Pop Punk and Feminism: Accountability
Posted on July 9, 2015
July 9, 2015 | by Kayla St. Onge and Jonathan Diener
The things I’ve been writing about so far have been pretty cut and dry, set in stone. When it comes to the topic of accountability, things become a little more nebulous. It reaches around everyone, but is particularly relevant to men who want to call themselves allies. With all that’s been happening, it feels particularly important to talk about what it means to hold yourself and your friends accountable, how to explain that accountability is part of fighting rape culture, and what exactly it is we should all be doing.
The fact of the matter is that in these discussions, it’s more likely that men will be listened to. That’s why I have a co-writer with name recognition and a male perspective on these issues. Part of being an accountable ally is keeping this in mind when you speak—while you align yourself with the political ideals of feminism, you don’t always stand to reap the benefits. Sociologist Daniel Meyers refers to allies as “insideroutsiders,” musing that allies “have a different field to negotiate” and goes so far as to say “are members of the activist community but not members of the beneficiary population that underlies the collective activist identity and in fact, they are, by definition, part of the enemy.”
Thinking about this critically, it means that to be an ally, you have to work harder to earn that title. The path to total accountability isn’t a straight line. It’s more of an uphill battle that we all slide backward on occasionally. The simplest way to start is to call out bad behavior when you see it. This is heavily tied into recognizing the microaggressions we’ve talked about already and speaking out against outright aggression. In the music world, it means telling your friends that their misogynistic lyrics aren’t cool, it means speaking up when you see them acting inappropriately towards their fans. Hardest of all, it means not allowing these people to play your space or tour. A lot of the time as men, you have the visibility and power to speak out with minimal negative backlash. Use that privilege as best you can.
This isn’t just finger pointing at men—women also must hold themselves accountable. The insidious nature of the patriarchy often turns us against each other. When I was a teenager, I did not hesitate to shame other girls for their sexual choices, to automatically assume a girl was a “bitch” based on a look or even just her appearance. It takes a lot of work to unlearn the way our culture tries to put us in constant competition with each other. Female accountability can be framed as learning to love each other, or at the very least, not automatically judging the book by the cover. It means abandoning the need to be the “cool girl” who is “just one of the guys,” and siding with each other when slurs or sexist comments are made.
The most important thing to remember is the base definition of accountability: taking responsibility for your own actions. If you mess up, apologize sincerely. If you say something that isn’t right, make amends with the correct people. Don’t apologize “if anyone was offended”, don’t ignore it and hope everyone just forgets. Step up and take action to better yourself as a person and make the world a little more accepting. Small steps are better than none, and if we all hold ourselves to a certain standard, it will start to show sooner rather than later.
-Kayla St. Onge
I started listening to punk rock at an early age and the artists I looked up to promoted simple messages of equality, fighting racism, homophobia and many other social injustices. Although I knew in my heart that I was fine with everyone, there were still years of letting jokes and pretty harmful things slip out of my mouth and my fingers. Of course it would be in the comfort of my own friends, but I still felt guilty about it because I knew it wasn’t how I wanted to act. After talks with many friends, reading articles and just listening to people who knew what they were talking about, I knew I had a long way to go and I was finally comfortable acknowledging that.
The general human reaction when being called out is to either deny or snap back at the accuser (or educator). I was guilty of doing that for a while if people would try to correct my friends or myself. I would blame it simply on teen angst or just people trying to make themselves look cool in public, but then I realized I was making up false rationales to deflect my original, insensitive statement. There are times where I felt was attacked, but in retrospect I realized by simply removing what I said, apologizing and focusing on correcting the behavior was the proper thing to do. Like Kayla said, be sorry because you’re sorry, don’t say you’re sorry because it may have offended someone.
A major problem arises when the terms “witch hunt” and, worst of all, “Feminazi,” are used to describe the groups of people pointing out others’ mistakes. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable it’s because you still have some instilled behavior that you’re afraid to relinquish. If you are approached or corrected don’t start bashing the other person, talk it through, because maybe you’re on the same page and someone misread what you were trying to say. So many people, especially in our music scene, are trying to make a positive change and for the most part are all on the same side. Some just know how to express it more than others, while the rest are willing to learn.
I feel that using positivity and creating dialogue is the best way to correct the problem instead of what seems to be attacking one another. People are less reactionary when someone offers a helping hand instead of one balled in a fist. I have vegetarian friends who scream statistics about meat when people are eating burgers. Then there’s me, the average person who when asked will tell you exactly why I don’t agree with eating meat and can have a calm, informational talk about it. The way I handle things in that situation by using information and not guilt, can go a long way. There are plenty of people in my position who feel they’re fighting the good fight, but still have some hints of stubbornness floating around and don’t realize some societal norms aren’t good things.
Accountability comes with a sense of self-awareness. Acknowledge that you said or did something that was hurtful to others and learn why, learn how to change it in the future and learn to help others do the same. I’m still trying, but it already feels much better.