A few notes on safety, harassment, and equity at shows

What we’re hearing so far from our Consent, Amplified survey.

This Tuesday, we’re presenting a panel discussion at Arts + Literature Laboratory on the treatment of women and other marginalized groups in the music community in Madison. Emily Mills will be leading the discussion, and the panelists are four women who play different roles in music in town: Lili Luxe, Dana Pellebon, Martha White, and Sarah Akawa.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve also been inviting people to share their own experiences with harassment and other issues in an open survey. We’re going to leave the survey open indefinitely, and over time I’m hoping to develop more substantive coverage based on what people are telling us. But before Tuesday’s event, I’d like to point out a few key things the survey responses so far are telling us.

First, the obvious.

So far about 25 people have responded to the survey—not bad, considering we’re asking about stuff that’s hard to discuss and considering that most of the responses were expansive and detailed. The vast majority of them talked about personally experiencing or witnessing various forms of harassment—especially men groping women, and making aggressive, unwelcome advances that often persisted despite women’s efforts to get out of the situations.

"I am always on guard when I go out,” wrote one respondent. "The uptight Midwest demeanor coupled with the wildness of drink and music often brings out a suppressed savagery in men that's very distressing and oppressive. Recently at Beats Antique at the Majestic a big older man, on some drugs or something, was stalking me, following me, staring at me non-stop, and rubbing up against me. I ended up asking a man in front of me to stand guard. Another example of a time recently at Tani Diakite's show at the Alchemy, a man danced near me and we chatted a bit. I didn't like how he was coming too close, so I left for the bathroom. When I got back he came up to me and said, ‘You left while I was dancing with you, and didn't ask. You can't do that!' I said 'pfffst!' and turned away. I ended up slipping out and going home. He frightened me… I often am out late at shows, [and] the harassment is never-ending.”

A few discussed racist harassment at shows. One respondent, who identified herself as a woman of color, brought up the classic example of white people grabbing black people’s hair. "These situations of harassment are quite overwhelming; to have my personal space invaded by folks following me around to give me weird comments/compliments, getting pissed off if I say no their requests to touch my hair, or simply touching my hair without asking for permission is very upsetting,” she wrote. "It’s also exhausting to get approached by folks who don't ask for consent to start conversations on race, let alone conversations in general.” This respondent also noted that most of her run-ins of this kind have involved white women. "In a lot of these experiences, I feel race and gender is so connected to these folks' privilege and sense of entitlement—it's pretty damn disgusting! I also feel drug and alcohol consumption plays a part in this too."

Speaking of classic problems, some respondents also brought up the belittling of female musicians. "I have had experiences, specifically at shows I play at, where people (always male) introduce themselves to the other three male members of my band, but they say nothing to me,” one musician wrote in her response. "When they do decide to talk to me, I get a bunch of stupid questions like 'so do you write the songs?' or 'wow I've never met a GIRL who plays in a band before' or aren't your hands a little small to be playing that guitar/bass?’"

A few respondents said they haven't experienced harassment personally, but have seen a lot of it, like this one:

"I have never felt mistreated myself, but have witnessed the following: 1) Men using dancing and mosh pits as an opportunity to invade women's personal space. 2) Female musicians being hassled on social media and message boards. 3) Women being kind of cornered by guys at shows who they have no interest in interacting with. 4) "Locker room talk" about female musicians and regular show attendees."

People do see positive efforts, but not consistently.

A few respondents credited various popular Madison venues—especially the High Noon Saloon, Mickey’s, the Majestic, and The Frequency—with creating a good atmosphere and in some situations kicking out people who made other patrons feel unsafe. But these reports were mixed: Some people said they didn’t really see a lot of positive change happening, or that they felt pretty much on their own. "I definitely feel the need to be on alert and to look out for myself,” wrote one respondent. "Venues and bars do not take any responsibility for keeping an eye out for trouble, nor are they receptive to requests for help. I also see people being radically over-served alcohol, which exacerbates unsafe behavior.” So, some people feel venues have their back and some don’t, which at the very least suggests that venues need to get more consistent and deliberate about looking out for these issues.

Several respondents praised a few venues and event organizers who deliberately try to create a different experience, especially the Queer Pressure dance nights (co-organized by panelist Sarah Akawa and DJ Boyfrrriend) and other pop-up dance parties, and Williamson Magnetic Recording Company, which hosts all-ages shows where drinking is prohibited. One responder thought it was helpful that more venues around town are putting on early shows. Several pointed out, of course, the importance of supportive individuals and communities: "I have seen individual efforts by women to stand up for themselves and their friends, and individual efforts by men to help women get out of uncomfortable situations,” one respondent wrote.

People have tons of ideas for improving the situation.

When asked how shows in Madison could become more safe and equitable, people responded with solutions ranging from better transportation (like more late-running city buses) to greater caution about alcohol to improved security to more inclusive booking. “Avoid sexist language or imagery in flyers/event pages/journalistic coverage,” wrote one respondent. "I’m very unlikely to go to a show if there's a sexy babe on the flyer and I'm constantly full of rage with sexist/condescending discussions about what the female guitarist was wearing or how cool it is that a woman can play drums or what have you.”

Several people said that bands should take a more active role in telling audiences to respect each other’s space and speaking out against harassment. “I think ‘leaders' in this community really need to step up and make it clear that a safe and equal music scene is important to them,” one person wrote in the survey. "I appreciate that since some of those ‘leaders' are white men that they don't want to seem like they're acting as the voice of an issue when it's not something they've experienced or can speak on, but showing up for the cause sends a message just as well. That also being said, I think there are some awesome women and women leaders in this community and I'm looking forward to their voices being amplified even more.”

"If every venue had a phone number that people could text to report violent behavior, sexual assault, or other dangerous situations, this could also be helpful,” another respondent wrote.

It’s on everyone to change things—including this website.

Getting back to the matter of booking more inclusive shows for a moment—one respondent pointed out that we at Tone Madison need to do better about including female artists on the shows we present and that "It seems most of the invited artists are men.” That’s definitely right and something that we are working to change. We’ve had shows where we’ve done a good job of not just booking white guys to play, and we’ve had shows where we really, really, have not. I won’t make excuses for it.