If ever there was such a thing as socio-political discourse in the contemporary punk “community” (which I should qualify as being a very tiny and specific niche of semi-semi-noteworthy bands such as my own), one of the most delicate and hotly debated issues these days is gender and sexism within the scene. The litany of half-cocked (used advisedly) opinions on the matter runs the gamut from the self-ascribed firebrand suggesting the best way to combat inequality across sexual identities is to dictate to audiences the err of patriarchy and enforce, ahem, rules to standardize “fair” behavior all the way to the reactionary vomit of good old rock ‘n’ roll misogyny uttered drunkenly through microphones to droves of bros wasted shitless on their own lack of self-awareness. Really, it seems like a huge mess with no easy solution in sight.
"The problem is that some men believe that the awareness of their male-privilege entitles them to speak for women."
Now, I can’t guarantee you that my opinion on the matter is any less armchair than anyone else’s, but I can tell you this: I studied gender and the anthropology of femininity in college, and have since worked in two Planned Parenthood clinics in Colorado and Chicago. This doesn’t make my opinion more qualified than any other, but it has made me privy to some illuminating situations that underscore what I believe to be a larger phenomenon than that-one-show-that-one-day-at-Terrordome-in-Philly or whatever. The problem is that some men believe that the awareness of their male-privilege entitles them to speak for women. Beyond that, the idea that behaviors typical of the masculine (assertion of will through aggression, hard-headedness, and a willful lack of vulnerability) are the means by which women should take up arms and fix things is hysterical.
The (undeniable) fact that punk rock and other forms of aggressive music have become such boys clubs that, despite a culture of supposed political and social awareness, tend to spur the same hetero-normative behaviors we decry outside our scene is no accident. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been witness to and participated in a culture of forcing the notion of equality through cocksure shit-talk and sloganeering. It’s no wonder why you have some people shouting incredulously about the injustices in our scene; it can be a disgusting place to hang out. But for every display of simian manhandling, there is a person standing up front just stoked as hell to get knocked around while singing their favorite song. For every shitty sexist comment, there is a person at a show who feels like they are among like-minded friends. The point is you can’t paint an entire subculture with one brush, and you certainly can’t tell people not to stagedive or dictate to them that running into each other during a fast punk song connotes patriarchy. And you double-certainly can’t tell people what to do just because you have a microphone and an opinion. I’m pretty sure people foisting messages on me against my will was the thing that possessed me to dive headfirst with middle fingers akimbo into punk rock in the first place.
As for a solution to what is without a doubt an extant problem in the scene we love: I have no maxim, no ultimate solution, and no imposition of my will. There isn’t going to be such a thing as sweeping change that gives universal credence to every tiny fraction of the gender spectrum. For now, I would encourage people involved in the scene to try and educate themselves and act according to the knowledge they find. Be a vessel for different opinions. Try not to be a shithead at shows (or anywhere else for that matter). Realize that we can enable or dismantle inequality with the decisions we make and the things we say to one another in every context. We can't solve a damn thing with aggressive, unwavering judgment of customary behaviors passed from a dominant speaker onto a passive audience. If our community should be looked at in the macro in any way, it should be seen as a marketplace of ideas, where like-minded people can communicate and create a current of normalized behavior and not as a scattered mess of humans just waiting for the right person in the right band to tell them the one true path to a social justice utopia. I guess I could have summed this whole thing up by saying that everyone is at least a little bit right in this little discourse skirmish, but nobody is ever 100% right, including (especially) me.
Godspeed out there, jerks.
Also, I’d like to hear more bands like Chumped. They seem to get it.