Make Gigs Safe for Women: how to do your part this festival season
by Emma Cownley
Festival season is the perfect excuse for floaty dresses, body glitter, flower crowns and wellies. Unfortunately, it can also be the perfect excuse for casual assault, intimidation and sexual harassment.
Last summer, a YouGov survey found that 43% of women under the age of 40 have faced unwanted sexual behaviour at a live music event and only 2% of incidents were reported to police. It’s a disturbingly common tale. I’m sure you don’t have to wrack your brain to recall a time you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable at a gig (I know I don’t).
Whether you like to throw down in the mosh pit or jive at the back, we should all get the opportunity to enjoy a bit of live music without fear of being assaulted. But who should we hold accountable, how can we protect ourselves, and what can we do to safely help others?
Venues, artists, festival goers: who’s accountable?
Now that official studies have been conducted and the true extent of festival sleazery is obvious, what can be done to stop women fearing for their safety and who is responsible for kickstarting the change?
Tracey Wise (founder of Safe Gigs for Women) believes there are several key parties who hold this responsibility, starting with the venues themselves. In a post for the SGfW blog, she wrote:
“Discussion is needed to ensure [venues] are taking the matter seriously and know how to respond appropriately. It makes sense to think that if women equal 50% of target audiences, and women are boycotting gigs (as I have been told) as a result of harassment, venues should surely be responding.”
Girls Against Gig Groping raised a similar point in a recent interview with i-D magazine, stating that they feel all festivals and venues should have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of assault against patrons.
Aside from educating venues, Girls Against Gig Groping and Safe Gigs for Women both agree that artists should also be pushed to take some responsibility. Plenty of prominent names have already been vocal about the issue, including the Sleaford Mods, Frank Turner and Architect’s Sam Carter.
Rather than stopping shows to call out harassment in the crowd, some artists prefer to take a more proactive approach. In 2017, Enter Shikari took Safe Gigs for Women on tour with them to help create safe spaces at venues across the UK. Lead vocalist, Rou Reynolds, told Alternative Press, “people are getting awareness of [women’s gig safety] in general, and we want to do our bit to accelerate it.”
Frank Carter (Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes) believes that calling out assault from the stage isn’t enough. In an interview with Dork, he revealed how the band dedicates one of the first songs of the set to female crowd-surfers in an attempt to start the conversation early.
“In [dedicating the song] and talking about it and being proactive about it, it also completely changes the mindset of the men in the audience, because we've raised the awareness. A lot of the time men are ignorant to that because it isn't a problem they have to face.”
The education of venues and onboarding of musical talent could take some time, but as festival goers, we all have a part to play in the protection of our pals and it’s something we can start doing now.
How to do your part (safely)
Aside from getting organisations involved, how can you do your part to keep women safe this festival season? I’m glad you asked…
1. Know the location of your nearest security guard
As you enter a venue, make sure you familiarise yourself with the location of each security guard. If you’re really worried or anxious about your own safety, it can’t hurt to stand nearer to them.
If we’ve learned anything from new research, it’s that women are less likely to report incidents of harassment or abuse, and we need to kill that trend. Don’t be afraid to bring security into play if you feel threatened or see any incidents of harassment or assault. If the security guard doesn’t appear to be taking the complaint seriously, ask for their name and report them to the venue. The venues can’t do better if they aren’t aware they’re failing.
2. Keep an eye on women who are drinking heavily
Everyone’s free to have a drink and a good time at a gig or festival, but intoxication is the fastest route to increased vulnerability. If you see anyone who looks distressed or like they’ve had a little too much, try asking if they need help, or stick around to keep watch over them. You can still enjoy the gig while doing your duty!
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the question: do you need help?
Does the chick in front look uncomfortable? It doesn’t hurt to sidle up to her and discreetly ask if she needs help. Could just be her boyfriend or a potential hook-up in progress. It’s not right to assume she’s in danger or that the advances are unwanted, so don’t be afraid to ask.
4. Be smart about getting involved
Okay, so someone needs a hand and you’re happy to give it. That’s awesome, but if you go in with guns blazing, you could do more harm than good and put yourself at risk in the process. In my experience, there’s nothing more fragile than the male ego, and even though it pains me to pander to it (like, really pains me), you need to think of safety first.
Just start chatting to the woman casually. Insert yourself into the conversation. If the guy attempts to force you out, try ignoring him. Invite the girl to a different place on the pretence of meeting your friends or going to the toilets/bar. That way you can both get out of the situation without coming to any harm.
5. Stand up for yourself safely
Is the dude behind grinding on you or trying to grope you in the crowd? That shit ain’t cricket. You’re well within your rights to call it out but remember to be smart about it! In most cases, guys don’t expect to be confronted, so a simple, firm confrontation could be all it takes. Turn to face them full on and ask them to stop. Don’t blow your lid (hard as that may be). If they don’t stop, report them. Maybe next time they’ll learn.
Fight for your right to party
As ticket sales for summer festivals increase among women, it’s safe to say that 2019 is a good year to inspire change. Alternatively, Girl Gang regularly arrange all-women gigs and club nights in the North, so you can party in peace and celebrate the sisterhood. Either way…rock on!
Title Image via Pexels