A Feminist Punk Band's Quest to Create Safer Spaces at Warped Tour
War on Women's Warped Tour diary, part one.
Photo by Eden Kittiver
The Vans Warped Tour was created in 1995 by Kevin Lyman, a lifelong punk, as a place for outcasts to enjoy the music they like, together, but it's developed a stigma over the years. Recent high-profile stories of male performers on the long-running traveling music festival engaging in sexually aggressive behavior towards female fans, and specifically minors, have cast it as something of an incubator for predatory band creeps. So it came as something of a surprise when Kevin and the Warped Tour team offered my band, War On Women, a feminist punk band that has stood for spreading and promoting safer spaces, a spot on this year's lineup. But that's exactly why we accepted the offer.
I bet a lot of people imagine the Warped Tour as a sea of white men (dude-bros to be more specific), endlessly combing their hair in front of their eyes or pounding beers or texting underage girls and sometimes playing music. That's harsh, I know, and thank goodness it's not really like that. Not totally. But for every kernel of truth in that stereotype, our band is happy to offer a true alternative, to talk and sing about reproductive justice, trans rights, and rape culture. And I'm really happy to say that after two days in, everyone I've come across in person has been super nice, professional, hard-working, and genuinely looking out for everyone.
To be fair, I don't think I've met the guy that I heard proclaim over the PA, "Seattle, you can be anything you wanna be. Just don't be a bitch!" Not exactly welcoming to all the people who get called a bitch as a slur when they dare to speak up or exist. But I'm the kind of bitch that gets invited to a get-together and calls out the host's brother for getting handsy or telling a sexist joke. Thanks for inviting me, but I didn't come here for bullshit, I came to party. I'm pretty sure all the other women, queer folks, and people of color that attend, work, and perform at the Warped Tour feel the same way. They certainly deserve to have a good time without feeling excluded. That's why I came up with Safer Scenes, a project created specifically to tag along with us on Warped Tour, meant to address how people can prevent harassment and violence at shows, from big festivals to small basement shows. We brought two expert volunteers with us to table every day for us, and they're there to offer concrete ways people can intervene to ensure everyone feels welcome and included, at any show in any city, not just on the Warped Tour.
Like camp, I think we'll get out of this tour whatever we put into it. I know it will feel like a community, a lovely shared experience, by the end. I mean, we're a fleet of buses, bandwagons, and vans, all traveling to the same suburbs every day, eating together, loading in and out together, sharing sunscreen and workout tips (where can a woman do a pull-up around here?!), hoping for a good audience response to our personal, creative passions. It's the same on regular tours, just times 100. Two days in and it already feels like a community, and you know you're just going to become better friends with even more people, and I'm looking forward to that.
But I'm also starting to understand that in these small communities, some people have more power than others. We're traveling with the largest crew we've ever had, with a dedicated merch person, driver, and two volunteers, Kira and Autumn, running Safer Scenes for us. It feels so luxurious! So, since I'm not on my own out here, since I'm responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone, mentally and physically, I know there are some boats I can't rock in this public forum, at least not until the tour is over. Not that I would let anything big slide, but as is so often the case for those of us belonging to systemically oppressed groups, it's not always a big thing, it's usually little things—lots of little things adding up, big enough to hurt, but too small to explain to someone who's never been hurt in that way.
We've already experienced some of these microaggressions. Take this, for example: Day 0, orientation day. After I stated whether I was in the band or in the crew (a very normal question) to someone, he asked, "What do you do in the band?" I said, "I yell." I always think that's very clever of me, har har. Then he said, "What are you gonna do when you get married, just yell at your husband?" as he laughed. It was so dumb I wasn't even mad, but I did not have the time to explain all the things wrong with his... joke? statement? bright neon "I'm old-fashioned" sign? thing he would obviously never say to a man?
Something happened at our first show that was telling about how people feel right now in big public spaces, not even specifically Warped Tour. It was what a girl said to the Safer Scenes crew about why she brought her male friend with her. She said she'd brought him along because she didn't want to be assaulted. He said, "Yeah, I don't really know any of these bands." He obviously didn't care about what was happening at the festival, he was just looking out for his friend. That's the silver lining. This guy is doing something to promote her feeling of safety. He didn't demand to be there like a controlling asshole, he's there in a support role if she needs it, a true ally. It's sad that women go into a public spaces assuming and expecting to be harassed or assaulted and using so much mental energy to safety plan, instead of just having a good time. I hope to hear more stories of allyship this summer.
And if I don't? Or I hear of any sexually aggressive, coercive, or inappropriate shit from bands or Warped Tour employees? Well, I am pretty sure Kevin Lyman knew what kind of bitch he was inviting to come along to his party.