Sexual harassment of musicians has been well publicised and called out by those on the receiving end. But what about the sexual harassment of their fans? Siobhan Smith spoke to campaign group Girls Against about the very real issue of groping at gigs, why it happens and what we can do about it
In recent weeks the subject of sexual harassment at gigs has resurfaced, mainly prompted by the actions of five teenage girls.
Girls Against have decided to take action against sexual ‘groping at gigs’, after experiencing it first hand. Their campaign has drawn support from bands including Foals, Slaves, Swim Deep and Drenge, and has prompted other girls to speak out about sexual harassment that they have been subject to.
It’s why Iggy Azalea stopped crowd-surfing
When considering the issues around groping at gigs it’s essential to acknowledge the sexualisation and harassment of the musicians on stage, as this can set a precedent that this kind of behaviour is acceptable in a gig environment:
- Australian rapper Iggy Izaela has said that she had to stop crowd-surfing at her gigs, and has had to put a physical barrier between her and the crowd because “people try to finger me”.
- Perfect Pussy‘s Meredith Graves has admitted that she feels “profoundly fucking unsafe” when she’s performing, ever since a male member of the audience tried to “grab” her. Graves responded by stamping on the man in question.
- Artists such as Angel Haze, Haim and Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches have all spoken out about the sexual harassment they have faced while on stage.
It’s worth pointing out here that, of course, this can happen to men too. Last year country singer Tim McGraw was grabbed in the groin by a woman in the crowd. This is not any more acceptable but, statistically speaking, women are far more likely to be subject to sexual assault or harassment.
“This happens all the time”
While it’s important for musicians to speak out against this behaviour, it’s not confined to the stage.
It’s in the the anonymity of a swirling mosh pit, and in the squeeze of a crowd fuelled by adrenaline and alcohol.
It happens there – probably more than most of us are aware – and is often met with little or no consequences: shrugged off by women too embarrassed, unsure who to talk to when it happens, or accepting that’s “just what happens”.
“I remember a guy slapping a woman’s ass, the woman’s outrage, and me – aged 15 – thinking, ‘I can’t believe she’s making such a fuss, it’s normal’.” – Broadly
So why don’t women make more of a fuss about it when this happens to them?
“It’s part of the wider ‘rape culture’ and victim blaming society we live in today,” campaign group Girls Against tell us.
“We have heard plenty of stories where people have done the right thing and reported it to the venue and the security there have just laughed at them or told them to watch what they’re wearing.
“After going through this traumatic experience no one wants to face that so victims tend to tell themselves it’s not a big deal and forget about it. Fact of the matter is that it’s illegal so shouldn’t be happening.”
Who are Girls Against?
Girls Against are a group of five teenage girls who started their campaign (fully titled Girls Against Groping at Gigs) after one of their members’ experiences at a Peace gig in Glasgow went public, with frontman Harry Koisser tweeting out the incident to his fans, and urging anyone who acts like this not to come to their shows.
If this happens at a peace show tell me or security asap. If you think this is ok then please I beg you do not come https://t.co/KonNjFG6PI
— Harry Koisser (@HarrisonKoisser) October 6, 2015
We spoke to the group to find out what prompted them to start their campaign.
“It was after four out of five of us went to a Peace gig and Hannah and Ava were really badly groped. After Hannah’s story was made public it received lots of support from fans and the band. We had all had this group chat for ages and we were really good friends and knew we wanted to do something together so our ideas quickly escalated from handing out badges at shows to a full blown campaign.
“It’s always been at the back of all of our minds as well whenever we go to the gigs, it’s happened before the Peace incident but never to the severity of that occasion.”
Clarifying what actually happened, they can recall the harassment clearly: “Hannah had a guy come up behind her and try and force his hands down her tights and Ava had a guy behind her and he wouldn’t let go of her waist and was trying to whisper things in her ear.”
Why has it become a problem at gigs, specifically?
“We think it happens because people think they can get away with it,” they say. “The nature of the situation is that you’re pressed against each other and do have people touching you.
“However, there’s a clear line and difference between accidentally brushing up against someone and forcibly trying to put your hands down their tights.”
The message is starting to spread
Several musicians have spoken out about inappropriate behaviour at their shows. Yannis Philippakis, frontman of Foals, posted the following Tweet:
Be good to each other in the pits. No place for shady macho behaviour towards the sisters! 🙌
— Yannis Philippakis (@YnnsPhilippakis) November 7, 2015
Explaining his comment to DIY Magazine, he said:
“I used to love moshing, and there’s an inherent aggression and violence to that type of thing that goes on at a show, particularly if it’s like a circle-pit type thing. I think there’s gotta be some common sense.
“Particularly there’s an increasing awareness of maybe the fact that certain girls don’t get treated like they should. There’s some shady shit that goes on, and I don’t like to hear about it sometimes.”
“I think that the beauty of a live rock show is the crowd feeling like it can be ecstatic, and at times that’s to do with moshing and that’s to do with circle pits and that’s to do with crowdsurfing. I’m all for that, but there just needs to be a balance between that and people just looking out for each other and not allowing jerk-off behaviour going on.
“There’s a difference between a mosh-pit and just groping somebody. I think that goes without saying.”
Earlier this year alt-rock duo Drenge posted words from one of their fans which read:
“Drenge were so good last night but the crowd was full of vile creepy boys who felt it was within their right to grab and grope the girls around them just because it was crowded. It was so much worse than I’ve ever experienced it before and it really stopped me wanting to go into the crowd.”
Which prompted Drenge to post a message of their own:
“HEY DOUCHEBAGS. THIS MAKES ME WANT TO STOP PLAYING GIGS.”
The Mercury-nominated Slaves made a similar announcement after a recent Cardiff Student Union show, saying to anyone guilty of this sort of behaviour: “You aren’t welcome at our shows.”
The importance of male musicians calling it out
Last year, Staind frontman Aaron Lewis stopped a gig when he could see men in the crowd groping a young girl while she was crowd-surfing.
“Listen up you fucking assholes, that fucking girl over right there is like 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she’s on the fucking crowd,” he shouted as the band stopped playing. “Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit.”
After his justifiably angry tirade, the band struck up again, with Lewis adding, “Now, girls, feel free to crowd-surf safely.”
It seems, unfortunately, that it’s particularly important that male musicians in bands speak out against sexual harassment at gigs. It may resonate more with the types of fans that would even consider acting like this in the first place.
And, just to clarify, it’s only a teeny tiny minority of men that would act like this. But it seems unlikely that they are the kind who would will listen to Meredith Graves saying she feels unsafe on stage and decide to change their ways.
Being told by the frontman of your favourite band that if you act like that your’re not welcome at the gigs will have more of an impact.
What can we do about it?
“Being more aware of it is a huge factor. When you know that this thing goes on it means the perpetrators are less likely to do it because they know they’re more likely to be called out on it and get caught”
So say Girls Against, who are aiming to generate a discussion to show everyone that sexual harassment at gigs is a serious and widespread problem.
“If you feel confident enough please notify the security / venue,” they add. “They may be able to speak to the person who has done it to you and they can face the consequences of their crime.”
The girls also plan to contact venues and security companies to ensure that there is a solid safety plan to tackle the issue, should someone find themselves in that situation.
Gigs should be wild – but that’s no excuse for groping
Bikini Kill album cover
Groping at gigs is by no means a new problem. In the ’90s, Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna launched a ‘girls to the front’ policy to fight against women feeling the need to avoid the front of gigs due to fear of sexual harassment.
“It’s definitely been around a while”, say Girls Against. “When our Bea met up with Peace in London and had a chat with them, Sam, the bassist, told her that his Mum had talked to him about it happening to her so it’s definitely not new.”
“I think people are becoming more aware of it because of campaigns like us and also that feminism is becoming a much more discussed issue.”
It’s almost unbelievable that (a tiny minority) of gig-goers still find it acceptable to act in this manner.
Gigs should be wild and people should feel free to lose themselves in the music. That’s what’s so great about it. But it’s pretty simple. Have a great time, make a mosh pit, build a crowd totem pole if that floats yer boat.
Just don’t sexually assault anyone. It’s as easy as that.
Main image: Perfect Pussy via Getty
You can join the fight with Girls Against on Twitter.