Historically, feminism has been used to achieve many different types of things, from political rights to cultural safety to media representation. The fact is, feminism is applicable everywhere - including the punk music scene, a large umbrella including multiple different styles of music and subcultures! There are lots of new and some not-so-new movements to make marginalized folks - girls, people of color, and non-binary people - feel included in this music scene, to stop sexual assault and harassment at gigs, and to amplify the voices of girls and non-binary people in punk bands - because punk music was founded BY women and people of color on a platform that was meant to include those people who are traditionally excluded.
There are a few different essential parts to including more people who aren’t white cisgender men in the scene as a whole. One of them is about increasing representation: amplifying the music made by women and non-binary people. Female fans want to see themselves represented onstage, and contrary to common misconception, these female fans do exist! In Warped Tour’s average crowd, 53% of fans are female - and yet less than 20% of the bands on Warped’s 2014 lineup had female members, and women individually made up only 6% of the tour. In 2015, someone edited music festival posters to only include bands that had at least one woman - and as is visible below, they quickly became very bare.
Punk music needs to start by representing the female artists that are out there. (Looking at you Kevin Lyman, Warped Tour’s founder.) There are lots of great female-fronted punk(or punk-ish) bands currently on the scene: Paramore, Screaming Females, SPORTS, Diet Cig, Bully, Sleigh Bells, Ratboys, Girlpool, Thin Lips, Cayetana, Half Waif, Alvvays, Best Coast, Frankie Cosmos, Mitski, Petal, Against the Current, PVRIS, and Speedy Ortiz, just to name a few. And bands like PWR BTTM and G.L.O.S.S.(Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) are fronted by trans people. The fact is, fans want to see themselves represented onstage. It’s an incredibly validating experience to see someone who you can identify with in a position of power, making art that affects people. And this isn’t to say that male-fronted bands are bad - but in the words of Brendan Lukens of Modern Baseball, “I love us, but we are all white, cis guys.”
The second part of making punk music less of a male-dominated scene is making girls and non-binary people feel safe at shows. One way to achieve this is through female artists onstage–often a female artists will call for a song to be “Girls to the front!” But really, the people in the audience are the ones who must change the mindset that only boys belong there. In the words of Megan Seling, a Wondering Sound contributor and author of the article Warped Tour’s Woman Problem, “I grew up listening to hardcore and pop-punk and I know what a boys’ club it can be. I’m used to being in the minority at shows, having to deal with guys who think they need to protect me in the mosh pit. But that was 15 years ago, and still the culture has not evolved.” When girls go to punk shows, it’s because we want to be there. If we’re jumping around in the pit, it’s because we want to be there. If we’re being crushed up against the barricade, it’s because we waited hours to get that spot, and we want to be there. The space needs to be made more inclusive for all girls, and trans people. Women of color have been even more dramatically excluded from the punk music scene; a large part of this due to, again, lack of representation. When it seems like the only bands gaining attention are fronted by white cis men, it is not because other bands don’t exist – this is a product of music journalists only writing about the white, cis male bands; it is a product of white cis male bands refusing to take bands of any other demographic on tour with them. Just as “punks” must work on including girls and trans people in the scene, we must include people of color in this industry. Punk music cannot be a safe haven for marginalized folks if it stays dominated by rich white boys who feel “misunderstood.”
Safety in the pit can mean a lot of things. As stated before, if we’re in the pit, we want to be there - but that is NOT an open invitation to grope us. Punk shows can be rough places, yes, but they can be rough without making girls fear for our bodies. Different bands have different ways of dealing with safety at gigs: PWR BTTM has banned moshing at their shows, but in the chillest way possible, as is typical for their incredibly welcoming show environment. Frontperson Ben Hopkins tells audience members, “Moshing is something we don’t really know how to control well yet in terms of having consensual boundaries for it, so if you want to dance and sing all the words and do whatever you do at a PWR BTTM show, do it, bitch. Just please don’t mosh, OK? Because it hurts people who don’t want to be hurt.” Other bands like Speedy Ortiz and Modern Baseball have created safety hotlines available for audience members to text if they feel unsafe during a show, because in the words of Modern Baseball, “We just want everyone to have a good time.” And a growing number of bands, including PWR BTTM and Modern Baseball, are now requiring the venues they play to have all-gender restrooms, to make every audience member feel included. Simply creating a space for women and non-binary people makes a better show for everyone there. However, it doesn’t end there. The spaces that do exist must be safe for women. When industry giants like Warped Tour allow pro-life organizations to advertise at their summer dates, it limits how much girls can feel safe at a place meant to have fun listening to music. Virginia-based pro-life organization Rock for Life’s presence at 41 dates this summer on the traveling music festival raises the question “why a festival that puts so little effort into booking women to play their stages feels comfortable bringing along an organization that will eagerly tell their young teen audience members what to do with their bodies.” The umbrella of punk music should be a place that supports its followers instead of attacking them.
A huge part to teaching acceptance and creating space in punk music for girls and trans people is putting an end to sexual assault and harassment at gigs. As stated before, and can be confirmed by anyone who has been to a show with moshing and/or crowdsurfing, the pit can be a rough place. But that is not and never will be an excuse for women feeling threatened by other audience members when they just came to enjoy themselves. There are multiple different communities on social media currently working to include women in the scene and end sexual assault and harassment at gigs: Girls Against, Defend Girls Not Pop Punk, safegigs4women (find more info on them at the links below!). Girls being at shows is not an open invitation to grope us. And unfortunately, this is not contained to just audience members. Female fans are often regarded as “easy”, which has resulted in too many popular punk artists taking advantage of their female fanbase for sexual favors. The way to stop this is to stop supporting these artists. Bands like Front Porch Step have wrongfully used their places of power to take advantage of (in Front Porch Step’s case, underage) girls. The scene needs to stop supporting bands like this. Even after the sexual allegations against him, Jake McElfresh of Front Porch Step was not removed from the 2015 Warped Tour lineup despite other bands speaking out against him. And even big industry voices like Alternative Press (previously cited), have histories of ignoring band members’ history of sexual assault in favor of their success, such as when they continued covering stories about hardcore band Blood on the Dance Floor even after the sexually violent allegations against their frontman. To solve these problems, there must be a shift in punk music culture. Marginalized people participating in this scene need support from industry giants and their fellow male audience members.
Interested in more info on inclusive punk culture?
- Check out this article on finding an inclusive punk community for people of color!
- Read about feeling wrongfully excluded from punk culture here
- Watch punk musician Chardine Taylor-Stone talk about AfroPunk and what it means to be a person of color in this industry
- “Misogyny in Pop-Punk”
- “Are Mis-Gendered Band Names Ironic Or Sexist?”
- “5 women in punk and metal who give zero f*cks about their bitch face”
- “Pop-Punk Keeps Forgiving Sexual Harassers, to the Detriment of Its Teen Girl Fanbase”
Want some more diverse music recommendations? (just to name a few)
- Mitski: Poignant indie rock musician whose third culture identity directly influences her music
- PWR BTTM: Glitter-punk rock band made up of two incredible trans musicians
- Lisa Prank: Pop punk goes feminist!
- G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit): Queer hardcore punks bring trans lives to the front of punk music
- Kimya Dawson: Tender anti-folk punk by a woman of color whose tunes fit in the movie Juno as if it was written just to have her soundtrack it
- Speedy Ortiz: Punk musicians celebrating their diverse perspectives
- Girls Against: Fighting against sexual assault and harassment in the live music community
- Defend Girls Not Pop Punk: A movement to protect young women in the scene
- Safegigs4women: Creating a safer environment for women at shows
- Girls Behind the Rock Show: Helping more women become involved in the music scene
- She Shreds: The magazine dedicated to celebrating women guitarists and bassists
- inclusivepunk: For marginalized people in alt music
- Punk Out: A platform celebrating artists in the LGBT+ community