Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Boys x Girls x Punk Shows

I recently read Lauren Denitzio's article about sexism in punk (via a link posted in Facebook). Lauren is someone I know tangentially, and I've only ever had one or two conversations with her, but I found the article very interesting. She talks frankly about things that make her uncomfortable at shows, and most seem very obvious: rape jokes, questions about whether she is IN the band or WITH the band. One thing she mentioned is something I have been bothered by for years:

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.

I spent years being annoyed and feeling put upon because I had to hang out in the back if I wanted to watch a band unmolested. I felt affronted that I couldn't see my brother or boyfriend perform because getting closer meant getting pushed around. Why should I have to deal with that? I thought. So when I read Lauren's article, I felt myself nodding in agreement...and then I started really thinking about gender, privilege, alienation and entitlement. And I remembered 2 things.

The first is Ali Carr's TED talk about how we're losing boys in the classroom. She doesn't pander to gender stereotypes, but does acknowledge that there is a difference in the way majority of girls learn vs majority of boys. There has been a lot out there lately about "getting" boys, both in educational terms but also in marketing/sales terms. How to get boys to watch certain shows, read certain books, attend certain colleges. As a girl, it's hard not to bristle at all that -- are girls not worth the same effort? But that bristling stops when we talk about education, because Ali Carr is right. Boys deserve education that works with them, not against them. Has focusing on girls in education left boys out of the conversation? What implications does that have?

The second thing that came to mind was a show I attended years ago at a random AOH hall in upstate New York. It was swarming with young kids, and I spent most of my time at the adjacent bar, happy to be out of the dancing mess. Wanting to watch a specific band, I slipped into the main hall, staying in the back as always, hoping to avoid the moshing and pushing that passed for dancing to teenage boys. As I stood watching them, though, I stopped feeling so put upon and judgmental and started to think about how amazing it must feel to those kids to be so physically liberated, to dance in a way that was socially acceptable to their peers, to move to a beat without having their sexuality called into question. To be un-ironically into dancing.

Fifteen-year-old boys are still very much figuring themselves out, pushing at boundaries, and the ability to be emotional and find their place in an environment tailor-made to them (a mosh pit full of noise and sweat and boy-ness) is nothing to scoff at. I remember thinking, This is why parents should let their sons come to shows...they get to really let go and bond in a way no other situation allows.

So, then, I come back to Lauren's thoughts on being at a show, and I'm suddenly faced with a question: why does my preference on how I want to watch a band take precedent over someone else's? If someone wants to dance, why should they be held back just because I don't want to dance? If a show is made totally comfortable for me, what happens if that alienates someone else, boy or girl? If boys are uncomfortable at a show that caters to girls then is that just a different side of the exact same coin? Is alienating boys a just revenge, or completely missing the point? And if the goal is to make everyone watching a band feel comfortable, what do you do when one group's "comfortable" is another group's "terrible show experience"?

I mentioned the word entitlement* up at the top because it's a concept that I find very frustrating and I am convinced is intimately involved in the discord in this country right now. My normal reaction to being near a mosh pit or violent dancing is simply to remove myself from the situation (this is my reaction to pretty much any situation I don't like). I'd rather hang out at the back, but I know not everyone feels that way. Is anyone entitled to a certain experience at a show? And, again, what happens when those "entitlements" are in direct conflict?

Who needs a thesis topic? Entitlement and Gender at a Punk Show

*In this sense, entitlement refers to a belief that one is deserving of certain privilege. I am not programs such as Medicare, where the term carries slightly different connotations.

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