This past weekend I attended a concert in Rockford, Illinois. Wing Ding is an annual rock concert in the Rockford area that brings together several bands for a day-long event. This year's event is rumored to be the last Wing Ding ever.
Since my freshman year in high school, I have really been into rock music of all kinds, and have been to nearly thirty concerts since I was fourteen years old. I have seen bands like System of a Down, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, and Sevendust.
Each show seems to bring a unique crowd. Some create a sense of united purpose, usually fueled by a shared passion for the music. At these kinds of shows, I have been able to get to know the people around me, talk to them, share a good time with them. But other shows have tended toward the opposite.
At these other shows, I have felt very much like an outsider as a woman in a mostly-male space. That's the thing about rock music: liking it as a woman is inherently challenging to the feminine/masculine dichotomy we are taught to abide by. Rock music, with its hard-hitting guitar riffs, the sharp drum beat, and the powerful vocals, is not associated with being a female. The overwhelming power (and often brutality) of this kind of music is something that women are not supposed to possess or utilize. That means that when women do show up at these kinds of concerts, where this power and brutality reign above all else, they are often treated as outsiders and are reduced to objects (typically breasts) for the pleasure of the men in the crowd. I have heard "Show your titties!" enough at the concerts I've been to to last me a lifetime.
At Wing Ding last Sunday, I saw Powerman 5000 perform, and at one point during their set, the vocalist said that he was going to dedicate a song to all the "dirty, filthy, rotten girls" in the audience. With those words, he effectively turned the women in the crowd into fetishized "naughty girls." As I stood in the crowd, I could feel the implied sexuality dripping from his words, and I didn't feel at all like they were aimed at women, but were aimed instead at the men listening. They made me cringe, but still I stayed there for the remainder of the set.
Without going into many more examples, I will say that I'm still trying to get my head around this. I have taken part of rock show culture that doesn't treat women as full human beings. I still like bands that make these sorts of attitudes possible. It took me too long to realize that I was part of the problem, and I still can't say I want to give it all up. The brutality inherent in most rock music, especially metal, is something I can relate to and can easily connect with. There's a lot to be pissed off about in this world, and sometimes it feels good to be able to connect with music and other listeners who are tapped into that same sentiment. But the fact that most of the music I seem to be interested in attending concerts for comes with this troubling atmosphere makes me feel uncomfortable.
How can I be a good feminist while I'm cheering for a band that attracts the kind of crowd that yells, "Show your tits!" and cheers when women pull up their shirts? It wasn't until last Sunday that I really starting thinking about these things, despite the several shows I have been to since I started identifying as a feminist. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it is about hearing this kind of music live that I can't seem to give up. If it's the atmosphere, how can I justify it when often times its so blatantly sexist? I'm not quite sure.