A Supporter Shares Her Story.

For the past few years I’ve been struggling really horribly with anxiety and depression. Around a year ago, large crowds and being by myself suddenly became a trigger. For ages I believed that my anxiety towards crowds was completely unnecessary and had no basis; that was until a few nights ago when I had a vivid flashback of what happened when I went to a toga party at the start of last year (I must have suppressed the memory).

I went into the mosh pit with the only other of my friends who was willing – a boy who I’d met a few times, he was more so friends with the others. He tries to kiss me (when I had a boyfriend) and I clearly refused his advances. He got mad and left me alone in the front of a 6,000+ people mosh pit, at first I was scared but I decided to embrace it. Because of the style of my toga, I was wearing nothing but undies underneath. Boys kept trying to undo it, but I kept doing it back up quickly, until one boy completely ripped it off me. I was so embarrassed, I was standing naked in a huge crowd (everyone’s nightmare, right?) and I was being groped and laughed at by a whole group of boys. No one would help me and I was terrified.

After about 30 seconds, a security guard saw me and pulled me out of the mosh in my undies with no bra on in front of at least 6,000 people. Eventually the security guard found my toga and a few nice girls I met at the side of the stage helped me put it back on. I didn’t even know that this was affecting me to the extent that it does – I haven’t been able to be in public spaces by myself for a year now (and for part of that time I couldn’t be in public places at all). I’ve had to have time off work and it’s affected all of my relationships because even I didn’t know what was wrong.

Now that I’ve remembered the event, I’ve started to deal with it. The one thing that I regret is not reporting these boys to the police. When it happened I blamed myself for having a toga that was apparently easy to take off, but it was not my fault. Without reporting it, nothing can be done. I urge each and every one of you to report anything like this that happens to you because in reality, the authorities probably have a mother, sister, or daughter. They won’t laugh at you, they will want to sort the perpetrators out because they don’t want it to happen to anyone else. Just remember that if this happens to you, this is not your fault, you are not alone, and you should report it. Remember to confront the memory, and not just shy away from it. That’s the only way you’ll recover.

Where are the Women?

Guest writer Libby Mayfield confronts the lack of female and non-binary performers on UK festival line-ups.

Although I was lucky enough to grow up with a plethora of female musicians in my childhood soundtrack, the reign of Blondie, Texas and The Bangles couldn’t last forever, and there was a time when the only prominent female fronted in the world of alternative rock was Paramore. Worse yet, there was a time when any female fronted band, to an extent regardless of genre, was compared to Paramore. I’m glad we’re past that, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Last year we saw a huge light shone on male-orientated festival line ups and a lot of questions were raised. Most importantly – why, even in genres that have their fair share of female artists, are such a small proportion of women playing major festivals?

If you ask the festival bookers, they’ll say that they book the acts which pull the biggest crowds. But with female acts comprising between a quarter and a third of 2015’s charts, Adele releasing the biggest selling album in the UK ever, Jess Glyne releasing three singles that each made it to number one, and Rihanna announcing a tour of almost 70 dates, it’s not like female artists can’t pull in the cash.

Many people are fighting for an even gender balance on festival line ups, but as aforementioned, only around a quarter to a third of the charts are made of acts including women; although this may be an indicative sign that either there aren’t enough women in music, or the problem runs deeper and radio stations and magazines are more keen to promote male acts than female. Whilst charts aren’t necessarily the most representative figures, it seems the best way to compare like for like; the UK’s biggest festivals alongside the UK’s best selling music.

Even if festival bookers were worried about losing ticket sales by booking a female headliner – though I seriously doubt any refunds were demanded when Florence And The Machine replaced Foo Fighters’ Glastonbury headline slot last year – that wouldn’t stop them throwing in five or ten female acts in further down the line up, would it? In fact, further down the line up is where we need female acts as much as anywhere else, especially if we want to feed the pool of women in music. We can’t expect more women to want to perform if it’s seen as a male dominated world.

To an extent, I do empathise with the viewpoint of festival bookers where they want to book acts that will sell tickets; running a major festival is a huge risk with a lot of money involved and an underperforming weekend could damage reputation for the following year. If that’s the case, we need to convince show promoters internationally, nationally, and locally to put on more female acts, even if just as openers. A show with two international touring bands and a big UK support band wouldn’t lose ticket sales over the gender make-up of a local support.

Unfortunately this isn’t the sort of change that’s going to take place over night; we need to see the support for women in music grow on a local level and swell to a national level before it may have an impact on the amount of women prepared to pick up on a guitar and get on stage among. But when women are making up only 3-19% of major festival line ups (based on analysis by The Guardian), things can’t get much worse.

Of course festival line ups are not the be all and end all, and the rise of women in popular bands is coming thick and fast – of last year’s Mercury Prize shortlist, five out of the twelve acts were, at least partially, made up of women. We’re past the point where a female vocalist makes the band “like Paramore”.

After all the social media frenzy regarding last year’s male-orientated festivals – only 6% female for Reading and Leeds – it will be interesting to see how 2016’s line ups compare, because it’s all looking pretty testosterone filled at the moment.

Lady Gaga’s “Till it Happens to You”

A look into Lady Gaga’s heart wrenching song about sexual assault, written by our very own Bea Bennister

Out of the artists who speak out and campaign against sexual harassment/assault Lady Gaga is certainly one of the most prominent. Gaga revealed late last year that the song ‘Swine’ off of her latest album ‘ARTPOP’ was that written in anger and disgust at her personal experience of sexual assault. In an interview with Howard Stern, Gaga opened up about her assault, admitting that she was only 19 years of age, and had been unwilling to share her story with the fear that her creativity will be dismissed. And I quote:

“I’ll be damned if somebody’s going to say that every creatively intelligent thing that I ever did has boiled down to one dickhead that did that to me. I’m going to take responsibility for all of my pain, looking beautiful, and all the things that I’ve made out of my strife.“

A few months ago I came across a film called “The Hunting Ground” – a powerful and engaging insight into the vast cases of sexual assault taken place on University campus’ all over America, revealing that one in five women are sexually assaulted on campus. The film highlights the dismissal from higher authorities within the University to these events, and the lack of support shown for the victims. A striking feature of the film was the initial ignorance from those in the position of power, who were more obliged to ‘protect the name of their college’ than for the safety of their students. The institutions display denial and rationalizations to cover the events happening at their Colleges.

I then discover that the song of the film ‘Till it Happens to You’ was written and performed by Lady Gaga herself, with a portion of the proceeds going towards helping victims of sexual assault.

The video follows four victims, all of whom are put in vulnerable positions by their attacker. For me, the film highlights the exact horrors of sexual assault, following that of a drink being spiked at a party, being unexpectedly attacked by a stranger, and even by a friend. Towards the end of the video, the film demonstrates the victims accepting help from friends and people around them – a vital part of tackling the issue of sexual assault, and something we aim to make possible and easier from setting up Girls Against.

Undoubtedly, the song fits perfectly with the context, with the clear emotion from Gaga’s personal experiences making the stories even more real and frightening.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you listen to the song and watch the film. Although the movie is, arguably, a horrific (and potentially triggering) glimpse into the reality of sexual assault in places many consider as ‘safe’, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering do a beautiful job at demonstrating the empowerment of women who join forces to fight back and share their stories with others.

Within Girls Against, we strive to do the same. Although our mission may not be on as large scale, we are hoping to achieve the same level of empowerment from all who follow us and be a voice for those who want to speak out and make a difference – to fight back against the cover-ups and victim blaming that are so clearly outlined in the film.

An Interview With…Slaves

After the ongoing support Girls Against has received from punk duo Slaves, we thought it was time for a chat with Isaac and Laurie, who have helped us to gain such immense recognition over the past two months.

The boys played in London (14th Jan) at The Forum in Kentish Town and I (Bea) went down to the venue before their gig to be greeted by tour manager Neil. I was taken into their dressing room which, when I stated my approval of “wow this is fancy”, Isaac replied “Isn’t it just, best one yet!” The boys were friendly and chatty and showed a heart-warming level of concern towards the safety of their fans, and a huge level of support for the campaign itself. We sat down on a comfy leather sofa and, after being offered drinks, I asked the boys some questions.

image

How aware were you of groping at gigs before the campaign was launched?

Both Isaac and Laurie said they were “not aware at all” and expressed their shock at the fact that these events were even happening. “It’s not one of those things you think would happen you know” Isaac states. The boys also spoke of their surprise at the “sheer amount of fans who spoke out after one person”, acknowledging the confidence that one victim speaking out can give to those also suffering. Laurie also had a story. “I remember on a trip to Paris” he begins, “an old man harassing a young girl. It was horrific, she couldn’t move”.

What do you think your role is, as a band, in tackling the issue?

Although the band recognised that when on stage, they are limited in the effect that they can have on stopping these issues, they both agreed that “bringing awareness and speaking out is the best thing we can do”. We later got talking about some of the backlash we’ve received as a campaign, including that regarding our name being ‘Girls Against’ creating the deception that we’re only interested in the female gender. The band felt strongly about this, arguing that “you’ll never keep everyone happy” and that they were “shocked people would even question this. Men should be acknowledging that women are getting groped, not saying that men don’t but, there should be more tolerance towards females you know”.

How do you think venues, security companies and the music industry generally, can help end this?

“We have a procedure” Isaac begins. “We made a policy with our tour manager. Before shows there’s always gotta be a security briefing, to let them know how the show works and stuff.” The boys then go on to explain, “we always aim to have one female security member at our shows”, something that we, as Girls Against, are really targeting at the moment, as we feel this is a sure way to allow victims to feel more comfortable when speaking out. I mention this, and Laurie suggests “yeah we have heard of male members shrugging it off”. But he also addresses “you need to be nice to security as well though, they’re not gonna take you seriously if you’re swearing at them and shit, it’s not cool. That’s maybe why they shrug stuff off sometimes”.

What would you say to victims of sexual harassment/assault at gigs?

“It’s not their fault” Laurie states. However, an interesting discussion arose surrounding the intake of alcohol at shows. “Just don’t get drunk” Isaac suggests. “What’s the point in coming to our shows completely smashed off your face, it’s just putting you in a vulnerable position”. I mentioned that alcohol also acts as an excuse for perpetrators to grope, as it makes people aggressive and rowdy. I also mention that as a teenage girl of 5 ft 1, a Slaves gig seems particularly scary – to this Laurie jokes, “yeah it does look very intense.” I also comment on the fact that they were seen to call out a member of the crowd for groping at one of their shows earlier this week. “It’s more difficult for me, but Laurie’s always looking out into the crowd” Isaac explains, “we’ve stopped a gig almost every night on this tour so far I think, for fights and stuff, we’ll always call it out”. Laurie also remembers his experience at a Slipknot gig “you’d get pissed on and kicked and stuff there. I can’t believe it when people say our pits are as bad as that.” Isaac agrees, humorously, “yeah I’d definitely be scared to enter a (Slaves) pit”.

What would you say to perpetrators of sexual harassment/assault at gigs?

“Don’t come” they both state simultaneously. There’s a pause before Isaac asks, “do you think men actually come to our gigs with the intention to grope, like they don’t actually like the music and stuff.” Sadly, I have to admit that, although rare, yes, some do. They both seem concerned by this, expressed by Laurie sighing, and Isaac rubbing his forehead.

“We just wish we could do more” the boys finish by saying. We talk about the issues in Japan and the same sex train carriages due to the big sexual harassment issues there (read more on this here). Laurie seems engaged with the topic stating “it must be so bad if they have to take that extreme.” But Isaac considers “once you do that it’s sort of separating females init, women deserve more respect”.

image

After the questions I thank them for their ongoing support. We hope to keep in touch and arrange to hopefully meet again next time they’re in Scotland. We take pictures with badges and hug goodbye, before leaving them to their busy duty and preparation for their gig in a few hours. As I leave I consider their affection towards me, and the campaign, and hope that their support and consideration for Girls Against can lead to great progress in the future.

Interview by Bea Bennister

Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Guest writer Rosie Marks follows our previous discussion on the way in which sexual violence is portrayed in film and TV, by exploring Marvel’s new show Jessica Jones.

The time of the superhero is upon us and for the past year or so Marvel and DC have been battling for the onscreen top spot with the likes of Iron Man, Batman, Captain America and Thor.  But Jessica Jones is a breath of fresh air
for those of us who want to see a strong well-rounded female hero.  Don’t get me wrong, Black Widow is awesome, but her perfect hair, makeup and heels just don’t strike me as suitable world-saving attire.  I just don’t find her relatable.  It’s frustrating for the women who play these heroines too; Scarlet Johansson was less than impressed when, in an interview, Robert Downey Jr was asked thought-provoking questions about the complex morality of his character and she was asked about the diet she went on to fit into her skin-tight suit.

At the other end of the spectrum to this hyper-sexualised breed of heroine is Jessica Jones, a woman who’s too busy fighting evil to fuss about costume change.  Jessica is deeply flawed and therefore relatable. She’s damaged, cynical, but ultimately tries to do the right thing.

The most important thing about the new Marvel series, though, is what it teaches its viewers about consent.  The show is revolutionary in
its fearless use of the word ‘rape’; there’s no sugar coating it, and no disputing
the fact that what Kilgrave does to Jessica is indeed rape- both physical and mental.  We never see Jessica being physically raped, and we don’t need to; the psychological abuse she suffers is a far more sophisticated parallel which illustrates perfectly how damaging our society’s approach to sex and consent can be, and that when it comes to rape, its not really about sex at all, but power. Jessica Jones confronts domestic abuse head on, in a relationship where male privilege is escalated to the power of mind control.  Kilgrave tries to gain sympathy for his condition by saying that he can never tell whether people are acting because they want to or because he’s told them to.
To me, this sounds a lot like the feeble cry of the privileged male.

 Read these lines from episode 8, ‘AKA WWJD’:

Kilgrave: “What? Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating at all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is
rape?”
Jessica: “The part where I didn’t want to do any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head.”

Kilgrave is the super-villain stand in for anyone who has ever victim-blamed, or denied responsibility for his actions by saying, ‘she wanted it’.  In the real
world, men may not have the power to control minds, but many people
underestimate the power of intimidation – which they achieve through their
threatening behaviour, superior physical presence and strength.  The damage Kilgrave does to Jessica and the rest of his victims is a sorely needed lesson to today’s society about victim-blaming and consent.

It is established that Kilgrave’s influence normally lasts for twelve hours – after that, his victim is no longer under his control and is not compelled to follow his orders.  In one of the most poignant scenes in the series, Kilgrave claims that once counted the hours he’d spent with Jessica, and she stayed with him and hugged him of her own free will when his power on her had timed out.  But one only has to see how limp she is in his arms to know that the hug is not consensual.  In those few minutes, he argues, she could have escaped, but she didn’t.  But it’s not simple as that.  When she is free of his influence, Jessica is in such a panic that she cannot act – and when decides to jump, Kilgrave calls her back inside.  To make things worse, the only way out for Jessica is to jump off the building and risk killing herself.  For her, consent is literally a matter of
life or death.

Another success of the show is how it addresses Jessica’s PTSD.
Yes, she’s damaged from her experience of abuse at the hands of Kilgrave- she’s an alcoholic, she’s paranoid, and she’s always expecting Kilgrave to be lurking around the next corner. But her PTSD doesn’t define her.
The producers didn’t reduce Jessica to a two-dimensional damaged rape
victim with trust issues- she still shares a passionate relationship with Luke Cage, with whom she has believable, messy, vigorous sex.

One of the best ways the show engages with consent is Kilgrave’s repetitive insistence that Jessica smiles.  It’s his favourite command for
all the women he controls, because if he makes them smile, it looks like
they’re enjoying themselves, and he can tell himself that they are.  In his mind, this is what keeps him from being a rapist.  When he looks back on
his victims, he can tell himself, ‘She was smiling, she enjoyed it,’ and in one
flashback to a date at his favourite restaurant, Jessica is smiling –because
she has no choice.  When you’re in Kilgrave’s company, smiling is a means of self preservation rather than an expression of pleasure.

Having said this, I hope that when people watch Jessica Jones, they learn something valuable about consent rather than identifying with the villain who claims to be the true victim of his abilities while using them to manipulate and harm others.  Kilgrave should be lesson to people that just because you have the ability to get what you want from someone, it does not give you the right to expect it from them.

Let’s Talk About Body Hair

Beauty standards seem unattainable for all women. But where feminism is often at fault, is with its failure to recognise how these standards affect women of colour. Peatree Bojangles (@peatreebojangle) explains how, as an Indian woman with more prominent body hair, these beauty ideals have been a destructive force within her life.

Part 1 

Part 2

Part 3

Happy New Year

Happy new year from us here at Girls Against! Below we, plus some of our lovely followers, have shared some of what we have learned over the past year.

Anna (GA)

“2015, for me, has been a year of changes and new beginnings. Firstly and most importantly, I got better eyebrows – always a priority. 

On a deeper and perhaps less shallow level, I got rid of toxic people in my life and made room for people who I love and who (hopefully) love me. Four of those people, who I have the honour of running this wonderful campaign with, I am so grateful for. And also for you, reader, for believing in us and supporting us as we began in October, up until now, and in the new year. 2016 is going to be memorable, and this is just the beginning. Another new beginning, I suppose!”

Rayne

“I learnt that it’s okay to say no to a band member/friend if they make unwanted advances. And its okay to speak out; to share your message in order to help others.”

(Rayne will be sharing her experience with us in the coming months.)

Anni (GA) 

“I’ve learned so much over the past year, and my feminism has grown from strength to strength. I’ve learned more about varying systems of privilege and oppression, and I’ve adopted self love. These are all things which are helping me contribute to GA to the best of my ability. The other girls have been such a positive impact on my life, and their presence makes me excited for the year ahead! As do all of our lovely supporters. Love and solidarity.” 

Abby 

“I’ve learnt this year that you CANNOT let your emotions depend on anyone but you. No matter if they make you happier than anything else. Also to be comfortable in your own skin, even if you hate it, you’re stuck with it – so work it!” 

Bea (GA) 

“2015 for me has been a whirlwind of a year. It’s crazy to think about all the amazing things that I’ve seemed to cram into these 365 days that have whizzed past so quickly. From the last 12 months I have learnt to increasingly grab opportunities head on and try and do the things that make YOU happiest and not just what others want you to do. Setting up the Girls Against campaign has made me realise the importance into investing in feminism and has taught me to fight for what’s right regarding gender and equality! It’s been a banger of a year and I hope 2016 is just as exciting for you and everyone that you love!”

Sophia

“This year I learned that I didn’t have to take crap from people in crowds, that when they try to push me from the front, I have every right to push back. I waited there for hours, I deserve that space. I learned that my anger is valid and okay and I can express it. I should not be intimidated by them. I will not be anymore.” 

Hannah (GA) 

“2015 was an odd one for me. Like everything in life there were ups and downs, swings and roundabouts etc etc. The lowest points were probably being assaulted, going through my first break up, freaking out about the future, however, there were a lot of great things as well. Getting into university, Girls Against and meeting my favourite people are up there in the high points. 

Since I consider myself quite the advice giver I’m gonna give some to you, whether it’s useful or not is another matter. First things first, the serious crap: worry slightly less, seriously its not worth it. That you will be sad sometimes and that’s okay because it’s a part of life. Also, you can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try, believe me, been there done that. Finally, honesty really is the best policy, if everyone was more upfront shit would get done a lot faster. 

Less serious, yet equally important ones are, to drink more water – seriously you will need to pee like ten times more but your skin will be ten times cuter. Use flashcards when studying, and do your research. Use an angled brush when doing your brows, practice makes perfect and brows are sisters not twins. Also your teachers give you extra sheets and reading for a reason, just saying. Oh also, you’ve gotta let the wax melt all the way round the first time you use a candle. 

 Thanks for 2015, it was lit fam and more than i ever imagined. Here’s to 2016.”