The following was lifted from Grand Rapids is Screaming —->  —> while this piece raises some great points and Lauren’s response is awesome, i feel like this discussion is so often stunted by the reaffirmation of male/female gender dichotomies as all encompassing. this invisibilises any folks who may identify in other ways, those who are not validated in their gender identity and the Layers of inter sectional oppression and privilege due to race, class, gender, ability etc. This also lets us ignore the absence of diversity in punk spaces, and thus ignore the question of why our communities may be intimidating or inaccessible.

Male Privilege, Sexism, and Punk Rock

April 7th, 2011 by | 21 Comments »

BobMore by:

This column isn’t intended to speak for anyone else. Nor is it designed to trivialize, dismiss, or minimize experiences that are different than those outlined within.

This past month I had the privilege of attending a number of great lectures by some dedicated and inspiring radical feminists. Understanding the ways in which patriarchy functions in the world is an ongoing process, especially for those like myself who are the direct beneficiaries of male privilege. No matter how much so-called anti-sexist men claim that they “get it,” we should always strive to seek out opportunities to learn more. Most often this involves learning from the women in our lives and/or reading and thinking about how patriarchy works.

These talks were all great and they got me thinking about the many ways in which patriarchy manifests itself in world. It should be pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain, but sadly many folks chose not to identify this privilege. Obvious examples of male privilege (and there are many more) are the fact that we are consistently paid more than women for similar work, our opinions are automatically taken more seriously, we can walk down streets at night without fear of being raped, our bodies aren’t used to sell everything from car washes to rubber gloves, we aren’t constantly judged for how we look, we aren’t cat-called, etc. Male privilege affords us (men) with a host of benefits, including the benefit of being able to choose to ignore sexism and patriarchy because it doesn’t oppress us on a day-to-day basis.

One thing that has always struck me is that it is pretty easy to cringe at sexism in so-called mainstream society, but it’s difficult to look inward into our own subcultures and lives. In the various subcultures/counter-cultures that I have been a part of (punk rock and anarchism), it’s been pretty common to define our opposition to sexism in terms of what we see in the mainstream while upholding the idea that our subcultures are free of sexism, sexist views, and that male privilege isn’t a reality. Especially in the punk scene, we seem to collectively cling to the idea that we are all “equal” (which ignores the fact that different folks have differing amounts of privilege depending on their gender, physical bodies, race, etc) and that if we don’t like something that we can just “do it” and change it. We reject the most obvious manifestations of sexism (few punks would say that women are inferior to men or consciously try to limit women’s participation), which is seen as good enough (by the men in the scene at least). A lot of the male privilege that exists in the larger world exists in the punk scene. Despite this, many punks still cling to the idea that men involved in punk are somehow “better” just because they are involved with punk. Pretty consistently men in the punk scene have gotten offended when women call this traditional wisdom into question and respond in all manner of trivializing ways.

The other day I was reading Maximum Rock N Roll and there was a letter by a man who wrote to complain that a woman in his local punk scene was criticizing the “bro-punk” male domination of the bands and the scene as a whole. The letter was full of ridiculous statements: questioning the woman’s ability to have an opinion based on the number of shows she attends, saying that the woman could just start something new if she didn’t like it, etc. The person who responded to the letter (I regretfully didn’t see a name) trashed the kid’s close-minded attitude. They also included an essay by Lauren who plays and sings in the band The Measure [SA]. It’s a really good discussion of sexism in the punk scene so I’m reprinting it below. Men like myself need to hear this stuff (especially the stuff about being accountable and recognizing our privilege) so I’m sharing it here:

I’ll start off by saying that I’m a white cis-female in her late 20’s who identifies as queer, feminist, radical and punk.  I’m speaking from my experiences being a part of a largely DIY poppunk scene for the majority of my life and in a touring band for over six years. A large part of the time, I feel welcomed, supported and accepted within the “punk” circles that I’m a part of.  However, nothing makes me more angry then hearing someone, men specifically, say that the scene isn’t sexist, “because we’re all punks and obviously that’s not cool.” I am far from the only woman-identified person in the room who would like to call bullshit on that statement.  While yes, most of my friends and the spaces I go to do not tolerate obviously sexist, homophobic, racist, able-ist, etc. speech, saying those concepts do not exist in our community is just flat out wrong.  What offends me is not always just the action itself, but the excuse that if you wear the “punk” label that you’re absolved of having done anything wrong because you “didn’t mean it that way.”  I can’t think of a rationale so unproductive.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of guys don’t understand the things that women find threatening because it’s not obviously dressed as a sexist act.  What I think of when I imagine a scene without sexism is a scene where we consciously make an effort to create a safer space for everyone, no matter who they are.  So while we might not be saying “you can’t be in a band or go to this show because you’re a girl”, there are plenty of other things that go on that I consider to be sexist, because they’re blatantly not considering what would make women in the scene feel safe.  So, for those who might not know what I’m talking about: you know what makes me feel unsafe? When you’re the only guy in the pit who doesn’t get the message to not fly full force into someone half your size or strength.  When you take your shirt off at a show.  When you ask me if I’m “IN the band or WITH the band” after a male bandmate says the four of us are all IN the band.  When you tell me I play guitar well for a girl.  When you say that all the guys want to fuck the girl in that band.  When you make a rape joke. When you use the word bitch or call someone a slut.  The list doesn’t end there.  Now do you think the scene isn’t sexist?

One benefit of being in the punk scene for me, even where these things still happen, is having people around who also don’t think these things are okay.  We’re responsible to call each other out if we’re doing things that make each other feel unsafe, myself included.  No one is perfect, and I don’t expect that.  What I do expect, however, is the ability to be held accountable for your actions, to apologize and hear everyone’s experience as valid. If you’re doing something that makes me feel unsafe at a show, I don’t care how long you’ve known me, or your history interacting with women, or how much you love Sleater Kinney.  If you can’t be held accountable and apologize, then none of those other things really make a difference to me.  This applies to anything from jokes in poor taste to sexual assault.  Just because we’ve all known someone for years at shows doesn’t change them calling me a cunt, or assaulting their partner.  Once people stop making the excuse of “we’re all on the same page” and start being honest with each other, we start creating real, physical, safer spaces for everyone, not just women.

Overall, I do feel good about my involvement in the scene and most of the people I associate with (of all genders). I think if we’re talking about sexism, we should also really be talking about acknowledging male privilege, which I think is the root of a lot of what I’ve mentioned.  I’m tired of being asked why an all female-fronted show might be helpful for women, why creating women-only spaces is productive, why some of us call ourselves feminists.  They’re “not being macho assholes.” “Our scene is past that.” They “feel alienated by it.”  Well, in the words of Kathleen Hana, “I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you. Your whole fucking culture alienates me.”  If people stopped nervously laughing that one off long enough to think about what it actually means, we could have a real conversation and then maybe one day I could stop feeling like sexism exists in my scene.



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