Sexism at the show: a feminist rocker speaks out

Sexism at the show: A feminist rocker speaks out

by Patricia Barrera Off Our Backs,  Dec 2000

So your favorite rock band is in town and you’ve got tickets. How do you get ready for the show? What do you think might happen at the concert? Me, I’m thinking about whether or not I can get into the venue with my gun. I’m looking for a shirt that won’t be easily ripped off my body. And most importantly, I’m psychologically bracing myself for the possible physical assault, and the highly probable verbal harassments that now seem a permanent part of attending a concert. Such is the life of a woman who loves live rock and roll. For as long as I can remember music has been an inseparable part of my world, giving sound to my life experiences and adventures. I’ve used music to heighten my emotions, energize me, and get me through the good and the bad times. And there is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing it being created live. Watching musicians perform is so much fun, I can average one or two shows a week at times. And yet, whenever I attend a concert a sense of dread always accompanies me. Before each show I silently pray it won’t happen again, and at each show it happens again. First, there are shouts of, “Show us your tits” (which may or may not be followed with “bitch,” or “you know you want to”). Then there’s the outright grabbing at women’s breasts and/or genitals, especially when we try to go in front, or near the front, of the stage.   It seems like every band I see now is talking pimp this, and pussy that–pimp meaning cool and respectable, and pussy meaning weak. When I recently saw the Foo Fighters and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in George, Washington, I also got to see pictures ripped from pornography magazines being passed around the crowd. At this summer’s Big Stink concert in Portland, Oregon, where several well-known bands were playing, I watched a woman in the audience fighting off several men who were trying to take her bikini top off and touch her breasts. It was very upsetting to witness. Later on in the day the lead singer of Papa Roach actually stopped right in the middle of a song to yell at a man who must have been doing the same thing to another woman. I was very grateful to see the singer do this, as were many other people in the audience who clapped their approval of this confrontation. Remembering last year’s Woodstock Festival, I think this musician may have stopped a rape. At the very least he stopped a sexual assault. Meanwhile, at one of the Stink’s vendor booths they’re announcing an upcoming wet t-shirt contest. What?! We’ve already got individual men putting women down in both word (in many song lyrics) and deed (in the audience and backstage), do we really need the concert promoters joining in to actively organize and encourage all this sexism? What’s gonna happen next? Holding rock concerts at strip clubs? Welcome to the North by Northwest Music Conference, folks! The nationally known and respected North by Northwest Music Conference (NXNW) takes place in Portland, Oregon each year, and presents a dazzling array of musical talent. For three nights, at approximately twenty participating venues, there are over three hundred bands playing their hearts out. It just about kicks my ass each year. This year, however, the conference hurt me in an altogether different way by inviting a strip club to their roster of venues to showcase musicians. The chosen strip club, Union Jacks, has been slowly adding musical acts to their regular line-up of legalized prostitution. I have watched this happen over the years, and I wondered (and I hoped): would Union Jacks go the route of other strip clubs, like the Aladdin Theater, EJ’s, and the Tonic Lounge, and make the transition into a cool live music venue? Perhaps the NXNW organizers were hoping, too. According to Leslie Uppinghouse, Production Manager for NXNW, her decision to include the strip club in the conference was due, in part, to the growing number of musicians playing at the club. Uppinghouse said it was a tentative agreement, and based on the condition that there would be no stripping during the musical acts. She bemoaned the dearth of venues in Portland, and was quick to say that some of the musicians assigned to the club–that’s right, the musicians, have no say in where they would perform–wanted to have the strippers dancing while their band played. While I really question the lack of venue space in Portland, (for example, there has never been a gay club involved, despite several of them having fairly extensive stage and sound systems) the idea that a major music conference should not only tolerate, but actually arrange for a space where bands could use naked women as background props to their music, or to impress all the men in the audience, or for whatever purpose, is just bullshit. So I did what any red-blooded feminist rocker would do–I put on my coolest rocker clothes and held a demonstration in front of that damn club all night of every night of the conference. I organized a posse of pissed women and men to greet those going into the club with flyers, and offers to talk about what it meant to have a strip club involved in the NXNW conference. All in all, this action was a success. Many, many people supported our position, and agreed that having bands perform at a strip club was really over the top. We talked to musicians who were bummed out about having to play there, and heard at least one band, Wolf Colonel, canceled their performance there specifically because the club was a strip club. Several women talked about having bad experiences at concerts, and were hoping the club would not have women stripping. Such was not the case. Despite NXNW claims, the club had women stripping. The manager of Union Jacks said there was no stipulation about the stripping with the conference organizers, but at least two bands, Grindstone and Crack City Rockers, did request that the stripping stop during their performances. Most people stayed only as long as a band played, then high-tailed it out of the club. “It just didn’t feel right in there,” was the comment many people had when they were leaving. Frankly, I’ve had it. I’m sick of going to a rock show with a nagging fear for my safety and for the safety of the women around me. And I absolutely will not attend any show that is held in a strip club. What’s more, I found out that many people are feeling the same way. My demonstration gave people the opportunity to talk about this latest sexist trend in the music industry, and I think everyone is getting a little tired of the aggression and the hostility this sort of sexism is creating in all of us. I think we are ready for a change. I want to see more respect among concert-goers. Do men actually think I go to concerts to show them my breasts?! (A warning to those who said yes: if it’s me, or someone like me who you happen to decide to grab, ask yourself one thing: will it be worth a trip to the hospital?) Women need to immediately alert security about abusive men in the audience, and if the security does not respond, consider asking for their money back and leaving, calling 911, and/or filing a lawsuit against the venue for reckless endangerment. I want to see more accountability from musicians. Stop celebrating violence against women in your songs and at your concerts. Do not collude with the sex industry in any way. I want to see more responsibility from concert promoters and sponsors. Wet t-shirt contests create an uncomfortable environment for women concert-goers. Having strip clubs in our music conferences affirms and supports a sexist definition of what women can do with our bodies and lives. Another strip club, Docs, hosted a party for a record label attending the conference. Will Docs be invited to next year’s conference? What’s it gonna be, NXNW? Will you be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Readers wanting to send a letter to NXNW organizers in protest of their decision to include a strip club in this year’s conference can write to: Leslie Uppinghouse Production Manager P. O. Box 4999 Austin, TX 78751 Or visit their web site where you can also write to the conference speakers and sponsors:

K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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