Recently, the Banger FB page (which you should follow if you don’t already) posted the above meme as a precursor to an interesting panel discussion on sexism in the metal scene. I liked it, (despite the fact that as memes go, it could do with a few more cats) because I can relate to that experience.
The panel discussion with Natalie Zed (freelance writer), Priya Panda (vocalist, Diemonds) and Laura Wiebe (Hellbound.ca/CFMU) was also quite interesting. I think there’s a lot of truth in Deena Weinstein’s statement at the beginning about masculinity equalling freedom. I’ve always held that the main theme of metal isn’t about anger or hate, but about power and freedom, and it’s no surprise that freedom is often conceived in purely masculine terms. Female fans have to then figure out how they insert themselves into that established world.
Let me say this: 99% of metal shows are amazing, and 99% of all metalheads – male and female – are decent, fucking brilliant people who look out for each other. Fans of the genre are largely male, although I believe I’m seeing a lot more female fans at shows (not so much extreme metal, but definitely stuff like folk and power metal, crowds can be 50/50). I’ve never felt unwelcome or alienated in a metal space, in the way Zed describes in the video. Male metalheads were some of my first doorways into the scene – they introduced me to new bands, made me mix-tapes, taught me how to windmill, and welcomed me into their circle with open arms and fist bumps. Metal has never felt like a guys-only world to me, but I’ve always been an odd person, so I think I’m a bit predisposed to fit in with this scene of other odd people, regardless of gender.
Ignoring the sexism (and other isms, like racism) that can go on is not something that should happen. Every fan, regardless of sex, race, colour, sexual orientation, culture and belief, should feel safe and happy walking into a show or festival. It should be cool for everyone to be involved in the scene. This is an exclusive club for outsiders, for proud pariahs. It shouldn’t matter who you are or what you believe, as long as you love the music.
Many aspects of a person – such as affiliation with a particular religion – are hidden. You don’t have to reveal them unless you want to. However, the colour of the skin and your sex are out there for everyone to see. It’s difficult to remove that from your experiences, especially when those experiences are negative.
Some things that have happened to me. Once, I was walking out of a show at Wacken with my hand on my husband’s shoulder, when some guy came up behind me, scooped me up, and carried me off. Luckily, CDH chased after me, tapped the guy on the shoulder, said, “I’ll have that back, please.” And the dude apologised profusely, dumped me back in my husband’s arms, and presented me with a beer.
Now, I personally happen to think this story is hilarious. I also don’t think the guy meant any harm by it – he was drunk and having a good time, and he thought he’d do something funny. We all laughed. It was fine. But another girl might not have found that so hilarious. Had my husband not seen this guy running off with me and found us, I would have lost him in a huge crowd in a foreign country. We had no cell phones to contact each other. My German isn’t brilliant. It could’ve been bad.
I’ve had my share of gross comments hissed in my ears or shouted at me across the pit, and a few hands in places where they should never have been. It’s not a compliment. It’s not what I’m looking for. It’s actually fucking terrifying. It turns a wonderful night into a horrible experience. It leaves you feeling gross and sad, and that’s not how you should feel after a metal show. Sure, talk about a hot girl in the corner with your friends. Hell, my girlfriends and I point out hot guys to each other all the time. I’m not going to call the kettle black here. However, that’s a discussion that shouldn’t involve the person in question. Making leering gestures or yelling rude stuff at her isn’t cool. It’s not her job to act her part in your fantasy. It’s a personal fantasy, leave it that way.
And don’t even get me started on the comments I get on this website. Some are sleazy. Some are vaguely threatening. Some are downright horrible. If someone disagrees with me here, they tend to revert to calling me ugly. Whatever, I don’t have to publish that stuff. That’s my prerogative. Interestingly – and this is discussed in the video – I’ve had a lot more shit flung at me since I started this site than when I was just a random fan who never dressed particularly provocatively.
There’s also the “pop-quiz” phenomenon, which I experienced a lot when I was younger – not so much now, but might have more to do with the fact I’ve been a part of a very small local scene for ten years, so people kind of know me.
Those are just my experiences. Other women, including women I’m very close to, have their own experiences, some of which are harrowing. For me, the positive experiences far, far outweigh the few negative encounters I’ve had across my 15+ years of being a fan, but that doesn’t take away from the fact those negative encounters happen.
Look, I think we can all agree that metal is aggressive and brutal. But, there’s a difference between a great pit where everyone is having a blast, and a pit filled with people who are just there to fuck each other up. There’s accidentally grazing some girl’s breast with your elbow while you’re doing flying windmills, and then there is deliberately touching someone because you’re pushed up next to them and you know they can’t do anything about it. There’s having a lively debate about music and there’s grilling someone about obscure details because you don’t believe they’re a “true” fan.
This also isn’t the stone age, and we all pay for our tickets to go and enjoy a show. We’re all there for the same reason, to rock out and enjoy a wicked band. The fact that some fuckheads are spoiling it for others, whatever their race, gender, political affiliation – that should be a source of great outrage for metalheads.
Saying, “there’s no sexism in metal” and then relating it to your personal experiences is pretty stupid. Just because you personally have never experienced sexism, or seen it happen, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Your experience of shows is not the same as others, and this is especially true if you happen to be male.
I’ve never had a problem with disturbing lyrics and themes. Personally, I think songs are telling stories, and most people are clever enough to read songs in that way and not in some kind of instruction manual on how to be a human. I’m perfectly happy to sing along to Cannibal Corpse’s “fucked with a knife” because … it’s not about me. It’s not about anyone in the room. No one else singing along is thinking, “Hey, you know what, that sounds like a really good idea …” And if they are, it’s because they’re messed up, not because they’re a metalhead. It’s fantasy, like reading Lolita without wanting the be a paedophile. The art itself needs to be free of censorship (I don’t personally have to like it, but I respect your right to make it), but how you treat real people in the real world is the important thing.
I didn’t write this article to say shit like, “don’t grope girls in the mosh pit,” because a) as a decent human being, this is already obvious to you and b) if it’s not, nothing I say will make you stop doing that shit. But I did write it to say, as a female metalhead who has many female metalhead friends, this happens. Not all the time, not from every dude, but it does fucking happen more often than it should.
What can you do about it?
Don’t tolerate this behaviour – whether it’s from a mate or a stranger. If you see anyone at a show who looks like they’re in an uncomfortable situation, throw your hand in and ask if they need a hand. If you see fights break out, try to break them up. If someone looks scared, or is telling another person to stop something, and they’re obviously not, then step in and sort it out. (Or ask a really tough-looking friend to help, if you’re a bit scared yourself).
If someone is discussing their experiences – positive or negative – it’s pretty bad form to deny them their by claiming their experiences don’t count.
Don’t give pop-quizzes, unless there are awesome prizes. If I demonstrate my extensive knowledge of Skyclad albums, do I get a pony? I’d love a pony.
Sexism and racism are pretty mainstream. We’ve seen that acted out in the real world far too much this year. By embracing equality in the scene, we don’t “dumb down” the danger and brutality of the scene. Just the opposite – we challenge the rules, we rebel against the dominant powers, we confronting the mainstream in a real, powerful, dangerous way.
Just be awesome to each other.
That is all.
When I’m rocking out at a metal show and trying to find my husband after random people kidnapped me at music festivals, I write dark urban fantasy novels. My latest book, Petrified City, first in the new Chronicles of the Wraith series, is out now. Grab your copy from Amazon, or join my mailing list to stay up-to-date with the series.