Getting groped at gigs is not OK. We talked to the girls taking a stance against assault, victim blaming, and the culture of complicity. And they're actually getting somewhere.
Ava Bea, Anna, Hanna, and Anni.
Girls Against is a group of Scottish teenage girls battling sexual harassment at shows. Yes, you read that right. Girls Against are teenage girls are doing the exact opposite of what teen movies (and probably your own, Kylie Jenner-based, mixed up perceptions of girlhood) would have you think teenage girls are doing (exclusively crushing on boys and applying lip gloss). Girls Against are utterly determined and they’re coming for music industry misogyny in a way that will make your adult self cringe at your own formative years.
The activist group is made up of five friends—Hannah, Anni, Bea, Ava and Anna—and they’re all 17, which should make you feel wildly gross knowing that men sexually assault underage women at shows on such a regular basis, some of them decided to team up and do something about it. In truth it tells you a lot about what it’s like to be a woman, and from how early in our lives we’re not only painfully aware of, but subject to the abuse thanks simply to being a female in a public space.
Brought together by their love of music and their shared experiences and frustrations with harassment at shows, the girls are currently still in high school, with dreams of studying English (or something similar) at university in the coming years. They all love The 1975, and list Wolf Alive, Kloe, Man of Moon, Honeyblood, Peace, Slaves, and The Twilight Sad among their favorite bands. I spoke to Hannah about the group’s mission, what they think it’s going to take to stop sexual harassment at gigs, and how a culture of complicity is keeping us down.
Girls Against with The 1975
Noisey: I'm interested to know how you girls all met each other.
Hannah: Well we all met through social media firstly. Anni and Bea have known each other for a while through both being fans of Vince Kidd and have just stayed in contact. I began speaking to Ava on Twitter in 2014 and then when I met her for the first time in a random encounter in Urban Outfitters; I met Anna at the same time (it was seriously the weirdest experience ever). I began talking to Bea later on and when she mentioned she was coming up to Glasgow I made a group chat with all of us and we went to see Paolo Nutini together last summer!
How have artists and venues responded to your advocacy? Have you faced any challenges with awareness raising in the industry? Have you found that sexism extends to your mission?
It's been mainly really great actually! Which is really encouraging because I think it would have discouraged us quite a lot especially in the initial stages of the campaign. Pretty much every band who we've managed to get in contact with have been 100 percent behind the campaign. The only slight difficulties we've faced have been the unanswered emails and attempts to contact certain security companies. This has been quite disappointing but changes in security is going to be the most difficult thing about our campaign but with our growing momentum I think that will become easier. The only real sexism we've faced has been from internet trolls in our Twitter mentions which we just laugh off to be honest, we think it's quite funny really.
What's been the most edifying part of your experience? Have you had any specific support/seen any tangible changes that have made you feel like progress is being made?
There's been a couple of moments where we've gone, shit this is really happening actually. The most recent is when we met with The 1975 when they came to Glasgow. It was very surreal and they were how we all originally met so it was quite a special moment for us. The most encouraging regarding the campaign, however, is when SecuriGroup who operate in a venue I have been sexually assaulted in offered additional training for their staff specifically on the issue. That really touched me and made me feel like we were actually making a difference.
How do people react when they find out you're teenage girls? Full disclosure: I was definitely not as socially aware or passionate as you ladies when I was a teen.
I think it's actually one of the “selling points” (if there is such a thing) with our campaign. We've all met our closest friends at gigs and the ones we go to are often dominated by young people so a lot of people supporting us are of similar ages. I think it makes us seem a lot more accessible and less intimidating. When professionals find out that we're all teenagers is often quite funny. They're usually shocked but have all been super supportive as a result and are often offering any advice they can give which has been really nice and exactly what we've needed. There has been only one time when someone has accused of being too young to be doing what we're doing and our attitude to that kind of comment is well nobody else was doing anything about it, so.
Girls Against with Slaves
Ratboy wearing Girls Against pins
A couple of the Girls Against founders on the news in the UK
Do you see any patterns in the stories you're told? For instance is there a type of gig, age group, or celebratory climate that harassment happens more in? I mean, at a Katy Perry concert surrounded by screaming 10 year olds you're probably less likely to get harassed than in a mosh pit for a punk band—do you think that's a fair assumption?
We haven't noticed any particular patterns among genre just yet. Absolutely though we get very few reports of assault from more heavily pop genre gigs like Katy Perry, for example. Some people when interviewing us have made quite sweeping statements about the fact that—“Obviously it happens more at metal gigs”—which I think is quite unfair as we haven't done any research into genre division yet and it's an unfair reflection of metal fans as well. We've already conducted some research that has really helped us and given us a much more clear idea of who and when assault does happen but in the future we will be looking into genre more. It happens at every gig though so it would be unfair to target one particular one.
How do you see our "culture of complicity" and is that responsible for the ongoing sexual harassment at gigs? For instance, I once had my male roommate tell me not to crowd surf at a gig in London because "boys would grab my vagina," like that was somehow my fault and I should curtail my enjoyment because of some shitty dudes. What does that attitude tell women, and how do you think we can reverse the narrative among people who aren't necessarily doing the harassing, but aren't doing anything about it either/allowing it to carry on?
Yeah, I mean we get asked about victim blaming all the time and we're everyday victim blamed. A lot of things are to blame for the ongoing assault and harassment that happens at gigs one of them being victim blaming and complacency culture. I think victim blaming has a huge role to play with the way that the issue hasn't been brought to light and talked about since really before us and yet has gone on since gigs began. It makes victims feel as if they'd be making a mountain out of a molehill if they raised the issue as everyone around them is saying it's the victim's fault, consciously or not.
I have always and will always say that education is the key to any major social change and is just as true of this issue. We need to teach everyone, not just boys as it can present itself in girls as internalized misogyny, that this attitude is not OK and that it is never ever the victim's fault. The victim was not the one sexually assaulting someone else and their actions do not give someone permission to do that ever, point blank, full stop, end of story.
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Kat George is a writer recently returned to Australia and we miss her. But she's on Twitter.