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Student blogs: Sexual harassment at gigs

In a recent blog post of mine, I mentioned my absolute adoration of going to gigs. However, there has always been a darker side to concerts, which I feel is still a bit of a taboo subject. Unwanted touching at gigs and being a woman; there is always the question of whether gigs are one hundred per cent safe. The fact is, it’s all not about whether gigs are safe places for women, it’s that women must feel safe at them. In my experience, I have been to 60+ concerts since the age of fifteen. I have to admit, when I was very young I never really considered whether I was in a safe environment and looking back, I really should have been more savvy. I’m talking about unwanted male attention. The Safe Gigs for Women initiative was created by and for female gig attendees, to educate women on how to avoid unsafe or uncomfortable situations, and on how to look after each other. A recent article from SGFW touches on the issue of ‘the line between banter and harassment’ and that, perhaps, men don’t understand it, or how it may make women feel.

Going back to my own experiences, I am fully aware of the fact that some men may truly not know that what they’re doing is wrong. Most women have experienced this at some point, for example: a person, perhaps a guy, is trying to squeeze past you in a crowd of people, and in order to let you know that he is behind you, he holds onto your waist. I can’t count how many times this has happened to me, and how many times I’ve witnessed it. Okay, so the guy might think he’s being polite; he’s letting you know he’s there so you don’t step back on his toes, right? But is it always done with good intentions? In some cases, I’m sure not all, it does feel like an excuse for unwanted attention, or even harassment. So at what point does it go from banter to harassment, as Safe Gigs for Women ask? Sean McGowan, who is interviewed by SGFW in the above article, makes probably the clearest identification of ‘the line’ I can think of: ‘[A man should ask himself] “Is this a shitty thing to do… yeah, it probably is…don’t fucking do it then”.’ So basically, recognising whether or not it is right to touch a woman in this particular circumstance and honestly, unless she is in danger, there is no excuse.

In my opinion, and that of SGFW, education is the key to stamping out harassment and unwanted attention at gigs to make them a safer and more comfortable place for women to be. Looking back at fifteen year old me, I wish I’d had more education on the subject to be able to look after myself and others around me. Young girls and teens attending their first gigs must be told about the dangers that are, unfortunately, present. They must also feel able to tell* the people around them that they are feeling uncomfortable. Or, even better, have the confidence to tell these males that they do not appreciate their unwelcome attention. Men also need to be educated — namely, that touching a woman you do not know and without her permission can be seen as harassment. In all honesty, these men might not realise, but it really can ruin a woman’s entire evening by making her feel extremely uneasy, anxious or embarrassed. Educating yourself and others, whether it be from being more observant, taking a look at the SGFW website, or even by reflecting on some of issues raised in this post, will help considerably in creating a safer and more enjoyable environment for women at gigs.

Emily has recently come to the end of a three-year degree in Creative Writing with English Literature at Plymouth Marjon University. She also writes a lifestyle blog:

Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.

*Indicator 3.2 of the ProtectED Student Night Out measures asks universities to work with venues frequented by students to train bar staff to identify vulnerable individuals and challenge sexual harassment.

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