Recently I went to an event that my housemate was DJing at, when we arrived it was fairly empty, but there were these two guys there who seemed a bit buzzed considering it was still early and the vibe was pretty chilled. One of them started talking to my friend and the other chatted to me, they seemed slightly strange and were making small talk that didn’t particularly interest me and my friend, so we just told them we were there to see our housemate DJ and that we were going to go find him. One of them in particular continued to dance near us throughout the night and make unappreciated comments to us. When our housemate got up to play me and my friend weren’t holding back with the dancing, which the creepy guy seemed to take as an invitation to come and dance with us and touch us. He even started grinding me and licked my friends face. At this point we told him firmly to leave us alone, and carried on with our night, stopping dancing every time he came near. As we were leaving he came over to me and told me how he wanted to ‘give me kisses and hugs’ – which I politely declined. He followed us outside as we said goodbye to some people, he engaged in a conversation with some other guy in the smoking area and started pointing at us. As we left I heard the other guy say ‘yeah go get them!’. So it was a quick walk to the bus stop! Every time I’ve been back to that bar there seems to be a different creepy guy, all intent on invading our space.
When I was asked to write this piece I was wracking my brains for the most exemplary moments in which i’d been made to feel small as a woman, and especially a female musician, of which there have been many. Of course, the majority of my experiences have been fantastic; I’ve played to wonderful audiences and with fantastically talented people (male and female) who usually want nothing more than to perform their hearts out and entertain. The experiences I have had have been, what some would call, minor or micro aggressions. Comments, looks or vibes that serve to remind you of ‘your place’ as a woman taking up room in ‘male spaces’ (ugh I wanna be sick). As if the dregs of the remaining male chauvinists had picked up on my need for recent case studies, in the last few weeks two events have reminded me that, while the world has come along way in terms of the ability for more women to participate in the public, musical world, there are still underlying assumptions and stigmas that form a massive part of our experiences of these spaces.
The first event was an exchange forced upon me outside a bar. Before I was about to go on stage to sing I wanted to have a cigarette to calm my nervous jitters. I prefer not to drink before I play as I’ve seen so many of my heroes and fellow local musicians become subordinate to a bottle this way. I saw from the corner of my eye a youngish man I didn’t know walking directly towards me. Alarm bells go off in my head immediately and I hastily put out my cigarette and attempt to go back inside. ‘Oi lady wait! Where are you going’ He says. ‘Im about to perform and I need to go and set up – not that its any of your business’. ‘No need to get a mouth on you, you’re not even that hot anyway’. I wish id replied ‘I literally don’t care about your opinion. Bye’, but his judgement of me took me by surprise and my throat felt tight, I froze for a second and omitted a strained grunt. My male friend then comes out to smoke. Upon seeing him the obtruder proclaimed ‘oh i see, this is your fella isn’t it’. ‘No he’s not my boyfriend, and I really don’t give a shit about what you think of me so please just leave me alone’. To which he replied the killer retort of: ‘I wouldn’t marry u anyway and I bet ur band sucks’. This exchange fell heavy like a stone in my belly. My nerves and excitement for the gig gave way to a feeling of anxiety and sadness. For some reason I was questioning all my actions. What had I done or said wrong. How could I have handled that better. Luckily the power of music meant that 45 minutes later I’d temporarily forgotten about this annoyance in a blur of soulful harmonies.
The second instance I experienced recently came from musicians themselves. Someone I play with was discussing the need for another band he is in to find a new female singer. He stated there had been lots of applications but the problem is ‘you can’t exactly advertise that you’re after a young attractive singer…and no one wants a pig up front!’. I was visibly shocked and obviously retorted asking ‘which century are you living in’. He replied ‘this one, its just the way the world is now, its what people want’. This response is so obviously flawed but I kept my reply simple just saying the world is changing and if we want to see that change happen it has to begin here. No one else in the room (all men) said anything. Once again after this conversation I completely doubted whether I did the right thing calling him out. Did I seem angry? would this affect my reputation? was I overly harsh? I actually really like the man who made this comment, we get on really well as friends and he is an epic musician. He apologised to me later saying he ‘wasn’t thinking before he spoke’. That being said this moment reminded me that when a lot of the people I work with can express themselves unchecked, this is the kind of bile that will come out. As the only female in a band, and especially as a singer not an instrumentalist, it is easy to feel inferior. These kind of comments totally remind me of a ‘role’ people believe me to be fulfilling in my performance, which isn’t wholly based on my talent and worth as a musician. Obviously whenever I play I want to challenge these stereotypes, and remain confident and strong in spite of them. But when you’re feeling low and uncertain of yourself, the last thing you need is the feeling that everyone in the room sees you somewhat as an object, an image, to ‘sell’ the band. Ive had musicians give me comments on what I should wear. Someone once told me that I should go ‘back to the skimpy outfit you were wearing last week’ i quickly retorted that I think he should unbutton at least three more buttons on his shirt next time….but I can see how small comments, that people don’t even think about like this, can put off people who are not as thick skinned as others.
There are so many people that support, love and fill me with joy and hope for humanity. But whilst focusing on how far we’ve come is important, we do need to keep revisiting these issues. Nothing will change if we just continuously give ourselves a self congratulatory pat on the back. The experiences I have explained here have not been serious, but there are lives and livelihoods at stake. We must not overlook this challenge!
Love to all the amazing sisters, brothers and people of the world that do so much to support gender equality.
When I was 21 I worked at Edinburgh Fringe festival and as a result was able to see huge variety of amazing (and awful!) performers. A number stood out to me and not all for the right reasons – in the basement room of a pub in Cowgate we were putting on a series of comedy acts, one of whom was possibly the most cluelessly misogenist man I have ever had the misfortune to listen to. It was also incredible to see the total lack of empathy he seemed to have to living as anything other than an ‘alpha male’. The finale of his show was focused around his fridge delivery man, a man so huge he said that he could have done anything to him and he would have been powerless to stop him. This concept of physical vulnerability had clearly shaken him to the core. He stood in front of us oblivious that over half the audience feel this every single day.
At that point in my life I was aware of this powerlessness but only as an idea, now – 4 years later I am sorry to say that I am horribly aware of its reality. Later on that festival a man was repeatedly walking past me whilst stewarding a beer garden – almost imperceptibly whispering, ‘I bet you like sex don’t you’ before pushing me backwards, pinning me to the wall by my neck and kissing me aggressively. It was only a good knee to the testicles that made him back off.
My second lesson in powerlessness happened slightly more recently: I had been at a day festival and my friends and I were planning to continue the night in town, however, in the crowds of drunk people surging for seats on the last buses home we were separated. My phone had died and despite my best efforts I was unable to find them, I went to the station and the last train home had also been cancelled so I was now stuck in town with 5hrs to kill until the first train. I decided to go to a club that was open late as it would be warm and safer (I thought) than waiting on my own in the station.
I got a drink and sat on the edge of the dance floor enjoying the chance to just sit and rest. A tall boy came up to me and asked if he could sit down – I said it was and he started telling me how he was a law student at Uni focussing on human rights , he was interesting and quite attractive so I let him buy me a drink and we carried on chatting. In the smoking area he asked if I wanted to go back to his to wait for the train ‘no funny business’, we could have a joint and sleep if we wanted. It was 4am by this point, I was tired and the prospect of another 3 hours out was horrendous, so I agreed. At his after a smoke I rapidly fell asleep. I woke up paralysed by a weight on top of me. As sleep left me I realised I could not move my arms or torso and I was feeling a sharp pain in my lower abdomen – which turned out to be his fingernails. I gasped, lifted my legs under me and kicked out as hard as I could. He rolled sideways off me, and on to the floor, hitting his head on the bedside table. He lay frozen, pretending to be asleep which for some reason made me blisteringly angry, so I kicked him again and grabbed my coat. The boy I’d met in the club then sat up blearily in bed and mumbled ‘ what’s going on’. I turned around and said ‘he tried to rape me’ before slamming the door, running down the stairs and out onto the street.
It was now 7am and I don’t remember walking to the station or getting the train home. I do remember being sick in the toilets.
To this day it has changed my behaviour. I am far less trusting and less willing to do things on my own. When I am alone in a space with a man, for example on public transport I will physically move to be around more people. This feeling of vulnerability is something that will never leave me and it sickens me to think there might be people who can’t empathise with it.
Here are a couple of instances for your magazine, however I would count myself relatively lucky in comparison to most women I know, and as a white woman in England I would consider my experiences nothing in comparison to the average experience of women across the world.
A licenced Brighton and Hove taxi picked me up, the driver verbally tried to persuade me to find somewhere quiet to have sex with him. When I reported it to the taxi company and the police, I was immediately asked what I was wearing, if I was drunk, and why on Earth was I out on my own so late. I was reprimanded and made to feel awful by the police for reporting it 6 hours after the incident. After that, no investigation or action was taken at all. (Turns out that internal taxi cameras are owned by a 3rd party and it would have cost them money to review the footage so they left it)
I’m 4ft9. I’ve had ‘Midget porn’ shouted at me more times than I could count. Especially at night anywhere alcohol is involved, on top of the usual of being groped or physically hurt, I get general questions/comments relating to my height in a sexual manner, i.e. the idea that I wouldn’t need to get on my knees, or paedophilia references. Or physical shows of force demonstrating that they could overpower me because of my height. i.e. lifting me up by my throat, body tackling me, or complete strangers lifting me up over their shoulder in a fireman-carry, or lifting me by the waist with arms wrapped around me so their face is squashed into mine.
A very recent thing that happened was when i was walking through the park on my work break, and some guy sitting on the bench whistled at me, I’m very sensitive to things like this, it really annoys me so I turned around and told him not to do that because I’m not a dog, to which he replied “I don’t even know you” which made no sense so I replied “exactly, so don’t do it.” and I carried on walking… he carried on whistling until I went around the corner.
Another similar thing happened when I was in the pub with a couple of friends and two older guys kept staring at me, so I turned around and told them to stop but once again, I got completely ignored and they carried on until my male friend got involved and then we left.
Those are not very serious cases but they do have an affect on your confidence, it makes you feel like an object. Some girls might enjoy the attention but I don’t like feeling like an animal in a zoo, and the fact that I called the guys out every time and they ignored me, made me feel like I don’t have a voice just because I’m a female which is pretty sad because at the end of the day, we are all human.
That was part one. We have many more stories to tell, and will continue to do so. This world needs feminism.
If you have also been a victim, please email us with a false name and your age to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(All names that appear below have been changed. Though this is mainly to protect the victims, it also our legal obligation not to directly name anyone. Though it revolts us to in some way shelter the abusers from justice, we have no other choice currently than to abide by the law.)