Sculpting Safe Spaces for Womxn in Live Music

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Written by Jenna Dreisenstock

Firstly, let me begin this article with a simple disclaimer: this type of action to protect womxn and assist them in protecting themselves shouldn’t be necessary – what’s most important for creating safe spaces for womxn is changing perspectives, societal norms and breaking down misogyny – teaching our men to not perpetrate violence against womxn, instead of “teaching” womxn how ‘not to be victims’. Regardless, we are very sadly not at a point in time where gender violence has reduced enough for us, as womxn, to not have the tools and skills to recognise our dangers. As mentioned before however – it’s not womxn’s responsibility to be on constant guard due to our partriarchal society, and in which case when attending an exciting event we need to talk about how event organisers have a responsibility to ensure a safe space for all. What can we do to make the music scene less hostile to womxn?

It is a guarantee that any womxn you talk to who has attended any type of music event – whether it be a rave or a rock concert, has experienced harassment from men. It’s practically a given. Whether it be catcalling, groping, being followed or a myriad of various forms of harassment, it is a sad truth that for many female-identifying individuals this is the reality of what we have to be aware of when trying to enjoy the event. Wary of how close the man next to you is standing, double checking back every second as you walk back to your campsite during a festival. The terror of losing one’s friends and having to pass by drunk men willing to throw any obscenity at you. Of course, this delves deeper. We don’t leave our drinks alone, ever. While having to deal with the harassment is horrendous enough, unfortunately the paranoia of horrifying events emerging from the situation lingers over us too.

The most obvious example of the first steps of direct action perhaps is regarding alcohol, drugs and sex; careful alcohol setups, testing, spreading awareness of the symptoms of possible date rape drugs, free (good quality) condoms and so on. As womxn we all know the procedures of never leaving our drinks alone, accepting drinks from others etc however the terrifying accessibility as well as ‘invisibility’ of the drugs that are used for violent acts are extremely elusive. The most common drugs used to manipulate victims into non-consensual acts are known as Rohypnol, or it’s slang term ‘roofies’ and GHB which is otherwise often referred to as liquid ecstasy. The biggest issues with these drugs is that they are extremely potent, and often completely tasteless, odourless and colourless. Regarding the decrease of these incidents, as mentioned before a lot of pressure is placed on us as womxn to make sure we take every step possible to not become a victim – which is simply ridiculous. How do we remedy something like this? I feel as though easy, quick drug testing is definitely an initial focus – not only in finding out whether one’s drink is spiked, but with many users finding themselves in danger if administered the wrong drug (which can also be used in cases of coercion, and so on.) Although it still feels like a way in which we have to take responsibility, testing kits available while drinking could greatly reduce the risk: for example, a newer drug detection option called The Sip Safe allows one to dab some of their drink onto the wristband to see a quick result as to whether their drinks may be spiked or not. Regarding womxn’s responsibility then at festivals – it shouldn’t be up to us to have to go out of our way to have something like this to feel safe, so perhaps it’s time organisers look into providing these services free for the safety of not only womxn but other folks as well.

As for tackling harassment at festivals and events, it’s slightly more difficult to brainstorm an effective solution to this aside from ‘men please stop harassing womxn’ as, especially at massive events packed with people; it’s inevitable we will run into people whose behaviour best be ignored, or a groper in the crowd who is begging for a kick in the shin. In this regard I would say the most important thing is for all folks, to look out for each other: regardless of gender. This doesn’t just include looking out for your friends, but awareness for all is key. Many stories exist, especially from womxn regarding how the help of strangers avoided some possible serious situations – some womxn have spoken about finding themselves in a situation where they have seen a lone womxn looking extremely uncomfortable dealing with a man who won’t back off: and find themselves stepping in as ‘a good friend’ who – “Oh there you are! We’ve been looking all over for you. We have to go, sorry!” even though the two womxn are strangers, one managed to help the other out of a potentially dangerous situation. Womxn have spoken of watching drunk womxn being coerced by men, specifically men they don’t seem to know; with a story of two womxn who intervened as a man attempted to force a very drunk stranger into a cab, to which eventually the two womxn pulled the stranger away and took her home: she didn’t know the man, and they realised if they hadn’t stepped in – something awful could’ve happened.

Creating less hostile spaces for womxn at music events and festivals is a difficult subject to tackle – especially regarding how small steps are – small steps, and its necessary to turn the horrific victim blaming culture around, hold perpetrators responsible and change our entire societal perspective. That’s a lot to do. In the meantime however, most importantly, we need to make sure organizers take their audiences safety seriously while we do the best we can to reform the corruption of discrimination.