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In defence of safer spaces: Punk, privilege and safer spaces policies

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Abstract

Increasing attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment at live music events has led to the adoption of safer spaces policies by venues and promoters. Punk’s politics of inclusion and equality suggest that such policies would be welcome as a means to promote access for marginalized groups. However, safer spaces policies are sometimes controversial and their content and implementation patchy. Such policies therefore bear closer examination in order to understand their value and meaning for punk politics. Here we examine the use of safer spaces policies in punk and DIY music spaces asking, how is safety conceptualized, for what purpose, and who benefits from them? We draw on a discourse analysis of safer spaces policies and interviews with punks about sexual violence at gigs. We argue that safer spaces policies can be a valuable tool for promoting access to pleasurable experiences whilst lessening the fear of discrimination, harassment and violence. However, safer spaces can also continue to privilege already privileged punks. We conclude that when safer spaces policies are implemented they must go hand in hand with practical measures to enable inclusion. In doing so the needs of marginalized groups must be prioritized.
PUNK 9 (1) pp. 59–76 Intellect Limited 2020
Punk & Post-Punk
Volume 9 Number 1
© 2020 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: https://doi.org/10.1386/punk_00018_1
www.intellectbooks.com 59
Received 1 September 2019; Accepted 25 September 2019
ABSTRACT
Increasing attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment at live music events
has led to the adoption of safer spaces policies by venues and promoters. Punk’s
politics of inclusion and equality suggest that such policies would be welcome as
a means to promote access for marginalized groups. However, safer spaces policies
are sometimes controversial and their content and implementation patchy. Such
policies therefore bear closer examination in order to understand their value and
meaning for punk politics. Here we examine the use of safer spaces policies in punk
and DIY music spaces asking, how is safety conceptualized, for what purpose,
and who benefits from them? We draw on a discourse analysis of safer spaces
policies and interviews with punks about sexual violence at gigs. We argue that
safer spaces policies can be a valuable tool for promoting access to pleasurable
experiences whilst lessening the fear of discrimination, harassment and violence.
However, safer spaces can also continue to privilege already privileged punks. We
conclude that when safer spaces policies are implemented they must go hand in
hand with practical measures to enable inclusion. In doing so the needs of margin-
alized groups must be prioritized.
KEYWORDS
DIY
feminism
politics
punk
queer
safer spaces
sexual violence
ROSEMARY LUCY HILL AND MOLLY MEGSON
University of Huddersfield
In defence of safer spaces:
Punk, privilege and safer
spaces policies
punk
Punk & Post-Punk
Intellect
10.1386/punk_00018_1
9
1
59
76
© 2020 Intellect Ltd
2020
ARTICLES
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
60 Punk & Post-Punk
INTRODUCTION
Increasing attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment at gigs and festi-
vals in the last few years (e.g. O’Connor 2017; Madden 2019) has led to the
spotlighting of safer1 spaces policies at music venues, and a trend towards
adopting written guidance on behaviour for audience members and others at
live music events. Punk’s politics of inclusion and equality suggest that such
policies would be welcomed as a means to promote access for groups margin-
alized outside punk, thus aiding the invigoration of punk music and culture.
However, safer spaces policies are heterogeneous in their content and imple-
mentation, as well as the centre of controversy around freedom of speech. We
begin from the position that the controversy reflects resistance to feminism
and social justice work alongside increasingly vocal right-wing populism.
Arguments in defence of freedom of speech which seek to silence marginal-
ized voices are made in bad faith (Hill and Savigny 2019). Thus safer spaces
policies bear closer examination in order to understand both their value and
meaning for punk politics.
We examine the use of safer spaces policies in punk and DIY music spaces
asking, how is safety conceptualized and for what purpose? Who benefits
from safer spaces policies? What does this mean for punk politics? We draw
on a discourse analysis of safer spaces policies and interviews with punks
about sexual violence at gigs. We argue that safer spaces policies can be a valu-
able tool for enabling the empowerment and protection of those marginalized
in non-punk spaces. Safer spaces policies can promote access to pleasurable
experiences and lessen the fear of discrimination, harassment and violence.
However safer spaces can continue to privilege white, straight, male, middle-
class and non-disabled punks. To move beyond this, to engender better inclu-
sion and equality we argue that safer spaces policies need to be backed up
with practical measures which evidence punks’ commitment to inclusion. In
doing so this must prioritize the needs of marginalized groups and embrace
the resulting shift in power and cultural formations. We first review the liter-
ature relating to safer spaces and marginalization in punk. We outline our
methodology before turning to the question of how are safer spaces concep-
tualized, and what is their purpose? We then examine the epistemological
position behind safer spaces policies, arguing that they draw on radical femi-
nist heritage to privilege emotional knowledge. Finally we ask who are safer
spaces safer for, answering that if safer spaces are to do the work they are
intended to that they need to address the practical and emotional needs of
marginalized groups.
SAFER SPACES
The use of safer spaces in music scenes has been little studied so far, with
most of the (non-education-related) literature relating to feminist or LGBTQ
uses. These studies are helpful for understanding the political, emotional and
environmental underpinnings of safer spaces policies. They indicate that such
policies can be a vital tool in enabling punk and DIY music scenes to disrupt
the male-dominated status quo of punk through prioritizing other forms of
being and doing in punk spaces. Studies on the creation of safer spaces in riot
grrrl (Zobl 2004; Keenan and Darms 2013) and queer punk (Sharp and Nilan
2017) provide a basis for understanding the benefits of safer spaces for music-
making. However, there has been no deep analysis of particular policies in
order to understand the groundings and implications of safer spaces policies
1. The use of safer spaces
rather than‘safe
spaces’ reflects the
argument by many of
the policies that safety
cannot be assured, but
it is something being
worked towards.
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 61
beyond feminist and queer scenes. We draw together literature across the field
of work on safer spaces, noting that safer spaces are therefore unequivocally
political, and political in such ways as might be expected to tally with punk
ideology, which we discuss further below.
The concept of safer spaces as it relates to current usage at punk and DIY
venues and events has its origins in the Women’s Liberation Movement, where
it was a key tool in enabling consciousness-raising (Enke 2003). Underpinning
the concept of safer spaces is a belief in social justice (The Roestone Collective
2014), which can be traced to Marxist, feminist, anti-racist and decolonial argu-
ments about the structural nature of oppression. Women-only spaces are used
to exclude men in order to be free from sexism and the threat of violence prev-
alent for women living in patriarchy (Enke 2003; Browne 2009). Moreover they
provide an opportunity for women to be without self-doubt, self-censorship
and inhibition usually presented by men’s presence (Lewis et al. 2015), and to
step outside ‘societal pressures and symbolic control’ (Zobl 2004: 451). They
are spaces for restorative withdrawal (Keenan and Darms 2013) and‘escape,
rest and healing’ (Browne 2009: 546). In contemporary LGBTQ locations, safer
spaces are a response to homophobia and associated violence. They also gener-
ate feelings of belonging (Hartal 2018) and intimacy (Keenan and Darms
2013), and they are spaces of predictability (Hartal 2018) in which those in the
space have more control over what occurs there. Riot grrrl offers safer spaces
that place women’s voices and control at the forefront (Keenan and Darms
2013). For radical feminism and riot grrrl, safer spaces therefore represent a
zone to give voice to critiques of patriarchy and male dominance (Keenan and
Darms 2013), and can be seen as a form of disruption and resistance to heter-
opatriarchal norms, as Sharp and Nilan (2017) argue in relation to LGBTQ
Do It Together scenes. In doing so they present a legitimization of and collec-
tive response to the fear of cismale violence felt by LGBTQ people living in
heteropatriarchy. This emphasis on the emotional foundation of safer spaces
– the relationship between fear, safety and exclusion – is important and high-
lights the way in which, in most spaces in the West, safety is a straight, white,
non-disabled man’s privilege (Fox and Ore 2010). Freedom from fear for those
who do not fit this model means opening new opportunities and emotional
spaces. Lewis et al. (2015) argue that safety itself is a necessary starting point,
not an end in itself; safety provides not only freedom from harm, but freedom
to express oneself and ultimately to be‘fully human’ (Lewis et al. 2015: 10). For
riot grrrl this means a celebration of girls’ marginalized culture and the creation
of new, girl-centred cultural forms (Zobl 2004; Keenan and Darms 2013); the
importance of feelings of freedom in order to have fun should not be underesti-
mated (Sharp and Nilan 2017), a point to which we return below.
However, it has been long recognized that spaces which are designated
as safe for some marginalized groups are not necessarily safe for all when
it comes to considering the intersections of marginalization and exclu-
sion. The women-only Coffee House, which is Enke’s (2003) case study, was
situated inside church buildings with a predominantly white middle-class
congregation. The women needed to remain on good terms with potentially
lesbian-unfriendly church staff and the raced and classed connotations of the
church‘infused’ (2003: 639) the Coffee House. This led to a lack of challenge
around church discourses (e.g. not saying the word ‘lesbian’), meaning that
white middle-class ways of doing lesbian predominated, thereby marginal-
izing working class and black women. In this context, therefore,‘woman’ was
code for ‘white middle class lesbian’, hiding the implicit identities of those
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
62 Punk & Post-Punk
who are‘in’ the accepted group. Audre Lorde (1994), Hazel Carby (1996) and
others argue, even in spaces that are supposedly safe for all women, oppres-
sion of some women by other women occurs. In Held’s (2015) and Enke’s
(2003) examples, the dominant identity position of lesbian includes within
it the unacknowledged racial position of whiteness and subtle racisms are
committed in those spaces. As Fox and Ore (2010) argue, centralizing some
positions around which to create safety leads to the exclusion of others; whilst
this may be beneficial in some ways (e.g. excluding ‘men’ to create safety
for ‘women’), it can result in dangerous exclusions (e.g. Michfest’s‘womyn
born womyn’ exclusionary policy and transphobic discourses [Browne 2009:
541]). Thus safer spaces risk implementing implicit biases and othering some
of those who they seek to empower. Held (2015) argues that othering works
through emotions such as feelings of discomfort (e.g. being looked at by
white people) in a space. Thus there is a racialized aspect to safety which is
dependent on feelings of comfort in the space. Existing intersections of privi-
lege and power often continue to play out in spaces which are supposedly
safe: safer spaces are not necessarily safe for all. This leads Fox and Ore to
argue that safety needs to be rethought as‘a process through which we estab-
lish dialogues’ (2010: 643) and Hartal (2018) to view safer spaces as dynamic,
situated and context dependent. Safer spaces are ‘socially produced’ (The
Roestone Collective 2014: 1350) and depend upon the interplay of the people
involved, the physical spaces in which they are produced and the broader
societal context (e.g. Hartal’s discussion of the Jerusalem Open House shows
the interplay of the needs for safety for LGBTQ people in the context of Israeli
state homophobia). They are‘co-constituted by bodies, objects, and environ-
ments’ (The Roestone Collective 2014: 1359) and therefore need to be consid-
ered as an embodied politics (Sharp and Nilan 2017). The unstable nature of
safer spaces therefore suggests that they can be shaped and used by different
groups for different purposes, including in non-exclusionary ways.
PUNK, DIY, EQUALITY
The DIY ethos allows punk to be independent of the system which it opposes
by creating and maintaining its own independent record labels, press and
music venues (Moran 2010). Thus, DIY punk is self-sufficient and free from
the constraints and control of outsider influence. This is evident, for example,
in the squat venues which define European punk (Jones and Wood 2008) such
as Bradford’s 1 in 12 Club, the side of which is emblazoned with a black and
red flag and the words LIBERTY, EQUALITY, SOLIDARITY. Punk therefore, by
definition as anti-establishment (Hebdige 1979), should also be independent
of the oppressions of the mainstream. A community formed of members who
have previously suffered such discriminations and those in solidarity against
their oppression (Carella and Wymer 2019). For people who experience
oppression or who feel their identity to be at odds with mainstream iden-
tities, punk can be very attractive, enabling them to (re)define their identity
(Shankar et al. 2009). Thus, one identity is rejected to be replaced by another
(Ahuvia 2005). This is an identity formed in part along the lines of what one is
not (sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.), but also what one is for: equality across
multiple intersections of structural oppression, and freedom of expression. As
a result, many people who identify as anarcho or DIY punks are often initially
attracted to the scene for its social justice politics.
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 63
Yet punk remains dominated by straight white men (Ambrosch 2016)
and has long been criticized for sexism, not least by riot grrrls in the 1990s
(Downes 2012; Leonard 1997). More recent attention has been paid to the
way older women, disabled, LGBTQIA and BAME people are also margin-
alized (Way 2019; Stewart 2019). Lohman and Raghunath (2019) argue that
this is deeply problematic given that punk’s credentials rest upon the work
and contributions of exactly those groups of people, as well as the politi-
cal position that insists upon their inclusion. Whilst Haenfler (2006) indi-
cates that there is some hatred of feminism amongst male punks, Sharp
and Threadgold (2019) argue that many punk men can reiterate femi-
nist critiques, speak of other men as sexist and recognize the problems
of gender inequality within the scene, but then take no practical action to
actually change the situation. Thus they are complicit in the perpetuation
of women’s marginalization. Moreover, Stewart argues that all punk’s talk
about marginalized communities is‘virtue signalling’ (2019: 223). It is the
fetishization of‘strangeness’ (2019: 222, drawing on Sarah Ahmed) whilst
ignoring the subcultural capital of the dominant group. Such talk co-opts
the language of being a‘freak’ (2019: 215) without people having to deal
with the real impacts of actually being marginalized, such as homophobic
violence. The notional inclusion of marginalized groups in punk therefore
indicates that,
[t]hey are not included on their own terms, or through their experi-
ences but rather as a means of demonstrating the benevolence (or social
awareness) of the already dominant.
(Stewart 2019: 222)
Within this context it is salutary to consider what‘political’ means for punk.
Phillipov (2006) argues that in punk studies, punk is framed as fundamen-
tally left-wing, politically, through its DIY nature. But some subcultures like
Oi and Nazi punk are also DIY and rooted in the same musical sounds and
theoretical ideas of opposition to the mainstream, yet are definitely not left-
wing. Similarly, the ongoing sexism within punk leads Phillipov to ask, how
does sexism fit in with something which is seemingly left-wing? In this
context, and in answer to Phillipov’s call for more research into the‘darker
side’ of punk (2006: 387), it is critical to examine how practical measures that
attempt to make punk more equal fit in to the political landscape described by
Downes, Stewart and others. Safer spaces policies present a unique opportu-
nity to understand how feminist ideas are being employed in punk and DIY
music spaces, allowing us to analyse how punk politics can be enacted and
with what fallout.
METHODOLOGY
The primary sources used here are eleven safer spaces policies from venues,
promoters and a festival in Brighton, Copenhagen, Leeds, London and
Manchester. We use ‘policies’ as a catch-all, but some venues referred
to ‘safer spaces agreements’, ‘accountability agreements’ or other formula-
tions. However, they all work within the discourse of safer spaces and so we
use‘safer space policies’ as a shorthand. To locate these policies we conducted
an online environmental scan of venues to assess information made readily
available to the public about each venue and their safer space policies. Eight of
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
64 Punk & Post-Punk
the policies are from DIY venues or promoters which are either solely devoted
to punk or include punk listings. We were surprised to find that some DIY
punk venues that we expected to have a safer spaces policy (e.g. because we
had been told they had one when at the venue) did not actually have a policy
that we could access. Given that a huge part of the value of safer spaces poli-
cies is that people can read them in advance and then act accordingly, this was
surprising. The final three policies are included as examples of safer spaces
policies in non-DIY spaces (two policies) and in an LGBTQ-focused space.
Alongside examining policies, we re-analysed interview data which formed
part of an ecological research project into experiences of sexual violence in one
English city. These semi-structured interviews were with seven concert-goers,
three venue managers, three promoters and three organizations campaigning
against sexual harassment and violence at live music events. We employed
critical discourse analysis (CDA) to investigate the policies and interview
material. CDA asserts that language always has political meaning: the speaker
or author exists within an environment in which differing ideologies are
discursively constructed. The language used, therefore, is both affected by
the ideology of the speaker, and at the same time constructs that ideology
(Griffin 2007). CDA involves a close analysis of how language constructs real-
ity (Hesmondhalgh 2006), with consideration for‘the deployment of specific
textual features (lexical, grammatical, semantic)’ (Griffin 2007: 9). We analysed
metaphor and tone, implied addressees and authorial positions. We took
notice of discourses relating to legal frameworks,‘rape myths’ (false ideas such
1 in 12 Club,
Bradford
Music venue, social
centre
Anarchist DIY collective
CHUNK, Leeds Music venue, rehearsal
space
Alternative DIY collective
Cowley Club,
Brighton
Music venue, café,
social centre, bookshop
Anarchist DIY collective
DIY Space for
London (DSFL)
Music venue, rehearsal
space, social centre
Punk DIY collective
Girl Gang Leeds Music promoter, events Feminist DIY collective
Hyde Park Book
Club, Leeds
Music venue, café Independent,
grassroots
Owner run
K Town festival,
Copenhagen
Hardcore festival Punk DIY
OK Café,
Manchester
Music venue, social
centre
Anarchist DIY collective
Pxssy Palace,
London
Club night, events Black queer Unknown
Wharf
Chambers, Leeds
Music venue, event
space
Alternative DIY
co-operative
Wire, Leeds Club venue Dance Owner run
Table 1: Safer space policies.
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 65
as that if a woman wears a short skirt she‘deserves’ to be raped), social justice
and structural oppression, neo-liberal individualism and feminism.
Safe for what purpose?
The purpose of safer spaces policies is to ensure the safety of people at the
event or using the venue. Some of the spaces used as punk and/or DIY venues
have multiple purposes (e.g. practice rooms, café, live music venue, club space,
events space). Furthermore, the policies written by promoters use multiple
venues; thus the policy may apply to people going to gigs, club nights or other
events. The individual policies therefore address audiences across these differ-
ent roles and in a variety of settings. The policies vary in who they address
within their audience, how they address them and what they ask of people.
Indeed, even the policy that states that it is drawing on a policy from elsewhere
(1 in 12 Club drawing on OK Café) has key differences, as we discuss below.
However, the policies have a commonality in their conceptualization of safety
and space, even when they are not claiming to be aiming for a safer space
(e.g. DSFL reject the terminology of‘safer space’): the relationship between
the individual and the powers structuring broader society. In this context safer
spaces are conceptualized as having two main functions: to protect vulnerable
groups from hate speech and acts such as they may experience in broader
society (i.e. outside the venue), and to provide an environment of freedom and
empowerment for all.
‘Safety’ in the context of safer spaces policies does not refer to the
same‘safety’ as appears in UK health and safety legislation. That legislation
relates to the workplace and covers fire risk, use of machinery and chemi-
cals, amongst other issues. In distinction, safer spaces policies are addressed
to those coming to the venues and events for the purposes of leisure and/or
creative endeavour (music-making is specifically referenced in CHUNK’s and
DSFL’s policies). As leisure spaces, punk and DIY venues and events, which
happen primarily in the evening, share the broader problems that exist in the
night-time economy, such as sexual harassment (Fileborn, authors), racism
and other forms of discrimination and violence. Punk’s ideology might main-
tain that a punk identity means eschewing prejudice, yet some venues and
promoters acknowledge that structural power relations do make their way
into punk spaces. It is in this context that‘safety’ is redefined as being very
specifically about security from forms of discrimination, violence, discomfort
and hate speech that may abound in punks’ lives outside punk spaces. For
example, DIY venue Wharf Chambers’ policy explicitly highlights the follow-
ing behaviours as‘unacceptable’ and subject to sanction:
physical violence and attempted physical violence, any kind of noncon-
sensual sexual behaviour, aggression and intimidating behaviour [and]
[…] discrimination of individuals due to their; age, disability, body
shape/size, gender history, marital/civil-partnership status, pregnancy/
maternity/paternity status, race, religious or philosophical belief, gender,
sex, sexual orientation, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, social class/
caste, asylum/immigration status, mental health, political affiliations,
viral status, health status, care responsibilities or criminal conviction.
(Wharf Chambers)
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
66 Punk & Post-Punk
Wharf’s list of the axes of discrimination is reminiscent of, but wider rang-
ing than, the protected characteristics mentioned in the UK Equality Act 2010.
Other venues also include lists of the forms of prejudice and discrimination
that they will not tolerate, e.g. the Cowley Club seeks to challenge‘oppressive
behaviours’ along the lines of:
Racism
Sexism
Homophobia
Transphobia
(Cowley Club)
Some of the policies are better than others at fleshing out how such prejudice
manifests as dangerous behaviour. However, there is an acknowledgement of
power structures and the ways in which they work through individuals who
may not recognize their privilege and/or power in a situation. Thus OK Café,
DSFL and the 1 in 12 Club all make reference to a need for those who are
privileged more broadly in society to be self-aware in understanding how
their privileges may impact on others in the space:
Identify your own privileges – the things that sometimes give you an
easier ride than others – and actively challenge them.
(OK Café and 1 in 12 Club)
This is an attempt to mitigate structural power differentials in order to provide a
greater level of protection and safety within the space than without. This fits in
well with punk’s ideology of equality. The idea also correlates with the language
of social justice activism and attendant calls to‘check your privilege’. It marks
out privilege as a specific damaging mechanism that harms and inhibits others.
Safety from discrimination, hate speech, violence and subtle forms of
oppression like microaggressions is a means to make a more level playing
field at punk and DIY venues and events. The purpose of this is to enable the
greater participation of all who come there, and, by extension we can infer, to
encourage the inclusion and participation of those who experience exclusion
elsewhere. What do inclusion and participation mean in the context of safer
spaces? It means generating atmospheres in which fun can occur, providing
an environment for free expression and creativity. With regard to the first of
these, those policies which are written by feminist and queer promoters (Girl
Gang Leeds, Pxssy Palace) and non-DIY venues (Wire, Hyde Park Book Club)
emphasize having a good time; indeed fun is prioritized:
We expect everyone to be able to have a good time at our events. We
won’t tolerate harassment or abuse of any kind, and we work closely
with our venues to maintain a safe environment for all.
(Girl Gang Leeds)
Linked to the idea of the importance of fun, is the valuing of creativity, which
DSFL mention specifically:
As club members, we want all our fellow members and the guests they
bring along to agree to a way of being, doing and interacting in the space
so that we can work together to make some amazing stuff happen.
(DSFL)
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 67
What this emphasis on fun achieves is to make access to pleasure a central part
of the policies. It produces a social and communal responsibility to ensure that
everyone is able to exercise that right. This is distinct from some of the more nega-
tively toned policies that spotlight the kinds of behaviours that people should
avoid, whilst omitting to mention the broader leisure context. It is surprising to
find that one of the main values of safer spaces at DIY/punk venues and events
– space to enjoy oneself free from oppression – is not signalled. The majority of
the DIY/punk policies are therefore negative in tone and describe sanctions for
transgressing the policy (in some cases in close detail, e.g. Wharf Chambers),
without really explaining the further benefits. Whilst social justice and creat-
ing a space free from oppression are vital aims in themselves, the broader gains
from doing so are no less important, especially for those for whom a safer space
policy creates a vital reprieve from the emotional, mental and physical labour of
being marginalized or oppressed in broader society.
Lewis et al. (2015) argue that there is value in women-only safer spaces
because they provide freedom from men’s sexist behaviours and violence in
order to be free to speak freely without needing to explain or argue about
experiences of oppression and prejudice. They argue that women-only safer
spaces enable women to speak in new ways, to be creative and express them-
selves freely. Whilst we question the article’s use of‘women’ as a monolithic
group and note the political homogeneity of the women in their case study, we
feel the value of the argument that safer spaces can enable people to live more
freely is a powerful one. The purpose of safer spaces is therefore not only to
be safe from, but to be safe to have fun, be creative and, in Lewis etal.’s words,
be‘fully human’ (Lewis et al. 2015: 10). Thus‘safety’ presents the conditions
in which to live in a way that feels good and authentic and, fundamentally, to
experience pleasure in a leisure space, something which may not be guaran-
teed in spaces without an intentional policy.
Thus safer spaces policies are underpinned by an understanding of the
world as shaped by systemic power structures which are gendered, raced and
classed alongside other forms of systemic hate. Safer spaces policies aim to
offer an alternative for the individual living in the structured world, in which
those structures have less power. Whilst the social justice discourse is evident,
the epistemology of what counts as‘safety’ strikes us as remarkably feminist,
as it depends upon emotional knowledge.
Feelings of safety
The value of emotional knowledge underpinning safer spaces policies is
evident in the emphasis placed on the feeling of safety. In a text search of the
eleven policies we examined,‘feel’ appears 23 times across eight policies and is
the fifth most popular word across that dataset. This indicates that emotional
engagements with the space are important in the knowledge of what makes
a space ‘safe’. Yet, even as feelings are the guide for what counts as safety,
the policies also reveal a failure of empathy where further feminist thinking
or engagement with women’s accounts is lacking. As policies aim to change
behaviour and language, in general they do little to lessen the impact of fear
on audience members.
The kinds of feelings that are equated with safety are:
Feeling included/welcomed. For example,‘we want to make sure that your
night is free of judgement and that you feel welcome and included’ (Pxssy
Palace)
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
68 Punk & Post-Punk
Feeling un/comfortable. For example,‘any other behaviour that makes you
feel unsafe or uncomfortable’ (Wharf Chambers)
Feeling boundaries are crossed (both bodily and verbally/politically). For
example,‘[d]o not cross people’s boundaries. Don’t assume that you know
where another person’s physical, mental and emotional boundary is’ (K
Town).
In using these feelings of safety as the grounding for what safety means, no
further‘proof’ that safety has been compromised is needed. Emotional knowl-
edge is validated. It is useful to contrast this position with that of two of our
interviewees, both of whom were unhappy with the concept of safer spaces.
They argued that anyone accused of doing something, e.g. groping someone
in the crowd, should be seen as innocent until proven guilty. In reference to
the specific discussion of sexual violence at hardcore gigs, Promoter 3 said
she needs‘to have a lot of information on somebody and proof before I do
call somebody out’. Underpinning her argument is the legal discourse of proof
which sets high standards for evidence. This legal discourse differs from the
feminist discourse of valuing victim/survivors’ knowledge, i.e. believing them.
Sadly, in the context of sexual violence, Promoter 3’s argument works along-
side rape myths such as that women lie about rape (CPS statistics show that
false rape allegation are no higher than false reports for other crimes [Levitt
and Crown Prosecution Service Equality and Diversity Unit 2013]).
Considering our interviewees’ legal discourse-informed attitude towards
victims/survivors of sexual assault brings to the fore the feminist underpin-
nings of safer spaces policies, even when they are not explicitly linked to
feminist ideas. Feminist theorists such as Dorothy Smith (1974) and Patricia
Hill Collins (1990) argue that the dominant forms of knowledge about the
world, including about women, are from a male perspective, and this perspec-
tive masquerades as objective (Haraway 1988). As a counter to this, ways
of valuing women’s experiences and understandings of the world through
consciousness-raising became a means through which to develop new lines
of knowledge. Crucial to this is the valuing of emotion as an epistemologi-
cal tool, in distinction to masculine ways of knowing which aim to exclude
emotion (Ramazanoglu and Holland 2002). This works alongside Marxist
elaborations of the oppressed holding a privileged view of the world and their
treatment (Hartsock 1983). What this means for cases of harassment, violence
and oppression in safer spaces is that those who are on the receiving end of
negative treatment are believed, and this is the first step to further handling
the situation. Such a position of belief then enables the venues to deal sensi-
tively with any incidents of harassment or violence, rather than risking the
retraumatization of the victim/survivor.
However, emphasizing the emotional basis of the knowledge of what
counts as ‘safety’ reveals a limitation in some safer spaces policies’ authors’
empathy, their imagination of who is made vulnerable and what kinds of risk
they face from others. This is evident in K Town’s address to the victim/survi-
vors of sexism or abuse:
What to do if you experience sexism or abuse: In case of an incident, it
is important that you approach the door crew as soon as possible. The
longer you wait to report the episode, the harder it is for the door crew
to find the person(s) involved.
(K Town)
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 69
This does not offer sympathy to those who have experienced‘sexism or abuse’,
but rather demands practical action. It puts the emphasis for taking care of the
situation on the victim/survivor (likely a woman, given that the policy’s first
section discusses consent). Furthermore, a paternalistic protective role is evoked
where the only action mentioned that the festival staff would take would be
to‘find the person(s) involved’ (K Town), rather than offering support and care
to the victim/survivor. The underlying message is that if the victim/survivor does
not speak to staff in a timely manner, then it is her/their own fault if noth-
ing further can be done. This is immensely disappointing and there are echoes
of victim blaming. We would suggest that the emphasis on equality amongst
punks plays a misguided part here, leading as it does to a misunderstanding of
the differences of living in a gendered world for women and men. That is, punk
equality expects everyone to be strong and independent, to be able to call out
abuse and stand up for themselves. However, in situations of sexual assault,
victims are likely to suffer a variety of emotional and bodily responses which
may prevent them from acting in ways thought of as‘strong’ and‘independent’.
Our concert-goer interviewees spoke of the fear and shock they experienced
when assaulted, of freezing and wanting to be away from the venue. Moreover,
seeking help through reporting assaults to venue staff was a roulette of whether
a complaint would be taken seriously or the victim/survivor be believed, leading
to poor experiences of a lack of support and secondary traumatization (see Hill,
Hesmondhalgh and Megson 2019). These particularly gendered experiences of
violence show that the requirement for the victim/survivor to speak immedi-
ately to venue staff is unrealistic, unsympathetic and ignorant of gendered expe-
riences and inequalities (see also Schippers [2002] for a discussion of similar
problems in the alternative rock scene). What is happening is a failure of empa-
thy and a failure to recognize the privilege of the authors.
A linked but unwritten aspect of the emotional basis for safer spaces policies
is fear. As Held (2015) argues, fear of what may occur in a space plays a large part
in whether someone feels comfortable and whether they choose to stay there or
return at a later date, and experiences of fear vary for different identity positions.
Most of the policies target the behaviours and language that occur in the venue
during an event. But inclusion and participation require people to come to the
venue or event in the first place, and fear can be a significant factor in prevent-
ing this. In our experience of being in spaces when known domestic abusers are
also there, a safer spaces policy which is reactive only protects if the abuser actu-
ally causes harm on the night, it does nothing to quell the fear and anxiety of
being in the same room, of what might happen, of the subtle impact of domes-
tic abuse. Our interviewees who had experienced sexual violence at live music
events spoke of avoiding particular venues and ceasing to attend gigs altogether
due to fear of something similar happening again. Fear thus plays an important
role in drawing the lines of who is able to participate (Hill, Hesmondhalgh and
Megson 2019). A failure to anticipate how fear works means that safer space
policies may well be less successful than anticipated. CHUNK’s policy is striking
in its more preventative stance. Rather than engaging with those who may act
in ways that marginalize or abuse other people (either inadvertently or purpose-
fully) and asking for better behaviour from them, CHUNK’s policy excludes
people who may cause harm before they arrive:
We will also try to ensure that groups with harmful political positions
will not be asked to participate in our events. There is more information
on how we define harmful behaviour further down, but essentially this
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
70 Punk & Post-Punk
means no bigots. If you feel that something has slipped through the net,
please let us know.
(CHUNK)
This stance is marked in its difference to other policies and identifies that
people who are likely to cause harm (under the catch-all ‘bigots’ here) do
damage by their presence, even if they do not actually behave badly in the
end. This is, we argue, a very valuable approach and may do much to mitigate
feelings of fear held by marginalized groups. Sharp and Nilan (2017) argue
that safer spaces policies can act as a legitimation of gendered fear and as
a collective response to it which disrupts‘the male-gendered status quo of
punk’ (2017: 77). Significantly the policies they discuss are those written by
and for queer Do It Together punk groupings. A safer spaces policy which does
not acknowledge the differently raced, gendered, classed experiences main-
tains the misinformed views of those who are privileged enough to live with-
out these kinds of fears. That said, acknowledging difference is not enough. In
the final sectionwe discuss how privilege works through safer spaces policies
and how practical action is needed.
Privilege, power and practical measures
Our analysis of the policies allows us to draw one inference regarding their
authors: the majority occupy privileged identity positions. This is indicated
through the use of the‘we’ in the policies’ guidance on how to behave. For
example, DFSL call upon all included in the‘we’ (members of the collective) to
acknowledge their privileges:
We built a place where everyone can make their own noise, but to enable
that to happen, we first have to be aware of our own volume, why it
might be set at that level, how to turn down so others can be heard, and
most importantly, be ready, willing and able to share the controls!
(DSFL)
Common to safer spaces policies, then, is a desire to raise awareness of the
readers’ own relationships to privilege and power, which may then benefit a
wide range of users of a space. In doing so, however, DSFL’s‘we’ indicates that
symbolic ownership of the venue resides in those who need to‘turn down’,
i.e. the already privileged. Similarly the Cowley Club, OK Café, 1 in 12 Club
and CHUNK all acknowledge multiple oppressions and privileges. However
we argue that this approach is limited because the first three of these all seem
to be addressing a white dominant group and calling upon them to recognize
their privileges. In doing so they inadvertently‘other’ groups who are different
from that dominant group. This is particularly obvious with DSFL who are at
pains to acknowledge their own privilege (‘we first have to be aware’) whilst
also writing‘[w]e accept that others’ lives and histories outside the space may
be different to our own’ (DSFL) which positions those ‘others’ outside the
norm presented by the writers of the agreement. The ‘we’ therefore contrasts
with‘others’, signalling the privilege of the authors, whilst those whose expe-
riences may be different are further ‘othered’. The attempt to be inclusive
thereby actually highlights the exclusivity of the space. Stewart argues that
too often in punk the story of inclusion of marginalized communities by the
dominant group is little more than‘virtue signalling’ (2019: 223) which ignores
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 71
the subcultural capital of the dominant group. We would go further to argue
that such inclusion actually shores up the subcultural capital of the dominant
group, for, as Lohman and Raghunath (2019) argue, it is marginalized groups
who provide punk with its political credentials.
Furthermore the implication of who counts as‘punk’ indicates problemat-
ics around the identity position, as demonstrated in the 1 in 12 Club’s policy.
The 1 in 12 Club’s policy begins with a preamble that draws on punk identity
to introduce a policy which it would seem the writers have little investment in:
A few Sunday Meetings ago, back in the heat haze of mid-August, we
finally adopted a Safer Spaces Policy. It’s been a glaring omission from
the club’s constitution and bye-laws arising from our ancient origins
when such things were little heard of, and generally thought of as need-
lessly re-stating the bleeding obvious. But we know better now, and a
documented commitment to maintaining a safer space is long overdue.
In a spasm of laziness we just looked for an existing doc we could‘take
inspiration from’ rather than arguing for ever and a day over the small
print, and found a really good one over at the OK Café in Manchester.
So here then, is our lightly updated version.
(1 in 12 Club)
Punk identity and heritage (‘our ancient origins’) is used to state the writ-
ers’ position that safer spaces policies are not really necessary (‘needlessly
re-stating the bleeding obvious’ [1 in 12 Club]); thus all of the things encap-
sulated in safer spaces policies already exist within‘being punk’. The tone
of the preamble is disrespectful to safer spaces policies and the people who
find them useful:‘we know better now’;‘we just looked for an existing doc’;
quote marks around‘take inspiration from’ and‘arguing for ever and a day’;
the openly admitted laziness of using somewhere else’s policy; the rejec-
tion of a need to take the discursive process of agreeing a policy seriously…
all this indicates not only a lack of commitment to the policy, but also a
lack of the feminist underpinnings of safer spaces policies. Thus the writ-
ers reveal themselves to be fundamentally at odds with the policy they are
introducing. We suggest that they do not actually embody the kind of punk
ideology and politics which would support the need for understanding how
privilege and prejudice works in a space. Ideologically, the identity position
of‘punk’ would seem to include an anti-sexist, anti-racist, etc. stance; but we
suggest that adopting a punk identity can function to paper over the cracks
of prejudice and entwine with a lack of self-examination when it comes to
unconscious bias and subtle forms of oppression. Just‘being punk’ does not
mean that one has not imbibed the sexist, racist, classist and prejudiced
discourses which abound in broader society. Nor does it remove the ways in
which an individual’s privileged identity position (e.g. through being middle
class, white or male, etc.) may inhibit their ability to empathize with those in
different positions. And it does not automatically engender an understand-
ing of how their own privileged behaviour may be very damaging for others
(c.f. Sharp and Threadgold 2019). The 1 in 12 Club’s policy is disappointing
in the extreme.
In this context, those policies whose addressees are not an already privi-
leged majority, such as those of CHUNK and Pxssy Palace, are a breath of
fresh air. Pxssy Palace’s policy regarding their‘intentional’ space provides a
glimpse of what a punk safer spaces policy might be, were it to be committed
Rosemary Lucy Hill | Molly Megson
72 Punk & Post-Punk
to bringing people beyond already privileged groups into the scene. Pxssy
Palace’s statement prioritizes ‘queer womxn, non-binary and trans folk
of colour’ (Pxssy Palace 2009a). In order to create an intentional space, the
authors of the statement signal their awareness of the intersections of multi-
ple oppressions, but then state what they do to mitigate those oppressions:
We are committed to making Pxssy Palace events as accessible as possi-
ble for all womxn, non-binary & trans folk of colour, if you are low on
funds and still want to come please let us know. We aim for all of our
venues to be wheelchair accessible, close to public transport and have
adequate seating. We don’t use strobe lights and we have gender neutral
toilets for all of our guests. For more detailed accessibility information
please check our event page.
(Pxssy Palace 2009a)
Thus the policy signals the promoters’ attentiveness and willingness to assist
various groups of people: those with a range of disabilities; trans people who
may find binary toilet choices a gauntlet; people who cannot afford taxis; and
those whose gender identity means they face increased risk of attack and fear
of attack (women, trans and non-binary people) on their way home. The posi-
tive terminology means that the policy is directly addressing those margin-
alized groups, signalling that those groups are prioritized and the preferred
clientele of the night.
A suggestion for DIY punk venues and promoters, then, is to move beyond
asking people to be aware of their behaviour and change it when necessary,
laudable though those aims are. But only speaking primarily to the already
privileged and telling them to tone it down is unlikely to make those from
marginalized groups feel that they will be safe in the space. The next step,
then, is to directly address those in marginalized groups and tell them exactly
what practical measures are in place to enable their participation. To make a
space which embodies punk values – by prioritizing those who are usually
marginalized – puts normally privileged people in a space in which they have
to consider how this works differently to their quotidian experience. In such
spaces their new embodied experiences will be of not being prioritized. This
may feel uncomfortable and maybe some of those people will cease to go
to the venue, or express their uneasiness. However, the policy can be used
to quell that discontent. And anyway, are these the people one would truly
want in the space? Perhaps they were already at risk of flouting the policy.
The potential gains in pleasure for those in marginalized groups, on the other
hand, are likely to be high.
CONCLUSION
Safer spaces policies at punk and DIY venues and events are not homoge-
nous. They vary in terms of the audiences they address and their apparent
commitment to implementing inclusive and equal participation for margin-
alized groups. Our analysis finds that safer spaces policies can be a valuable
tool for enabling the empowerment and protection of those marginalized in
non-punk spaces, promoting access to pleasurable experiences and lessen-
ing fear of discrimination, harassment and violence. However safer spaces
can continue to privilege white, straight, male, middle-class and non-disa-
bled punks, unless safer spaces policies are backed up with practical measures
In defence of safer spaces
www.intellectbooks.com 73
which show their commitment to inclusion. Lohman and Raghunath argue
that marginalized groups have historically‘provided the necessary enrichment
to allow punk to be more than just another youth style dominated by white,
cisgender, heterosexual men’ (Lohman and Raghunath 2019: 190). This inter-
vention in the narrative of punk also enables deeper thinking about the ontol-
ogy of‘punk’ not just politically, but as a cultural form. Safer spaces can enable
more people to have pleasurable and creative experiences. Policies such as
those of Pxssy Palace and CHUNK work to produce the conditions in which
people are safe to have fun, express themselves authentically and satisfy
their creativity. Punk and DIY collectives and scenes must accept the politi-
cal, musical and cultural changes such a shift may engender and, indeed, be
excited about new alliances, ideas and sounds. As the continuing black, femi-
nist, queer and trans punk scenes which are supported by safer spaces ideas
exhibit (Downes 2012; Ensminger 2010; Sharp and Nilan 2017; Pearce and
Lohmann 2018), there are exciting versions of punk to be explored beyond the
straight white male hegemony.
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SUGGESTED CITATION
Lucy Hill, Rosemary and Megson, Molly (2020), ‘In defence of safer
spaces: Punk, privilege and safer spaces policies’, Punk & Post-Punk, 9:1,
pp.59–76, doi: https://doi.org/10.1386/punk_00018_1
CONTRIBUTOR DETAILS
Rosemary Lucy Hill is senior lecturer in media studies in the School of Music,
Humanities and Media at University of Huddersfield. She is the author of
Gender, Metal and the Media: Women Fans and the Gendered Experience of Music
(Palgrave) and numerous articles on the politics of data visualizations. She
researches gender, popular music and big data and is currently investigating
sexual violence at live music events.
Contact: Department of Media, Journalism and Film, University of
Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH, UK.
E-mail: r.l.hill@hud.ac.uk
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0099-4116
Molly Megson is a research assistant in the Department of Media, Journalism
and Film, and a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the
University of Leeds. She is also a lifelong music fan with interests in how
research can be applied to improving the gig experience.
Contact: Department of Media, Journalism and Film, University of
Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH, UK.
E-mail: m.j.megson@hud.ac.uk
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3291-5961
Rosemary Lucy Hill and Molly Megson have asserted their right under the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the authors of
this work in the format that was submitted to Intellect Ltd.
Thesis
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„Russland“ und „Feminismus“ scheinen eine fragliche Kombination zu sein. Russland ist eher für neopatriarchale Politik bekannt, die für Feminismus kaum Platz lässt. Doch in den letzten 15 Jahren ist in Russland eine feministische Basisbewegung entstanden. Was tut sie? Wie kann sie sich in einem ungünstigen Kontext durchsetzen? Wie massenhaft und inklusiv ist diese Bewegung und wie geht sie mit inneren Konflikten um? Kerndaten dieser Studie sind qualitative Interviews mit Feminist*innen aus vier Städten in Russland, ergänzt durch mehrjährige Beobachtung der feministischen Szenen. Aufgrund dieser Daten behaupte ich, dass die zeitgenössische feministische Bewegung in Russland eine dezentrale Basisbewegung ist, welche Macht auf mehreren Ebenen der sozialen Organisation herausfordert. Neben dem öffentlichen Protest übt sie diskursive Politik aus und wirkt durch die Einführung neuer Definitionen und Denkweisen direkt auf die Gesellschaft. Intersektional betrachtet wird die Bewegungsbeteiligung durch Mehrfachmarginalisierung aufgrund des Ressourcenmangels und Disempowerment beeinträchtigt. Kollektive Lösungen können Ressourcenumverteilung und Berücksichtigung von Differenz darstellen. Debatten um Differenz und Inklusion sind ein zentraler Bereich, in welchem die feministische Bewegung soziale Innovation herstellt. Schließlich verortet diese Studie die zeitgenössische feministische Bewegung in Russland in einem globalen postkolonialen Kontext. Ich behaupte, dass ein lineares Fortschrittsnarrativ, welches Feminismus als Kennzeichen der westlichen Moderne konstruiert, die Beziehung zwischen russländischen und westlichen Feminismen sowie die Machtdynamiken zwischen Feminist*innen in Metropolen, (post-)kolonialen und nichtkolonialen Peripherien Russlands prägt. An scheinbar für eine feministische Praxis ungeeigneten Orten widerstehen Feminist*innen kolonialen und imperialen Narrativen und betreiben eine auf lokalen Erfahrungen basierende feministische Politik.
Article
Purpose Live music events have recently become more and more aware of the necessity to fight against gendered violence. In the meantime, research on gendered violence at live music events is also gaining a growing interest. Ladyfests and other punk-inspired queer and feminist do-it-yourself music festivals have often been presented as “safe spaces”, including in academic research. Yet, the exact goals and modalities of enactment of such safe spaces have mostly been overlooked. In this article, the author proposes to bridge this gap. Design/methodology/approach In this article, the author relies on two sources of information: the first one is documentary and the second is ethnographical. The author first considers the festivals archives (flyers, presentation texts, programs booklets, websites and so one) to analyze the identities and goals of the festivals (“who were are” and “what we aim to do”). Crossing these sources of information with ethnographical fieldwork in 10 Ladyfests that happened in France and Germany between 2017 and 2019, the author observed the measures taken to reach such goals (“how we do it”). Findings The author begins with detailing the functions of safer spaces policies and shows that the festivals position themselves as transformative forces toward a safer nightlife. Then, the author introduces the means established by the festivals to enact their safer space policies. The author specifically underpins the crucial role of developing bystander intervention as well as self-managed security teams. Finally, the author sheds light on the limits of the safer spaces policies and posits that creating a safer environment demands a constant hard work to keep patriarchal structures away. Originality/value Very few research studies have focused on live music, gendered violence and safe spaces. With this article, the author aims to contribute to the growing interest that these topics have gained in the last few years, by looking at an innovative feminist live music scene.
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Recent media reporting has highlighted that incidents of sexual violence frequently occur at live music events. Sexual violence has significant impacts on the health of those who experience it, yet little is known of how it impacts on everyday engagements with music, nor what measures venues and promoters might take to prevent and respond to incidents. Through interviews with concert goers, venue managers, promoters and campaigning groups, we investigated experiences of sexual violence at indie, rock, punk and funk gigs in small venues in one English city. We show that sexual violence at live music events significantly impacts on (predominantly) women’s musical participation. We argue that venues and promoters must work proactively to create musical communities that act as a defence against the normalisation of sexual violence, taking inspiration from safer space policies.
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The emergence of ‘trans’ as a social and political movement and identity has created the conditions for the creation of a new music scene, organized around the gender(ed) identities of those involved rather than around musical genre. This article examines the parallels between the attitude taken towards gender(ed) identity and the organization of events in the United Kingdom’s trans music scene. Both entail de/construction through strategies of ‘genre evasion’ (Steinholt, 2012) and ‘cut-and-paste’ (Bornstein, 1994). This de/constructive process crosses boundaries and opens possibilities, enabling new modes of organization alongside new ways of understanding culture and identity.
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This article explores queer(ed) punk scenes, primarily in Australia. Queer ciswomen, transwomen and non-binary people aged 20-30 years are the informants here in a feminist-informed ethnographic study. They were found to engage strategies of resistance against cismale dominance at punk gigs and events in order to claim queer(ed) territory. In brief, they worked collectively to subvert the dominant patriarchal norms in punk spaces. They mobilised community-building through the politics of Do-It-Together (DIT) as a radical reshaping of the traditional punk ethos of DIY (Do-It-Yourself). They also worked to make gigs more queer-affirmative through mobilising the initiative of safe(r) spaces. We map some queer collective resilience in punk to authorise the expression of counter-hegemonic gender identities. The gig outcome was pleasurable queer solidarity enmeshed with music, a kind of metaphysical 'floorgasm'.