August 19, 2014
by Ryan Barnes

If it comes as a shock that punk rock has a gender problem, you’re either not paying attention or you’re new here. If it’s the latter, welcome. Have a drink. Here’s a copy of London Calling. Read this.

For a long time, female musicians in DIY bands have been the exception and not the rule. Lately though, the tides have been shifting and there are more women in upcoming and established bands than there have been in a long time. Candy Hearts, Lemuria, Petal, Pity Sex, Code Orange; the list goes on. For a while, it felt like progress. Maybe we’d finally moved past the hypermasculine wankfests of yesteryear. Sadly, the last few months have seen two incidents that are definite steps back.

The more recent is the departure of Ashley Garcia from the band Smalls. On the night of their Long Island, N.Y. tour stop, Ashley announced to her bandmates that she would be leaving the band and flying home to California. Intimations of homophobia were made, as Ashley has stated that her bandmates (including an ex-boyfriend) refused to accept her recently disclosed homosexuality. The members of Smalls have vehemently denied this allegation, an argument bolstered by the statements of drummer Brittney Rosales – who is also an openly gay individual.

So if it’s not homophobia, why is this an issue? Holding Ashley’s statements under a lens, there’s an unsettling air of entitlement to the things ex-lover and ex-bandmate Billy Miranda said to her. Telling a woman whom you’ve been intimate with she “wasn’t really gay there was no way [she] could be” is a way of asserting control over her. He is effectively telling Ashley that she is wrong for wanting anybody else but him, and that her feelings are invalid because male desire is tantamount to female.

The other incident is of course the onstage accosting of Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw and Britty Drake of Pity Sex. During their gig at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, a fan jumped on stage and kissed Britty, and then attempted the same during Tigers Jaw’s set later in the evening. Brianna released a statement after, proclaiming “IT IS NEVER OKAY TO TOUCH SOMEONE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. EVER.”

One of the stranger aspects of this incident is that no criminal charges were filed, nor were the police involved in any way. The DIY scene has an Omerta-like code – we keep things in the family. Fights are dealt with by kicking those involved out of the show, beef is aired on message boards and social media. The overwhelming mistrust of police may have served as a disadvantage. Bringing someone up on criminal charges would have sent a clear message that this will not be tolerated. This is also troubling, as this is another incident among the massive amount of sexual assaults a year that go unreported.

There has been an overwhelming reaction to the incident in support of Brianna and Britty (other than Ryan Rockwell of Mixtapes’ characteristically boneheaded onstage remarks, which you can search for if you want your eyes to roll back into your skull). There’s been a predictably macho male social media response, with threats of violence if this happens at other shows. It’s unnecessary to get into a discussion of why an eye for an eye is lunacy, but it is very necessary to discuss how to engage with somebody who thinks assaulting a female musician onstage is acceptable behavior. A conversation needs to be had, because ‘boys will boys’ isn’t an excuse and fists are inferior to words.

It’s clear the fans who did this did not fully contemplate their actions beyond an animal urge to ‘kiss the pretty girl with the microphone.’ It’d be a stretch to say these young men were consciously making a point with their actions, to put down these women in the spotlight. Nor was it a purposefully violent act. The worst part is that they didn’t think at all. They simply saw an object of desire, separate from its own human emotions or opinions, and made a grab for it. Transformed by their presence on a stage, Britty and Brianna were no longer seen as women playing music, but one-dimensional sex objects to be gawked at and played with.

Though the issue here is likely more of ignorance than malice, these boys were playing into a male power dynamic. Even if they didn’t mean to be asserting male dominance, they were. By jumping onstage they’re propping up the existing power structure, and effectively marginalizing the women involved.

The idea of women as the invisible other is a problem everywhere. Growing up going to hardcore shows, there was a distinct wall in most crowds: the supermacho front of the room and the ladies who stood in the back, most fearful of the violent moshing or tasked with holding coats of their significant others or friends. There is a trope in comic books referred to as “women in refrigerators,” wherein a female character is killed off, injured, or loses her superheroic powers. Punk seems to have this idea of women as ‘coatracks,’ merely window dressing for the dick swinging of a mosh pit. When women are confined to the back of the room, it can hurt their sense of belonging in a scene of people who already don’t fit in elsewhere.

I’m a musician, and a member of a band with a female lead singer. Her name is Marie. Literally every show we have ever played that the promoter didn’t already know us personally, I have had to point out that Marie was in the band and not just a girlfriend hanger-on. Again, the exception, and never the rule.

It pains me to shine such a harsh light on a culture I’ve held so dear for the majority of my life. While it is easy for one to sit and pick apart these situations and find the problems, solutions are far more illusive. I count myself among a very vocal group of progressive males involved in DIY music who support an inclusive environment. It’s our duty to do everything in our power to subvert problematic behavior. While there’s no easy fix, the only way to progress is an open dialogue. If someone is doing something wrong, say something. Tell them why it’s wrong. They just might learn something.

Ladies, I implore you to not get discouraged. Learn an instrument. Start a band. Book shows. Go to shows. There’s no way to solve the problems of representation without something to represent. Refuse to be silenced.