*UPDATE 08/10/16: I never expected this piece to reach so many people, and I am so grateful for everyone who has taken the time to read it and for all of the feedback I’ve received. But after so many responses have been fueled by “not all men” sentiments and wondering why I didn’t use this as a platform to talk about all of the good that comes out of the scene, I want to preface by saying that I’ve met far more people who are willing to denounce misogyny in the industry than those who perpetuate it. I don’t hate men. Going to shows is my favorite thing in the world. There, I’ve met far more friends than people who behave the way I describe in this article. But the reality is that it does happen every day to women for the sole fact that they are women. Misogyny is real, and yes, it happens in the office and on the street, but this is me sharing my experiences at shows this summer. I hope you can appreciate this piece for what it is and join me in changing the narrative about women working in the music industry.
My editor told me last week that there are two sides to the coin of music reporting. There’s the fact that you get to see shows every week for free. You get to travel and meet incredible musicians along the way. Your place of work extends farther than the newsroom — it’s the sweltering basement that holds fewer than 100 fans and the venue that sold more than 25,000 tickets.
The other side of the coin?
When the show ends, you have a job to do. After you drive two hours home, you have to pore over your notes and write a killer article about what you saw. When the screen in front of you begins to blur at 4 a.m. and you can barely keep your eyes open, you have to push through. Your deadline is in four hours, after all, and thousands of people are going to read what you write.
But I loved every moment of it.
This summer, through writing for NJ.com and The Star-Ledger, I had the opportunity to give exposure to some of the greatest up-and-coming acts in the state — like Halogens — and to review some internationally-known names — Dolly Parton, Demi Lovato and Twenty One Pilots, to name a few.
I was encouraged by my editors and colleagues every step of the way. I learned more about editing, writing, videography and photography than I could have imagined. When my internship ended last week, I walked out of the office with the best clips I’ve ever written.
I also learned a lot about the music industry, and for the first time, I saw firsthand what I already knew: the scene isn’t always a kind place for non-dudes.
June 11, 2016
“Are you a groupie?”
I almost didn’t hear him over my frantic scribbling on my notepad — Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms had just smashed his guitar on the stage of BB&T Pavilion in a true rock star moment. I put my pen down and looked up at the man standing beside me. He was a reporter, too. He was at least 20 years my senior, but he had a press pass hanging around his neck, just like I did.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You’re like a groupie,” he told me. “You knew every word to every song.”
“Yeah, I’m a fan,” I said, “but I’m here because I’m covering this show.”
“Cute,” he said and chuckled to himself.
July 17, 2016
Walking into a festival that featured a pro-life tent didn’t instill confidence that Warped Tour would be a safe space for women, but that’s not why I was there. My job was to cover the music. Which set unleashed the most impressive visual elements? Which song turned into the wildest singalong? How expansive was each setlist?
As it isn’t feasible to simultaneously mosh and take notes, I planted myself at the far end of every crowd, where I had an unobstructed view of the stage and a quick escape to the next set.
“Yo, girl,” someone called. “Hey, writer. Girl writing in a notebook.”
I looked up at a slender boy with a buzzcut and tattoos snaking up his left arm. He was at the front of a group of five boys
“Have some fun, will you?” he said. “What are you even writing?” When I glanced back down at my notepad, he stepped closer and asked again, slower: “What are you writing?”
I told him I’m a reporter.
“So is every girl here,” he said, and they all laughed. “For your boyfriend’s high school newspaper, right?”
I didn’t say, “I’m a reporter here to cover this show for the biggest news outlet in the state. Let me do my damn job,” but I sure wanted to.
He high-fived one of the boys behind him, but it was around that point The Maine’s set began. He gave up trying to talk to me and opted instead for pushing a girl to the ground as he tried to climb up people’s bodies and crowd surf to the front of the stage.
It was noon, and that wasn’t the first example of misogyny I’d witness before Sum 41 took the stage seven and a half hours later.
I watched a man flail his arms around and punch the young woman beside him in the face. She left in tears with a bloody nose. He said girls shouldn’t be there if they can’t “handle it.”
I listened to a man yell slurs at one of the female photographers shooting Yellowcard’s set. “Who’d you blow to get in front of the barrier?” he asked. “And aren’t you hot in those jeans, baby? It’s 90 degrees.”
I saw a man try to slip his hand up the shorts of a young woman crowdsurfing over him. She kicked at him when she realized what was happening and grazed the side of his face with her Converse sneaker. He clutched at the spot on his cheek and called her a “fucking bitch.” He said he hopes she gets dropped on her head.
I jotted down notes during The Story So Far’s set, wondering if the people screaming adorations to frontman Parker Cannon knew that three months earlier, he kicked a female fan in the back and sent her falling face-first off the stage.
Yes, he’s kicked men off the stage, too. Yes, she said she was OK. Yes, she shouldn’t have climbed up onto the stage to take a selfie. But no matter how many excuses are made for his actions, the bottom line is this: How are other men in the scene expected to treat their female counterparts with respect when the musicians they’re going to see refuse to do the same?
Cannon literally kicked a young woman in the back and is still being vehemently defended — mostly by men — so surely, they can get away with doing far less to a woman at a show.
At another gig later in the summer, I heard a man ask a female sound technician where she went to school. He wondered if there was “anyone else around” he could talk to and seemed surprised to learn she was the only one operating that night. “I’ve just never taken orders from a girl before,” he said.
I’ve been asked by a man, “You’re allowed to cover shows all by yourself?” When I inquired about who he thought should be helping me, he replied, “A guy with more experience, I guess.”
It’s cases like these that make me worry about those in the scene who don’t identify as cis-males. Nobody should be made to feel endangered or unwelcome at a place designed to showcase and celebrate music. Something’s gotta give and shows must become safe spaces for people of all genders.
But in order for that to happen, we must speak out against the men who reduce women at shows to “fangirls” and those who think they know more about a woman working in the same industry as them.
I’m amazed by the sheer number of amazing women I’ve met this summer alone, some of whom have become my close friends — female tour managers, photographers, sound technicians, directors, singers, guitarists, drummers and other female journalists who have dedicated their lives to covering music.
We are just as competent as any man. We can work a soundboard, camera or instrument just as well as any man. We love music just as much as any man, and our place at a show does not need to be justified to any man.