back to home
back to resource page
back to other articles
Punk vs Sexism and Rape Since it's early days, the punk movement has been one of "Do It Yourself" rebellion against the status quo. It was a rebellion against the stagnant music industry, who churned out predictable albums from one "super group" after another for mass consumption. Punk also had a very deeply political message, which rallied against the conservative politics of the 1970’s. Punk was about smashing down the old power structures and replacing them with something more democratic and more socially responsible.
By the late 1970's, a more politically active punk movement began to embrace the ideas of anarchism and equality in a much more serious light. This anarcho-punk move-ment spread around the world and is at the very root of what the DIY punk movement is today. Obviously early examples of anarchist and egalitarian messages can be found in the lyrics of CRASS, Poison Girls, Dead Kennedys etc. There are also numerous examples of these politics influencing other punk rock institutions and into the pages of its magazines. Maximumrockandroll, while not explicitly anarchist, embraced many of the politics and ideals and has been published continuously since 1983. More bands, collectives, magazines, etc. have followed these examples, at least in spirit, if not always in practice.
Yet 25 years later, the punk movement has not come much closer to creating true equality within its own circles, let alone brought mainstream society to a more egalitarian state. It's evident that a few token lyrics and tired slogans aren't enough to create true equality among the sexes. The lack of follow through from lyrics and slogans into every day practice is the key reason for this failure. Coupled with this, is the inherent inability of many of the participants in the movement to recognize or even understand that a problem exists. The punk movement is by and large a male dominated chorus, while the female voices are drowned out, ignored, ridiculed, or labelled extremist (such as the Riot Grrrl movement of the late 90's).
Bands, shows, participants in collectives and spaces have a lack of women involved in the decision making processes. When women do show up, they have often not been taken seriously; often their views and ideas are muffled by the long upheld male dominated voice of the scene. The rare key woman participant has almost come to represent token equality, but in reality this is often not the case. Women are often not given credit for their ideas, actions, and labor.
In the early days of Profane Existence, women in the collective fought hard to be taken seriously. The men, had a hard time recognizing that they held a position of power, and for many it was the first time they had worked with women on a basis of purported equality. We have all been brought up in a society where only men have important leadership roles and this baggage followed us into punk. The men of the collective were forced to unlearn their roles and develop ways in which women were allowed equal voice and equal participation. We also found that without rigorously keeping to the ideals of equality, that things could easily revert to the male chorus.
In other collectives, where male dominance has not been taken seriously and addressed, women have become disenchanted, ceased participating, and have left. We have heard this complaint time and time again from female participants of numerous collective organizations (stores, distros, gig spaces, etc.). Who can blame them when they are interrupted at meetings, their opinions ignored or ridiculed by other members, or are flat out told that they’re not qualified to make decisions?
Even once the sexism was being worked on from within, it was still experienced from without. One former collective member at Profane Existence hung up the phone on one asshole who ran a record label, because he insisted that he only talk with the “guy who ran the distro.” This guy just couldn’t believe that the woman who answered the phone was equally qualified to answer questions and make business decisions. As recently as the PE benefit show in November, women played an important role in setting up and running the show, but felt they were not equally recognized for their efforts.
This leads to the wide-spread assumption that men run all of the important projects and are more knowledgeable about punk. As told by a female volunteer at Extreme Noise Records, on numerous occasions, customers won’t listen to advise on “what is good,” unless it came from a male volunteer. Chris from Slug & Lettuce zine has had to qualify her name in print as Chris(tine) to stop the assumption that she’s male.
In addition to a lack of recognition and equal participation we have fallen short as a movement in the creation of safe spaces. Sexist remarks and abusive behaviors such as unwanted physical contact and demeaning comments prevail. In fact, they are even accepted as normal, just like mainstream society. The meaning behind the lyrics and slogans painted on jackets scream a call for equality, but in reality they are nothing more than empty promises. While we decry the inequalities found in the world, they continue in our midst.
Further, punk has fostered a place that can often be a safe place for the abusers. The reason is that they are protected by their friendships, accomplishments, scene credibility, not to mention the deep mistrust of authorities and the legal system. In addition we often lack ability, power, or a unified strategy to enact change against such inequalities or behaviors in our own midst. This situation has been played out in the pages of punk magazines over and over, most recently in the columns of Arwen Curry in MRR and Adrienne Droogas in PE.
At this point, we want to make clear that this is an article about sexism, and NOT about or even against sexuality. We here at Profane Existence are all for freedom of sexuality, which we promote and practice as often as we can! However, sexuality is something to be practiced in a consensual, non-exploitative manner that respects the rights of all individuals. We have outlined what we feel are a basic set of rights for all individuals and are listed in detail later in this article.
Also, we are not trying to say that punk hasn't made an effort to erase sexism from our movement. When you compare punk to other genres of modern music (metal, rock, hip hop, etc), we have made great strides. However, as a serious social movement, we have a long way to go.
ROOT CAUSES OF SEXISM AND ABUSE
Sexism can be blamed on the socio-historical reality that men maintain a position as the dominant gender. This domination is called patriarchy—an artificial relationship of the sexes where males are in a dominant role. Throughout most of recorded history men have maintained this power in everything from laws, traditions, and plain old brute force. Women are treated as second class citizens; it is only in very recent history that women have made serious gains in the struggle for equality that has been going on for thousands of years.
To this day patriarchy asserts itself in many ways. Men have been resistant to give up control and domination. They have a lot to lose, in that, achieving equality would mean sharing the other half of wealth and power. This resistance has manifested itself in blatant forms as recently as the 20th century, for instance denying women the right to vote, own property, receive an inheritance, or receive equal pay (which still holds true today).
Today more subtle forms of control perpetuate patriarchy. We still continue to live according to biased gender roles. Women as are still viewed as sexual objects and as property. Leadership roles are discouraged, if not in theory then in practice. The lack of females in powerful political or business positions is accepted as the norm. Even in such things as professional and amateur sports, women are relegated to second class participants or placed in a supporting role. There has been far less recognition and sponsorship for proffessional women’s sports associations and specific sports programs for women at universities. The huge disparity between male and female graduate students in scientific fields lends credibility to arguments that the educational system teaches men and women differently, reinforcing these roles from early age.
Women are still encouraged to assume the role of caretaker for children and household and maintain traditional societal visions of femininity. They are not encouraged to be the primary bread winner and still statistically receive less pay and fewer promotions in the work place. This is why it is not surprising to hear stories of women who are penalized in the work place for deciding to have children or take maternity leave.
Other more aggressive forms of control and domination permeate our society, through both covert and overt verbal and physical abuse. Our society has been molded to view women based upon their physical appearance and the perceived submissive gender role. Women are taught to believe that this is normal. They are led to believe that they must maintain a certain appearance based on social precedence, this being the repetitive depiction of the so-called “perfect” woman free from imperfections: blemishes, body fat, body hair, etc. This perpetuates negative body image, low self esteem, eating disorders, dieting, and plastic surgery of women trying to obtain this notion of beauty. Don’t believe this? Check out the propoganda displayed at the checkout counter at the grocery store, or on billboards, on television commercials, etc. Our society is bombarded with visions of what women are supposed to look like in order to be perceived as attractive.
And women are bombarded with reactions from men who feel they have the right to make comments based on physical appearance. Whether a woman fits into this so-called version of beauty dictated by mainstream society, or not, the fact remains that men feel it is ok to publicly comment on a woman’s appearance. These demeaning behaviors reinforce this submissive role and can be viewed as a type of low-level warfare. The weapons used include cat calls, inappropriate looks, comments in public from strangers, lewd comments from friends, unwanted advances or attention because of dress or appearance. On the other hand, they can be used as a put down by commenting on so-called unattractive attributes, for example, weight, alternative dress, or even for possessing self-confidence. These are daily occurences that women endure on the street, in schools, in the workplace, and even at home. Regardless of the intention of the comment (whether it be “nice ass” or “you’re ugly”), these actions presume that a woman’s appearance is up for public discussion and ultimately reinforce demeaning behavior.
The further escalation of control over women by men is in the form of physical abuse. Gender roles have already taught men that they must be physically strong in order to compete and control. Any emotions other than anger are traditionally viewed as a sign of weakness in men. Often, they are unprepared for anything but a violent response when their domination and/or authority is confronted. This escalation is an ingrained male response and is documented by federal crime statistics that show that men perpetrate almost all violent assaults, whether the victim is male or female.
Sexual abuse is the oldest tried and true means of asserting control and domination. This is NOT strictly defined as forced sexual intercourse (rape), but ALL forms of coerced sexual contact or exploitation. Almost everybody knows someone that has been a victim. Sadly, it continues at an alarming rate and is often not reported. Sexual abuse occurs in many forms and levels of aggressiveness that vary in degrees, but include unwanted physical advances from a stranger, family member, friend or partner, and are often accompanied by other acts of physical or emotional abuse.
At this point, we would like to point out that emotional abuse is even more wide-spread than physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is another form of control and most often occurs in close, personal situations (partners, friends, family, workplace, etc.). It has equally damaging results, but in a non-violent means. In the context of this primer, the following examples apply (but most certainly are not limited to): Ignored your feelings or made fun of them, put down women as a group (examples — called them crazy, emotional, stupid, weak, or incompetent), constantly criticized and called you names, yelled and screamed at you, ignored you in social situations... escalating to the level of threats of physical violence, suicide, etc.
Ultimately, the results of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are detrimental to the victim’s mental and physical well-being. These consequences are often life long and life threatening; victims suffer from such things as mental anguish, guilt, anger, lack of trust, fear, low self esteem, etc. that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Many women have suffered further because they have difficulties confronting their abusers, who often go unpunished. They cannot tell the police due to the well-founded fear that they will not be believed or that they will be blamed.
EFFECTS IN THE PUNK MOVEMENT
Almost a mirror of general society, the punk movement is riddled with the same problems of patriarchy. These range from in your face oppression to much more subtle forms of dominance. The end result is still the same; the continuation of male dominance and perpetuation of inequality. Whether the end result is disenfranchisement from the movement, non-allowance to participate, or even emotional and physical scars, the end result is the creation of victims. Ultimately this has cut our potential community participation in half by allowing this activity to continue.
When confronted with the subject of sexism in the punk community, there are those that take the problem seriously and those that do not. Those that take it seriously are derided as pc fanatics, liars, feminazis, or worse. The other camp often responds—or doesn’—by turning a blind eye to these events. By not confronting the reality of these situations, a dangerous silence is created. PATRIARCHY DOES EXIST and by being silent about it is a tacit show of your support. If you aren’t actively fighting against it, then you are helping to maintain it.
All too often, we see sexist behavior happen within the punk community. Language, physical objectification, and unwanted advances are only occasionally confronted by women, and almost never by men. This lack of confrontation of sexist attitudes and behaviors gives the false impression that they should be tolerated. Even in mainstream society this should not happen, but confrontation should be automatic within our “enlightened” community.
Punk women are wary of reporting verbal and physical abuse and rape to “authority” figures, but are also just as wary to voice it amongst their peers. When they do speak up, they are not believed or supported. Further, they may be ostracized or ridiculed, especially if the attacker is well known (for example, is in a popular band or project). There have been numerous incidences of abuse and rape in the punk community, commited by punks, who continue to get away with their actions. We have proven ourselves to be ill-equipped to handle this, although there are real victims whose lives have been forever altered because of these events.
People who have spoken out against their attackers have been dealt such a backlash that they have ended friendships, dropped out of the punk scene, or moved to other cities. Why would women want to participate, when it’s own ranks perpetuate unsafe environments and blame the victims? Why would anyone that claims to strive for equality of the sexes?
For years, people have been excusing such behavior with lame explanations such as “We were drunk”, “We were young”, etc. Many of these people are still around today and some enjoy positions of respect in the punk community. Meanwhile, victims suffer long lasting effects, further hurt by the calloused attitudes of denial by others in the punk movement.
As Adrienne wrote in her last column in Profane Existence, “There are men in the punk scene that I know who have sexually assaulted women. There’s the guy in the band that tearfully told me about how he had drunken sex with a girl in a front yard and she was crying and obviously not into it and he did it anyway. There’s the guy who’s all over MTV who told me about how he used to get girls wasted drunk and then fuck them. Or the guy who runs the record label who took my friend home when she was drunk and even when she said no to him over and over again, still forced her. She graphically described to me how she was saying no while he was forcing his way inside her body. These are men in bands that you would recognize in a heartbeat. Men that are high profile and respected in the punk scene. Men that write for the fanzines that you read. All of these events that were shared with me happened many, many years ago and a couple of the men expressed deep remorse, regret, and guilt over what happened. So is that a reason to keep silent? Will these men be banned from the punk scene and made to suffer as the women they assaulted suffered? As far as I can tell from all the times that issue has come up within the punk scene, no. No, they will not suffer. No, they will not pay a price. No, they will not lose any of their esteem and worth within the punk scene. No, they will not be ostracized and punished.”
PUNKS FIGHT BACK
The real weakness of the punk movement’s efforts to fight against inequality is its decentralized nature. The lack of any kind of movement-wide authority to hold abusers accountable for their actions has meant that they can continue to get away with it. This is not an advocation in any means toward creating any kind of punk policing institutions or governing body. Instead, a tactic for confronting sexism and abuse should be tailor made to fit the movement. To do this, empowerment for fighting back against sexism and patriarchy must be made on the basest level on up: individual ª collective ª movement.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ve broken down what we feel are basic fundamental rights and responsibilities aimed at individual empowerment:
-- Respect for self and others.
-- Responsibility and accountability for one’s actions.
-- Commitment to work across gender lines against sexism and towards equality.
-- Creating safe places and respecting women’s only spaces and events.
-- Raising a voice against sexism and abuse.
-- Self-defense, defense of safe spaces, and each other.
-- Recognize that the fight against sexism is a part of an overall struggle against tyranny which also includes racism, homophobia, etc.
1. Respect yourself and others:
We must treat ourselves and others as we would want other people to treat us. Respect other people’s wishes in regards to comfort level. We must not place others in situations that we would not like to be in ourselves. Threats or physical violence are not acceptable means of forcing our wills onto others. No means no.
Respect should also be given when women speak out on sexism and sexist situations. This should also include respecting the voice of the victim. If a victim makes a public accusation about sexist behavior, abuse, or rape, they should be taken seriously.
2. Responsibility and Accountability:
Each one of us is responsible for our individual actions and their implications. Each of us must be held accountable for the situations we create and perpetuate. Each of us is responsible to our peers as well as ourselves. We all should be willing to accept criticism and critique and take actions to improve. We should be responsible in letting others know when they are crossing boundaries. Similarly, we will be held accountable for not being responsible in our interaction toward others.
3. Working together across gender lines against sexism and toward equality:
We need to accept the fact that the whole community, men and women, are negatively impacted by the effects of sexism. Therefore, it is the responsibility of both men and women to take these issues seriously and strive to eliminate them. We must acknowledge male privilege and help create situations where women feel safe and are allowed equal participation.
There are numerous means in which to establish sexism-free environments (groups, collectives, etc.) that have been proven effective. First and foremost is the idea of direct democracy where all participants have equal voice. To ensure democracy, regular meetings should be held where all members are allowed to participate. Within these meetings, there are certain tools that can be used to ensure that the democratic process prevails. These include Robert’s Rules of Order or similarly, using moderators and agendas for facilitating discussions, self-facilitation, establishing, posting, and distributing collective guidelines for acceptable behavior, regularly discussing and reviewing guidelines, and establishing methods to deal with situations counter to acceptable behavior.
4. Create safe (sexism and abuse-free) places:
As individuals and as a community we should strive to create and maintain spaces that are free from discrimination. This includes public spaces such as live shows, infoshops, venues, and collectives. Appropriate declarations of sexism-free environments should be made and/ or posted.
Women’s-only spaces should be respected by men. There have been instances that have justified the creation of women’s, only spaces, for example, due to safety reasons, meetings amongst women dealing with defense against patriarchy. Ultimately, as an oppressed class, women have the right to self determination and to self-organization. Men should respect the rights of women to declare such spaces and to take control of their own lives. This should not be looked at as an attempt to create barriers, or not working across gender lines. Rather, it should be looked at as a method of empowerment for women and equal rights.
The same guidelines as used in public spaces should be applied at home as well. Domestic abuse must not be tolerated; if the home is not safe, what is? As a community, we are responsible for the well-being of all of our community members. We should hold accountable those who commit abuse behind closed doors the same way in which we hold them accountable in public.
5. Right to raise a voice against sexism:
Individuals who experience sexism or sexual abuse should feel empowered to speak out against/about it without fear of retribution. Serious accusations deserve serious response and a sincere audience. To do otherwise reinforces and perpetuates sexism in the punk community.
We as a community should take action when these situations and incidences occur. Our first line of defense is mutual support from our friends and relations. Safe places within the community should be available for meetings, discussions, and the planning of problem-solving strategies. These situations are unique and require action as determined by circumstances, but methods include public forums, educational campaigns, use of our own media outlets (i.e. message boards, magazines) to publicize and educate.
Smear campaigns against the accuser/victim must not be tolerated. Only when the victim feels that their accusation will be taken seriously will they feel able to step forward against the accused. Therefore, it must be given that they will be taken seriously and those not taking such accusations seriously stand in the way of equality and justice.
6. Right to defend selves, safe places, and each other:
Each of us as individuals have the right to defend ourselves, our friends and our safe spaces against sexism in any form. This includes confronting sexist language, behaviors, or actions. Self-defense includes verbal confrontation, expulsion from events, or physical defense when needed.
The right to self-defense is meaningless unless it is exercised. We must get into the habit of confronting and defending ourselves, friends, and safe spaces. An integral part of self-defense is preparation and readiness. Personal self-defense classes are highly recommended, as are creation of affinity groups or networks to deal with situations as they arise.
In addition, we must be ready to defend other people against sexism and abuse. One example would be helping vulnerable or intoxicated individuals get home or find a safe place (don’t leave your friend passed out on a couch at a party!). Another would be to help friends out of abusive relationships and be supportive in their efforts to leave (30% of women murdered in the U.S. are killed by intimate partners).
7. A broader struggle:
We must recognize that the fight against sexism is a part of an overall struggle against tyranny which also includes racism, homophobia, etc. This is all part of a greater struggle against hierarchy and all forms of domination and oppression.
Equality is not a mere slogan—it is a commitment. This commitment will only work when we uphold it and practice it in theory and practice it in our everyday lives. When we work toward achieving this within the punk movement, we will also be working towards achieving equality and combatting sexism in mainstream society.
This is an ongoing process that must continue to prevent backsliding into old habits. It is also essential that new members of our community be educated in not only the reasons but methods for fighting patriarchy, sexism, and sexual assault.
If each of us uses these tactics in our everyday lives, it will allow all of us a voice and a means to confront sexism (and other forms of oppression). These are a fundamental set of rights for everyone, movement wide. A general sense of respect for one another will strengthen our internal community, and provide a means to seriously start fighting back against oppression. e