“He’s such a nice guy though!” And Other Punk Falsehoods
Posted on April 1, 2016
While recently helping out with a podcast, I was asked about my experiences working in different parts of the music industry and, more directly, if I felt the bad experiences I’d had in other scenes were something I’d also experienced since working more in the DIY punk scene. I didn’t answer the question properly, instead sidelining into how I’d changed so I knew how to handle things better, which is true. When faced with someone who is trying to belittle me I know to stand up for myself. I’m 31, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and no one is going to talk to me like I’m a child.
The issue I avoided talking about was the fact that even in the punk scene, a place that is generally way more liberal and progressive, you are shut down when you try and speak out about people who treat you badly. I remember once talking about the emotional abuse I’d suffered at the hands of someone in this scene and being told “well that’s just how they are, you probably brought it upon yourself” and from that day never mentioning it again because I felt terrible. But it’s not just me. I read pieces from women and talk to women in the music scene all the time who have experienced similar things.
But hearing “you probably brought it upon yourself” cuts something deep inside me. I’m not a mean or dramatic person; I don’t really like masses of attention, negative or positive. I have anxiety issues, but I would say I’m generally nice to everyone, I have very few complaints on my personality. I try and help any musician I come across that I think is awesome, I go to shows, I support the scene I’m in as much as I can. There is no part of me that brings emotional abuse upon myself, and this is true for all women, many of whom are shut down, belittled and told to be quiet about things that would portray people in a bad light.
“Well that’s just how they are” is another attitude that enrages me, because I hear it a lot. I find it strange that we excuse people who behave in ways we would find unacceptable in other parts of society as ‘just how they are’ because it’s the punk scene. It’s incredibly easy to be charming and everyone’s favourite person when you’re on stage, or putting on a show, or working for a label, or taking photos of a band, but that facade isn’t always accurate. Also if emotionally abusing, bullying and belittling someone is ‘just how they are’ why is that something anyone will put up with? This isn’t just a grumpy by nature human being, it’s way more serious.
I’ve gotten through cases of abuse and bullying in the music scene and very few people know the particulars of what happened in most of these situations. I will openly talk about overcoming such situations, about rebuilding yourself and about the need to fix things, but have never publicly gone into my experiences. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently; is my lack of voice against people holding me back? It’s twofold: I don’t talk in specifics because a lot of this stuff is incredibly private and I have always felt that as long as I know the truth about situations and deal with people in the way I see properly then that’s good enough, but there’s also the question of calling out people in power. When this was happening years ago the man doing it had me convinced that if I spoke out against him, my career or anything I wanted to do in music press would be over. He had that power over me and I’ve never really come out against him to this day.
What I’ve learnt is that even if I keep situations to myself, but there are rumours about things or people have seen things happen, I know the truth of what’s going on. It’s taken me a long time to grasp this fact but it’s also taken me a long time to realise a lot of the things that I was convinced to feel about myself aren’t true. The people around me who know me well enough know the kind of person that I am and would never believe anything otherwise anyway. That also helps a whole ton. But I still feel strange about being in a situation where I was the victim but am viewed by others as the one at fault. I’m always told I was doing something wrong and brought it all on myself. I’ve had people witness things that have happened to me, seen me get hit, seen me been shouted at and pushed around and worse, who have laughed these things off because they thought it was a joke. They thought that was the dynamic of the relationship. Thinking anyone is bringing violence, emotional abuse and general mistreatment upon themselves as a form of attention or because they like the ‘drama’ of it all is dangerously misinformed.
Emotional abuse is so complex and makes people withdraw into themselves. We lose a part of ourselves to it and it’s sometimes brushed off as people just being overly sensitive which is why you hear dismissive comments. It’s not something that’s dealt out by just outwardly shitty humans; the nicest, friendliest, most positive people could be making someone else’s life hell behind closed doors. But from what I’ve experienced myself and heard from other women in the music scene, the woman is always to blame, or at least doubted when she talks about being emotionally abused, and people always jump to the conclusion that the victim is only upset because someone didn’t want to date them or sleep with them.
The lingering notion of women in music as groupies is ridiculous. We’ve reached a point where women are in the best bands, they are putting on shows, they are promoting bands and kicking ass at music magazines and labels. Women are everywhere in music. I work for Punktastic and our editorial staff is mostly women. Even still, people, guys and girls, still draw conclusions that having a problem with a guy stems from either trying to have sex with him or arguing because of sex. Sex should never be a factor anyone considers when someone talks out about being mistreated. Slut-shaming is still something that goes on and a lot of the time I don’t think the people doing it even realise that they are doing it. It’s just a programmed reaction, one that I hate so much.
I have come a long way since the first time this happened to me in the music industry, and I don’t believe that punk is a bubble where I’m safe from it at all but I am stronger, wiser and know when to take myself out of situations. My advice is that if someone shuts you down for saying another person has been bullying you or emotionally abusing you, don’t feel bad and lock up that experience. If we all listened a little more, life would be far better. I feel like I always end my pieces on this statement but it’s so true, punk rock is consideration for others. Stop judging and start listening.