Girls to the Front: Why is abusive behaviour at gigs still a commonplace occurrence?

I have a bone to pick. I’ve been attending live music shows for some years now and for the most part I’ve been lucky enough to not have had any run-ins with anyone in a mosh pit or packed in crowd.

There’ve been more than a few drunken nudges that have resulted in someone else’s beer going right down my back, there’ve been a few sledges thrown my way because Lord forbid my 5’11 frame obstructed someone’s view of the stage. But nothing to the extent where I felt my personal space was being deliberately violated.

I’m not sure why; perhaps a lot of it does come from the fact that, because I am a taller person and not particularly waif-like in physicality, that element of ‘bro culture’ hasn’t really touched me before. I learned quickly that if I was going to put myself into a hectic mosh pit environment, I best be able to give as good as I might get.

However recently, I’ve been reading and witnessing more and more accounts of girls trying to have a good time at gigs and having their experiences ruined by either being groped, inappropriately approached or just straight up being assaulted in any other way.

There obviously exists a very serious issue here: why is this behaviour still just brushed off the shoulders of many punters who clearly witness it? Why is it a very real reality that as a female, I should head along to a heavy metal or rock show thinking to myself, ‘I need to keep my guard up.’?

It’s obviously a type of behaviour that doesn’t sit well with many artists who have been vocal about their objection to it. Most recently, Melbourne’s High Tension have spoken up about an incident they saw during one of their recent shows alongside American metal act Deafheaven.

High Tension
High Tension | Photo: Lauren Connelly.

Vocalist Karina Utomo posted a lengthy and detailed account of the incident on the band’s Facebook page, calling out the person to blame, while also commenting on ways in which they hope to move forward and make their live shows a safe environment for all fans.

“Every person deserves to enjoy the show from the barrier, from the pit or from any area of the venue.” She writes. “The pit is not an area to be opportunistic or an open invitation to violate. How are we meant to achieve progress when a number of individuals do not understand this very basic common decency? Still?”

“I’ve been asked multiple times on my own vulnerability,” Utomo continues in her post. “The utter trust I feel every time I am engaged with the audience is supported by the fact that I always have a microphone in my hand, my voice is amplified for that 30 minutes where I feel control. This is not the case for every audience member, some more vulnerable than others and without a mic. I fear of similar incidents when members of the audience cannot speak out and these incidents go unnoticed.” 

Camp Cope | Photo: Matt Warrell.
Camp Cope | Photo: Matt Warrell.

The social media post, incredibly honest and firm, followed on quite soon after a similar environment was generated within the crowd at Camp Cope’s (pictured above) show in Brisbane. The Melbourne trio (all female, we’ll add) have generated a quick and passionate following of fans around the country thanks to triple j love and a hectic reputation as being a fierce live band and yet, they find themselves running into this sad, yet common, situation.

Sommer Tothill, a friend of the band and attendee of this particular show, relates how she ‘nearly (probably) killed a man at a Camp Cope gig’, a social media post that was quickly shared around by many.

“We tried to sing,” she writes, describing the oppressive environment the Brisbane mosh pit quickly turned into. “But were thrown around by the wrenchings and stumblings of what had become an unstoppable tidal mosh. I’ve been moshes of varying kinds, but none so capsizing in such a small space. Women began to fall about, rag dolls clutching one another’s fingers, watching friends lifted and borne away by the solid sea of bodies, disappearing.” 

“Ladies of the audience,” she finishes. “I salute you. You stood your ground like mighty fucking eucalypts and you sure as shit weren’t going to be cut down by a pact of entitled little brats who couldn’t be forced to self-reflect at gunpoint with their faces on fire.”

It’s a sentiment Camp Cope vehemently agreed with, stating they we ‘so happy that the crowd felt comfortable enough to band together and not let the few people trying to ruin their night take control’.

The fact that, for too long now, girls have just been expected to put up with this type of behaviour or worse, go to see their favourite bands expecting it to happen, is disgusting. Where this sense of ownership some men decided they had over strangers in this type of setting came from is rooted in decades and decades of publicly accepted misogyny but you’d think that now, in 2016, we’d be progressing faster.

This isn’t to say that all men are abusive, oppressive types – far from it. I’m happy to say that I’ve got a solid number of male friends who will more than gladly step in to protect any of us from a stray thrown bottle, a stranger’s carelessly flung limb towards the face or any of the behaviour highlighted above. These people shouldn’t be seen as rare treasures though, the sort of people who’ll come up in conversation followed by, ‘Gosh, you’re lucky to have him around’.

“There’s an element of respect that I believe any audience member is owed.” Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe noted during an interview with us at the 2015 Falls Festival. “My friend calls it the ‘purple circle’ – it’s a space where people don’t invade your privacy. Especially if you’re a woman, goddamn it man, you’re owed your sense of space and you’re owed your sense of privacy. You’re owed an ability to keep your fucking person unmolested.”

“The most infuriating fucking thing on the whole goddamned planet for me, is being behind a microphone, trying to sing these optimistic, life-affirming songs that are inclusive and emotive, and seeing some fucking dipshit man-handling a woman without her goddamned permission.”

It’s behaviour that, thankfully, is beginning to generate more conversation and hopefully it doesn’t just die out within the next few months when the news cycle starts anew and focuses on something else.

Live music is about coming together and enjoying something together – the artists are onstage to provide an experience that is all-inclusive and evocative; the environment can be fun, emotional, cathartic.

We need to remember that sense of camaraderie and solidarity when it comes to seeing intolerable actions like assault – speak up, as there is going to be way more support backing you than you might think.

Header Image: Andrew Wade