Girls at Gigs: Why Kathleen Hanna's 'All Girls to the Front' Mentality is Still Needed Today
It’s hard to find a female concert-goer who can’t testify to ever having experienced sexual harassment, groping, or worse at any of these events. Something about the mix of loud music and alcohol often brings out a hostile environment for women, and for some reason society seems to be at peace with the fact that women are going to have their asses grabbed at gigs. A commonplace excuse; it’s a concert or festival - there are a lot of people in close proximity to each other, it can be hard to gauge what is happening and what you are touching. Although that may be the case, there is a very clear and defined boundary between what is accidental and what is not. The worst part of it all is that women consequently feel uncomfortable attending musical events to see bands or artists they want to enjoy live and share an appreciation of the music with other fans.
“All girls to the front!” was the cry of Kathleen Hanna, front woman of American punk-rock band Bikini Kill, as she encouraged women to move nearer to the stage to be able to properly enjoy the music without being crushed by bigger men or harassed. She has also been known to advise women who felt they were being inappropriately touched to sit on the stage - as one of the spearheads of the Riot Grrrl movement - the music of Bikini Kill was primarily for women.
Characterised by loud drums and guitars, punk-like singing and angry lyrics, Riot Grrrl was an underground feminist music movement which encouraged political discourse and equality through creative means. Riot Grrrl bands were primarily female, if not all female, and wrote songs with explicitly feminist themes. Riot Grrrl was part of the third wave feminist movement which began in the early 1990’s in Washington state. Political action was a huge part of Riot Grrrl, which also battled homophobia, racism, and fat-shaming. Bands such as Bratmobile, Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill often wrote songs on the topics of rape, the patriarchy, domestic abuse and mental illness which were also written about by their fans in ‘zines’ - short magazines which were self-published and circulated amongst small groups. Alongside general sexism, the Riot Grrrl movement aimed to fight against prejudice and sexism specifically in the punk-music scene, and had some very influential supporters, including Kurt Cobain.
Sexual harassment and assault at concerts does not simply stop at the female fans but affects female artists as well. In Beulah Devaney’s article entitled ‘Girls to the Front: Why We Need More Women Friendly Gigs’ she described an incident in which Courtney Love came back from crowd surfing with no dress or underwear, and a traumatising story of having been sexually assaulted by some of her ‘fans’. More recently, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea revealed that she wears two pairs of pants and tights in order to try and avoid such incidents. There is a fear experienced by almost all women at concerts that has permeated over the decades and is experienced by gig-goers and the artists themselves. Almost twenty years after the height of Riot Grrrl, myself and a friend discovered the movement and it breathed a new lease of life into our everyday feminism. If we got groped, we would no longer stay silent and passive to the action, we turned and yelled and drew attention, which mostly resulted in the men trying to get away from the scene as fast as possible. Though we feel more comfortable calling out inappropriate behaviour towards us, it does not stop it happening. The day that all women feel that they can walk to a toilet alone at a concert venue without being leered at and propositioned, or dance freely without worrying about being grabbed, will be a victory. Until then, perhaps more artists should try and implement the “all girls to the front” mentality at their gigs and help stop unwanted fear and damage from plaguing their female fans.
After all, we all just want to be able to enjoy the music equally.