Opinion: Don’t Pour Sugar On This -Sexual Harassment at Shows is Still Harassment

words: Jade Kennedy

Australia: we need to do better.

In case you missed the news earlier this week, three female musicians were harassed or assaulted at their gigs last weekend. Three different women, three different states, three incidents in which someone was made to feel uncomfortable at their place of work, in the course of doing their job.

WAAX frontwoman Marie DeVita revealed on Instagram she had been groped not once but twice while on stage at Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel.
“I couldn’t figure out who you were because you moved so quickly in a really large crowd of people,” she said on the band’s official IG.
“But I hope you’re glad to know that I fucking felt it and it was extremely degrading.
“…You know who you are and I want you to know that your disgusting behaviour is not welcome in our music scene or anywhere really. It is totally disrespectful and plain fucked up. Musicians work really hard to make music and perform it. We deserve some fucking respect.”

Alex the Astronaut was performing in Adelaide when she was put in an awkward situation by a fan
“I walked off stage to the merch desk and four boys asked for photos (which is fine),” she wrote on Instagram.
“One put his arm around me and whispered in my ear that he had a crush on me (two times) and asked if that was okay to say. When I said I’m gay so yes as long as he got that he said it again. I am small, he was very tall he kept his arm around me the whole time and I felt uncomfortable. His friend did the same thing and when I tried to leave got annoyed and when he asked to buy me a drink and when I said no thanks got cranky.”

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Kira Puru performing in Townsville. Pic: Jade Kennedy

Kira Puru also used Instagram as a platform to reveal her horrible experience supporting Peking Duk in Townsville.
“When I stepped into the lights, everything was whirring n I felt pretty nervous that I might have a panic attack on stage,” she wrote.
“During the show, some loser from the crowd yelled out some shit about my ‘fat pussy’ from in the pit.
“… It’s frustrating to not even be able to get through a 30 minute set without some gronk harassing me and commenting on my body.
“Fortunately I’m a fucking G and just called it out and dealt with it on stage but straight after the set I had a bit of an embarrassing meltdown/release triggered by that moment.
“I think we can all just agree that this behaviour is inappropriate, disrespectful and entirely unwarranted. IT IS HARASSMENT. Don’t bring your shitty, entitled attitude to any gig of mine or any show or public place for that matter… If you behave like a fucking tool, YOU WILL BE CALLED OUT AND KICKED OUT. If you are with or near a stupid fucking gronk, call their behaviour out and make them accountable. If you can’t see why this behaviour is an issue YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.”

Puru’s story hit me particularly hard because Townsville is my hometown, and I was at that show. Fortunately, I was working the merch stand inside at the time of the incident and wasn’t still down the front taking photos, otherwise I could have lost a very expensive camera by trying to embed it into somebody’s skull.

I had briefly met Puru before the show – she was absolutely lovely – and thought she looked great on stage in her long black pants, black top and black jacket with her hair slicked back. The only negative that crossed my mind was, “Bloody hell, she must be hot up there!”

Unfortunately, it’s not just women on stage that cop intrusive, harassing or abusive behaviour at shows. Having worked in journalism, publicity, photography, event management and merchandise sales in the music industry for almost 20 years, I personally have seen, felt and heard almost everything under the sun from both men and women; artists and punters and crew.

One of my favourite comments is, “She must be sleeping with someone,” and, “I wonder who she’s fucking to get so close,” when I’m in the pit taking photos. Sadly, this usually comes from women in the crowd behind me who don’t think I can hear them. Granted, I do get pretty close to the acts (for three songs, usually) and I am very often the only female – if not the only photographer – in the pit at local shows.

The comments become even more snarky if I’m seen to have any interaction with someone on the stage. God forbid I exchange a smile with someone in the band – that will often brand me a ‘whore.’

It’s a male-dominated industry so I have heard some doozies from artists and crew as well: “When can I introduce my genitals to your genitals?” is not a question many would encounter in their place of work. I have, though.

I also stopped going to after parties without people I knew and trusted being with me or meeting me there after one artist at one official after show event in a nightclub seemingly mistook my vagina for a bowling ball and lifted me clear off the ground with his hand between my legs.
All I had done was walk up to the bar beside him to order a drink.

In every single situation I have found myself in the flight or fight instinct kicks in and out of shock, usually, I go straight into flight mode.

I have been working in this industry for so long I am hyper aware of how I present myself, and this often means wearing high-necked, loose tank tops (where nothing is form-fitting to show breasts or waist or ass, and nothing can malfunction à la Janet Jackson at the Superbowl), black pants, boots or sneakers, no makeup, no excessive jewellery or accessories. As much as I would like to get made up and wear nice things – because working shows is about the only time I get out and socialise now – I don’t feel like I can, because I’m already judged just for being female and turning up to work dressed frumpily.

As someone who is all about empowering women in the music and media industries it makes me incredibly sad that this is the way I feel I have to present myself, and this is still the way we are treated when we go to work. I’m angry with myself, because at what point did I just decide that okay, this is just the way it is and if I want to work in this industry I’ll have to learn to live with it?

What kind of world do we live in that harassing or assaulting women in the workplace is okay because they’re working at a show? We need to do better, Australia. For ourselves, for each other, and for the next generation of girls that want to be rock stars or sling tees for rock bands. If you see shitty behaviour at a gig, call it out. Just because the person it’s happening to isn’t retaliating doesn’t mean it’s okay – it could simply be their flight instinct kicking in. Urge people to do better. Think about your own behaviour and how it could intimidate, harass or upset someone that is there to make your night more enjoyable. Whether we are working behind the bar, selling you a t-shirt, taking photos of the band or on the actual stage, every single one of us deserves respect.

We here at Girl HQ are passionate about making live shows safe spaces for everyone. We have been supporters of the Your Choice initiative since day one.
As per the web site:

“Your Choice is a music industry supported campaign initiated to address the growing cultural issues around behavior and lack of personal accountability within Australian venues and event spaces. These issues are not exclusive to the music industry, they’re prevalent within our society. However, as a community of festival promoters, venue owners, artists, promoters and managers we are banding together under the Your Choice banner to create change. The goal of Your Choice is to help influence a culture of positive behaviour through shared responsibility – as industry organisers and the patrons attending. We believe:

  • Everyone has the right to a good time, without the actions of the minority coming at personal and/or public expense
  • Both organisers and patrons share responsibility in creating the safest and most enjoyable experience
  • Our culture today demands a preventative conversation, not a reactive one. We want to start by focusing attention and growing awareness on what is acceptable and expected behaviour, not just telling people to be wary and vigilant
  • We all have a responsibility to encourage people to think harder about the impact their choices have on the wider community and we need to be vocal, calling it out when we see it
  • Efforts are required today to ensure our industry is protected and can continue to nurture the ideas of young cultural entrepreneurs and give young artists a space to develop and grow”

For more information on Your Choice, including resources and to see who else supports the initiative, visit your-choice.net.au.

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