs, there does need to be stricter security and, when someone is caught being abusive, they need to be banned from the venue.

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Setting an example and banning gig-goer who are indecent is a good move and I think there needs to be more education. It is clear that things cannot continue as they are because even one case of a woman being assaulted at a gig is too much. I think a combination of strict justice for those who are caught combined with ‘safe zones’ is a good move. Rather than create little barriers and divide men from women, we need to have areas where women feel safer and we need to encourage more women to come forward. Musicians and organisations are tackling mental-health issues and disabled access at venues and it is positive that there are moves to help raise awareness of abuse at gigs, too. The Guardian’s article highlighted one festival, Lovebox, that is taking strides regarding the problem. They are bringing back the Sanctuary and ensuring there is a space for women and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ people to take a break and report cases of sexual violence. If we can bring about more awareness, encourage conversation and, like Lovebox, have these safer areas then we can see improvement. Right now, things are pretty bad and many women feel like they cannot attend gigs through fear of assault. There are developments happening and the sooner venues/festivals are safe for all women…

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THE better.