Groping at concerts, a growing issue?
Groping at concerts, a growing issue?

A Woman's Frustration With Male Harassment

I really shouldn’t have to be writing about this.

“Our scene”, judging on many of the comments I’ve seen that came about from this, is anything but a safe space. We keep banging on about how friendly and inclusive our scene is, but then I see comments about sexual assaults at major festivals, violence towards women at gigs, to name but a few instances.

One thing that was said to me – there has been a lot about tolerance from certain angles (the S.O.P.H.I.E. campaign being one in particular), but there appears to be a lot of the wrong tolerance, too. That of quietly knowing about certain people, and either what they do or are alleged to have done, but not calling them out on it.

Why is that?

Are we afraid to be the one to cry wolf (and if you’ve got the wrong person, you could ruin someone’s life or career for nothing)? In some respects, I can see that risk. But, at least a quiet word, surely? Or if it’s more serious, surely we have a duty to speak out and do the right thing?

The flood of comments that I got when I initially solicited responses, in conjunction with Rockstardinosaurpirateprincess, has been a sobering one. I’ve long been aware of the shit women have to put up with at gigs, but some of the stories that have come in…I really don’t know what to say.

When I asked Rockstardinosaurpirateprincess what she thought of the comments, her answer took me through sobriety and out the other side, to a point where tea can’t even touch the sides. She agreed they were awful, and even asked if I was OK after wading my way through them. But surprised or shocked she was not.

“I think the number of gigs I have been to where I haven’t had any issues are much rarer than where something has happened” she told me. “As a woman, you almost expect this. It’s so pervasive that it’s become background noise and sometimes we don’t even notice how messed up that is until we start talking about it, or someone actually asks us – the way you did.

Often, we only talk about it with other women, because we know they’ll understand. All too many of us have had experiences of trying to talk about the sexism we experience at gigs or in public spaces only to be told by a man that “that’s just life” or “it’s not that bad, you’re exaggerating” or “men get hassled too” or “well, what about women on hen nights”.

So women stop telling men about it, because it’s bad enough to be harassed when you just want to hear some music; but then to be told your experiences don’t matter on top of that? You stop talking about it at all. It’s like you’re silenced twice. I know loads of guys who go to gigs alone; I won’t.

A woman at a gig alone is a target. There’s a reason “I have a boyfriend” works better than “no thanks, I am not interested” when turning down a guy at a night out, and a lot of it is to do with this sexist idea a woman with a man belongs to that man. I’ve stories where the phrase “I’ve got a boyfriend” has led to the harasser apologising to the boyfriend. Like, ‘Sorry mate, didn’t realise she was yours’.

“Unwanted touching by opportunistic fuckwits at gigs is so common that it actually feels trivial to talk about it…”

Musing further, she added, “Perhaps the key difference between our differing reaction comes down to privilege. You were shocked, horrified, as were many of your male friends, at the sheer scale and number of stories you were told. I knew exactly what was coming. I felt sorry for what I knew you were about to have to wade through, that as much as you knew it might be bad, you probably would not be prepared for it.

Privilege is often misunderstood – it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it simply means you’re able to attend gigs alone and not be subjected to this behaviour, and therefore don’t have to think about it, worry about it, or even know it’s happening.

Asking for the stories and raising the voices of people this does happen to is using your privilege to help; it’s acknowledging you have it and trying to do something about it. It would be great if more men like you stood up for us and next to us on this issue.”

So, as men with privilege, what can we do to stand up for our gig-going sisters?

“”Apologising” on behalf of men is not appropriate. You can’t change the past, but what you can do is change the future. And that means changing behaviour – yours or others – offering some form of understanding that women are simply not objects for you to touch (and more) whenever you feel. They have your space, you have yours, and unless you are given consent to do so, mind your own fucking business and leave them to theirs.”

“I don’t go to gigs where I’m not accompanied by a friend. Ideally a big friend who would kick the ass of anyone even thinking of touching me. This shit has to end, guys. Leave women alone to enjoy gigs. No you can’t kiss me. Get your goddamn hand off my waist. We’re there to watch the band. Not to feel strangers rub their erect penises against our asses from behind us in the crowd like that’s totally fine.”

There have been, too, bands who have long been aware of this. As an article on Vice last year pointed out, Fugazi made a point of picking out people who were behaving in unacceptable ways in various creative – and successful – ways, as part of their intention to make their shows inclusive to all. More recently, the Californian band Arnocorps are also surprisingly inclusive, as my wife pointed out when I was writing this – referring to their fans as “heroes and sheroes”, and women are just as welcome at their shows as men (and the gender balance at one of their gigs is noticeably different to other punk/metal gigs, that’s for sure). While Frank Turner was clearly upset and angry at reports he got at a show in Brixton last year (that I was at), and pledged to do anything he could to help and stop such abuse.

But not all bands – or venues – are taking notice, as is clear from the stories that we had submitted to us, and in some cases it is people working at these venues in some capacity that are part, or all, of the problem. One other thing that came to mind while reading these – ever wondered why less women attend gigs than men? These comments might help answer why.

“Someone masturbated on my shoes”

Anyway. The following comments were all submitted to the original request for comment, the various shares of it, or through rockstardinosaurprincess. Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment, and in some cases share some stories that are quite upsetting to read and may trigger other people’s unpleasant memories. We’ve made all comments anonymous here as there was no need to put names against them.

But these need to be told. They need to be out in the open, as an acknowledgement that the gig and club scene needs to clean up it’s act, and fast.

The comments that we’ve collated are spread across three pages (partly as there are so many of them). They are grouped by type, effectively, so there are comments from Women at Gigs, Women in Clubs, and Women as Performers. Obviously, please bear in mind that there are some pretty distressing stories amid this, and a number feature some fairly graphic descriptions of what happened – some of these stories describe serious sexual assaults and rape as well as sexist behaviour. Readers are advised to be cautious, particularly those likely to be triggered by such descriptions.

All comments have been made anonymous, and the only editing done has been to correct typos, remove names or to correct grammar. This website has a strict policy of quoting verbatim (aside from the provisos just mentioned) and that remains the case here.

The issues women experience at gigs was the original catalyst for this post, after seeing the furious response from Frank Turner last summer to reports of what was going on at his shows, and I decided that I had to do something to help – even if it was just simply bringing the issues to wider attention. It started out with a handful of conversations that confirmed things were bad, very bad for women at gigs, so I decided to ask the question online, and it rather snowballed from there.
Interestingly the Guardian had an article on the general issue, and what is being done just recently, and I must confess that I’m undecided on the best way to solve it. Outlawing moshpits is *not* going to solve the problem, that’s for sure – as the comments below confirm, inappropriate touching, abuse and worse does not just happen when people are slamming around.

It is a question of behaviour, and a number of people thinking about what the fuck they are doing. But with a nasty, quasi-libertarian streak pervading politics and culture at the moment (each for their own, distrust, victim blaming, etc), trying to get those that are the problem to take responsibility for their actions seems a busted flush.

Interestingly, the Association of Independent Festivals says “there is no evidence of any widespread problem. Oh really? Judging on the comments we’ve had, there really, really is – and none other than Run The Jewels had words to say about it at Glastonbury recently, too:

We got one big rule. All the ladies, that’s half our audience, if they didn’t come with you or invite you, keep your grubby hands and little dick off them. We want you to party and meet your future wife so you guys make a baby. But that’s a mutual decision, it’s not you deciding so if we see you do it, we’re going to punch you in your fucking face, over and over again

“Guys thinking that it’s perfectly ok to move past me in a crowd by sliding their hands along my waist. And then they’re all innocent like “what? What did I do?” when you say something.”

All I can do from here, then, is to allow women to speak for themselves, and hopefully some people that read this will reflect on their behaviour and their views, and maybe do something about it.

Far too many instances. I’m finding it much worse at reunion gigs recently (like 20 years of Megadog) as men who clearly haven’t been out much get drunk, think they’re gods gift or something and then just try to man handle me like they’re doing me a favour. It’s why I much prefer hippy festivals and nights out with a very particular type of crowd now that are all loved up and super friendly, with no sexual intention.

Drunk leching from men 30-50 is much too frequent even at alternative nights. And young men seem to also think they’ll be doing me a favour in some way. It’s hugely depressing….

I’m at a gig right now and already my male friend has been approached by the promoters, ignoring me and female friend as we couldn’t possibly know anything about music. I’m 35 and have been going to gigs since 13 and could rant about this subject for years.

I think you’ll find that gigs and festivals are actually almost worse for it as many people see it as an opportunity to “let loose” and this seems to drop barriers of common sense/decency that would normally be in place.

I know I’m not the only woman who’s had dreadful experiences at gigs, to the extent of now simply not going to gigs where I’m not accompanied by a friend. Ideally a big friend who would kick the ass of anyone even thinking of touching me.

This shit has to end, guys. Leave women alone to enjoy gigs. No you can’t kiss me, you can’t hug me, you can’t tell me all about your 9 cats or that you’re so sad because you don’t have a girlfriend as you gaze at me grinning and wide eyed.

Get your goddamn hand off my ass/waist/boobs. Please don’t shove your hand up my skirt without permission like that, get the fuck off me, pushing me against a wall and trying to kiss me is just WRONG, and please don’t punch me – split lips are ugly. (all that is based upon actual things that have happened to me at gigs… )

We don’t pay to go to gigs and get harassed and abused. We’re there to watch the band. Not to feel strangers rub their erect penises against our asses from behind us in the crowd like that’s totally fine.

Unwanted touching by opportunistic fuckwits at gigs is so common that it actually feals trivial to talk about it….

I had a guy come up behind me and grab my arse with both hands. The only reason I didn’t deck him was because he ducked. The thing was it was closing time and the place was nearly empty and he did it in full view of 2 bouncers. They were gobsmacked and he got a mouthful of abuse off me, as he denied doing it ffs, then got ushered out. My partner and I are regulars there and never cause trouble (as we’re middle aged lol) so the staff were on my side.

Guys thinking that it’s perfectly ok to move past me in a crowd by sliding their hands along my waist.


And then they’re all innocent like “what? What did I do?” when you say something.

Wow, thinking back over the years I’ve had a fair few.

I ended up in hospital the next day after one because I got so angry after repeated gropes (“it’s the front of the gig, it’s why you’re here”) I shoved the guy four foot backwards and tore open all the scar tissue in my shoulder. They gave me oramorph for the pain it was that bad (I’d had an op a few years before). I had a great night after security threw him out!

Had to pretend to be going out with a mate as someone wouldn’t take “no” from me alone.

“We all know girls don’t like metal, they are just there to pick up guys” is a common one.

Had ice cubes thrown down the front of my corset as a “game”

Guys getting aggressive when at the end of the night I still don’t want to leave with them “you’re fat and ugly, I’m doing you a favour c***”

“Get back in the f***ing kitchen you fat bi*ch”

*sigh* still go to gigs.

I felt a hand on my bum when in the crowd in the hall between sets at an Eighties Matchbox gig at Heaven. In all my gig going years that’s it though.

I have gone to gigs a couple of times on my own in Brighton / London where there’s been a band I wanted to see and no-one else up for it, but I’ve stopped doing it as the utter tedium of being ‘fair game’ and chatted

Up all night kills any pleasure I get from seeing the band.

There’s at least one band I never saw because I didn’t feel comfortable going on my own; despite not suffering the levels of harassment other female gig goers seem to. It’s still an uncomfortable environment.

That’s interesting – even not being subject to harassment often, the threat of harassment (having seen it/heard of it) still restricts our freedom of movement.

Yes, I don’t go to pubs or gigs on my own because I know from my experience and that of others that it isn’t worth the hassle. So my world is made smaller than a man’s...  Continue reading 'Experiences of women at clubs' on Repeater

Leave a comment