By Sophia Simon-Bashall
I am a person who is happiest when listening to live music, preferably from within a crowd of very sweaty people, who care about the band in front of them as much as I do. Of course, I LOVE Taylor Swift and One Direction with an intensity of devotion akin to religious worship, but the majority of what I listen to is rock music of some kind. Chiefly, pop punk.
For me, as for many girls of my generation, it started with Paramore. I loved Green Day and Blink-182, but it was in discovering Paramore that I delved into this music, that I found a sense of belonging. Hayley Williams was a teenage girl, and she was KILLING IT. She was loud, and she was unapologetic about it. I didn’t understand my attachment then, beyond “I LOVE HER SO MUCH SHE IS SO COOL”, but now I realise that she was the only person I knew of challenging the ‘boys’ club’ vibe of rock, and carving out a space for girls. I will genuinely always view my discovery of Paramore as one of the most important times in my life, because it was through Paramore that a world was opened up to me, the world that saved me again and again.
I live for these bands, I live for going to shows and jumping around and singing my lungs out and finding kinship with strangers because they feel what I feel about the songs being played and the people playing them. And I have defended my scene relentlessly over the years, from stupid comments about how we’re all menacing, aggressive Satanists (I mean, Patty Walters IS pretty terrifying), and how the music ‘encourages depression and self-harm’ (TOTALLY). But I’m recognising more and more its imperfections, and suddenly, the scene that saved me doesn’t feel like such a safe space anymore.
Pop punk has an undeniable sexism problem. A big one. I mean, the genre is practically founded on objectifying woman and moaning about being friendzoned. That, and pizza. But there’s far more to this issue than a few problematic lyrics.
This is supposed to be an alternative scene, a scene for the kids who feel like weirdos and losers, a scene that doesn’t follow rules or conventions. And yet, who is the face of this scene? Oh yeah, that’s right – middle-class white boys. How subversive. What’s worse is how very in denial some of them are of this issue – I recently read a comment made by Vic Fuentes of Pierce The Veil, rejecting the notion that the scene has a gender imbalance, on the basis that the scene’s big rising star is Lynn Gunn of the band PVRIS. This remark was reminiscent of Warped Tour’s founder Kevin Lyman comment that “If you’ve got 20 bands that have women in them out of 120 bands, that’s one out of six bands.”, a ratio he thought was “absolutely OK”. It’s like, because we have a couple of girls in the scene, everything is okay. Never mind that the majority of them don’t get nearly as much recognition as their male counterparts, never mind that when they do start to gain some prominence, as with Lynn, they are subject to ridicule and belittlement, harassment, internet trolling, and objectification, things that Neck Deep’s frontman Ben Barlow does not have to go through.
The bands may be predominantly made up of dudes, but the fans certainly are not. And yet, guys in the crowds still manage to dominate, and push girls out. I went to the Reading festival this summer, at which PVRIS were playing. I hung out at that stage through the two bands before them, in order to be in the prime spot, at the barrier, in the very centre. It was worth the wait, because when they came on, Lynn Gunn was right in front of me, so close I could practically touch her, and I don’t think my little queer heart has ever been so chuffed. Unfortunately, about two songs into the set, a mosh pit opened up, sucking me in, and eventually forced me out.
I hate to say it, because I know some girls do enjoy them, but ultimately, mosh pits are massively testosterone-fuelled. They are about boys proving their masculinity, because what fulfils the social construct of ‘male behaviour’ than shoving and bashing each other? They are also, quite frankly, about pushing girls out – nothing seems to anger a couple of entitled white boys than a group of girls claiming space for themselves (never mind that we waited for HOURS in order to claim it, whilst said boys have pushed their way to that point in the crowd). After being pushed over, and left on the floor, being literally trampled for a couple of minutes before someone bothered to help me up, I had little choice but to go to the very back of the tent to watch the rest of the band’s set. And, whilst PVRIS were incredible, I didn’t really enjoy it, didn’t really enjoy seeing the band I pretty much bought my ticket for, because I was shaken up, and in pain. It sucked. At the time, I was really upset about it. Now, I’m angry as hell, because I had as much right to claim that space as anyone else, I had a right to have a good time, and a bunch of guys took that from me. And this isn’t an isolated incident, either – I don’t know a single pop punk girl who hasn’t had a similarly negative experience at a show. This is not the way it should be.
TW Recently, there’s also been a startling number of allegations of sexual harassment against members of bands. It’s sickening. The reaction has also been pretty sickening. After allegations meant he had to leave the band, ex Set It Off bassist Austin Kerr was quick to make excuses for himself, whilst claiming to ‘take responsibility’ for his actions. The manipulative nature of his statement was disgusting and irresponsible, and fuelled a great deal of victim blaming. Those who spoke out against ex-guitarist of Neck Deep, Lloyd Roberts, were similarly met with horrific backlash, despite the band’s pleas that people ‘refrain from attacking the people making these statements’. It took these girls immense courage to speak about their experiences, and they were attacked for it.
Some of this makes me ashamed to call this my scene. I almost want to reject the scene, if it weren’t for the fact that at the end of the day, I LOVE these bands, I LOVE this music, and I LOVE the shows. I truly don’t know where I’d be without it; bands like All Time Low have been my lifeline at my lowest points, my escape from the world and from my own head, and I will never not love them, I will never not be grateful that they exist. But I am sick and tired of the state of the scene. I am sick and tired of this being a white boys’ club, of feeling like I have to look a certain way to be accepted as a girl, and that even then, I’ll either be seen as ‘one of the boys’, and expected to reject other girls, or a girl to ogle, and then complain about, regardless of whether I put out or not. I’m a pop punk girl, which means I can’t win, and I’m sick and tired of it. But I’m not giving up on this scene. I believe it can do better, and I won’t stop fighting for that. I will keep calling out bands on problematic lyrics, objectifying music videos, sexist comments, and gross actions. I will keep defending my right to be at the front of or in the middle of a crowd, rather than relegated to the back. I will keep defending other girls in crowds, and the girls who have the guts to get up on stage. I will keep defending pop punk, but the pop punk I want it to be, not the pop punk it is right now.