tw: sexual harassment
Throughout the duration of this class, I’ve become increasingly aware of the ways I/my body occupy public spaces and interact with other bodies in these spaces. I’ve thought about the times I’ve contorted my body in an attempt to become a smaller form of myself on public transport while men around me take a seat and spread themselves out with seemingly little care for others around them. I’ve thought about the embodied fear that I am always walking around with, knowing that I’m a target for harassment simply because I’m a woman. I’ve thought about the internalized distrust I have for the bodies of strangers. I’ve thought about every unsolicited name or whistle that’s been hurled my way. Most of these encounters are impersonal. A stranger calling me a name or purposely and intensely invading my space probably means nothing to them and they’re probably never going to think about it again. While there is never a good time or place for verbal or physical harassment, I’m mostly used to the prospect of it occurring when I am in public places. (This is not to say that I think it’s acceptable, or that I’m okay with it, or that I’m not fighting it, but that it isn’t necessarily shocking anymore.) But what do you do if this kind of harassment is happening in places you considered safe spaces?
One of the things I am most grateful for is having found a d.i.y. punk community when I was a weirdo kid in high school. I remember being in 10th grade and sneaking off to D.C. one night to go to my first basement show as one of the best days of my life. It was a totally magical feeling to be welcomed and surrounded by people who believed in the same things as I did and were so supportive of each other. It was and still is the alternative I needed to the mainstream that I had grown bored of. Being a part of a community that has created a space for people who have felt unwelcome in most other places is so important to me. It’s really amazing to enter the homes of people who have graciously opened their doors to see bands and friends you love and while you’re at it find zines on things like feminism or survivor stories or being queer.
(Swearin’ (one of my favorite bands!) playing a song about harassment at shows)
Unfortunately, though, a table of zines or a flier that proclaims “no sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. tolerated here” usually isn’t enough. The punk community that I’ve grown up and into quite often acts as a boy’s club. (A straight, white, cis boy’s club.)
While my experience with the d.i.y. punk community is generally an overwhelmingly positive one, shit (lots of it) happens and it’s crucial to address and tackle. A lot of times the shows that are put on are in small basements or living rooms that are crammed full of bodies, which is an understood thing. People come out to be close to like-minded people and enjoy music and dance in a way that allows bodies to move together. Kind of like we’re all one, single body. Sometimes, though, these moments are ruined. You look around and realize you’re one of two or three non-dudes in the crowd. You notice the entire lineup of bands are all men. A brawny dude punches you. A group of guys take up the front of the room and no one can move or see anything. Another dude takes advantage of the tight space to get inappropriately close to you and grabs your ass.
This hyper-masculine, macho man attitude that is so rampant in ‘real life’ is part of the reason why I initially turned to d.i.y. punk. It seemed like an escape. So it’s incredibly disheartening to see reflections of a dominant culture that we’re supposedly all against in a seemingly progressive community. Being a part of a radical community like this can give off the illusion of being absolved of oppressive behaviors and actions, when really these spaces just turn into good hiding places for them. Sexism in punk is huge flaw and it isn’t a new one. It’s also worth noting that racism and transphobia are prevalent issues as well. While I don’t think punk needs to be a cult of a community with everyone sharing the same convictions, I feel super unsafe knowing there is still such disparity like this within these spaces that are supposed to be safe.
If my body isn’t safe in public spaces, or in “safe spaces”, then where can it be safe? I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered simply or on my own. What I can do, and others too, is try to fight as well as support those who are fighting against sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. present in whatever big or small communities that we are a part of. There are a lot of great people in the punk community doing amazing things, like Ladyfest, Girls Rock camps, and First Time’s the Charm, to name a few.