What has to change for sexual harassment at gigs to stop?
You would think by 2019 everyone would have learnt that it’s not OK to objectify, harass, or catcall female musicians (or any woman) in any situation, let alone while they’re performing on stage. And yet you would be wrong, as an incident at Maggie Rogers’ recent Austin show proves.
According to a post on Rogers’ Twitter, during the show a man yelled at her to “take your top off”. She contextualised the heckle as coming during “the most vulnerable part of the set”, when she speaks about “gratitude and growth and change” before an acoustic encore of ‘Alaska’. But whether the moment was vulnerable or not shouldn’t matter. She could have been singing the alphabet when it happened and it would still be wrong. What matters is this man – and then, apparently, a second man – decided it was absolutely fine to yell this kind of comment out to a woman who wasn’t asking him to judge her on her looks or body, or anything at all. She was simply a woman trying to do her job, which just so happens to involve performing to crowds of people.
Not only is it degrading to reduce Rogers and any other female musician in front of you to pure eye candy and an unwilling participant in your sexual fantasies, it’s also highly offensive. Catcalling any woman while they’re performing is equivalent to saying you don’t respect them or their music – aka the art they’ve poured their heart and souls into, lived through things for, and generously decided to share with the world.
In these cases, people’s defence is usually “It was just a joke!” But Rogers didn’t find it funny and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any woman who would. If you wouldn’t shout at a male musician to take off their top “as a joke”, why would you do it to a woman? What about a woman being potentially humiliated on stage, made to feel as if all she amounts to is her body, is funny to you? Do you think the constant harassment women have to go through in their daily lives isn’t enough, without you adding to it?
Sadly, this is far from a one-off incident, which makes you wonder what exactly needs to change to make people realise this kind of behaviour isn’t OK. Despite campaigns by groups like Girls Against and Good Night Out, sexual harassment – and this is sexual harassment – at gigs is still very much a sad reality. Music is meant to offer an escape and a place to heal, among other things. How are we supposed to do that if we’re being brought back down to earth or dragged back to traumatic places by inconsiderate, pathetic people around us?