FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC OR MISOGYNY? – The subculture of festivals and my experience at Big Day Out 2013.


“I saw a girl sitting on someones shoulders, and when the camera would land on them they’d see they were on screen & shake their heads, and a bunch of hands from the crowd would reach up and yank her top down. This happened at least 3 times. Like, fuck, come on. The visuals director should not have kept going after that.”
– Anthony Snook, male festival goer.

Festivals are meant to be the coming together of communities, the gathering of thousands of music lovers looking for a kind of gratification that only live music can satiate.

No weather can dampen our spirits, be it scorching summer sunshine or the autumn rain. The cold shock, mud splattering against our legs as we trudge shin-deep through the fields of Belongil. The scrunch of our noses, as we realise that some sweaty beast in front of us has just helicoptered sweat across the crowd. No, not even the classic ‘drowned rat’ syndrome that comes with winter festivals can turn us away.

Year after year we keep coming back. Why? Because music is the beat to our hearts.

Yes, the weather is unpredictable and alcohol costs an arm and a leg, but when we stand in that split second of quietness before the first note of our favourite act pierces the air, we’ve never felt more alive.

For many of us that first festival we attend ingrains itself in our lives, and goes on to become a cultural addiction that we just can’t shake – no matter how many generations pass. However, as time has progressed we have also seen the rise of a festival sub-culture which thrives on drunken violence, misogyny and sexism.

fat flashing womanIt’s unsurprising that people may get a little loose when emotions are high, however more and more we are seeing a shift in focus as festivals become increasingly sexualised. The odd ‘boob-flash’ here and there is nothing new, and there’s always that one person who we wish we could erase from our minds, but laughs aside, what I experienced on the weekend at Big Day Out in Gold Coast was something much more disturbing and manipulative than a random flash. It was the deliberate pressuring of women to expose themselves on camera – not only by the crowd but also the BDO tech team. As if this weren’t enough, even those women who didn’t want to flash the crowd were nearly exposed, with people in the crowd grabbing and ripping at their tops whenever the camera stopped on them.

During Vampire Weekend’s set the camera crews repeatedly zoomed in on fake-breasted women in the crowd, encouraging them to expose themselves. The words ‘Get em out!’ appear onscreen alongside each girl, and was met by waves of ‘pressure chants’ by all the dickheads in the crowd. As someone who just wanted to watch live music I tried to ignore it and just enjoy the band (which was already difficult, given Vampire Weekend’s somewhat bland live style). It was however, virtually impossible to do so as the camera crew pandered almost exclusively to covering the ‘pressure-flashes’ rather than the band. The final straw came when a young woman hesitantly consented, flashing her bra rather than her breasts, and was booed by men in the crowd. I gave up and left.

Bec Wolfers, front woman and bassist for the local Brisbane band ‘The Halls’, explained to me how disgusted she was with the way some women were exploited at the festival – whether they consented or not.

“I was supremely uncomfortable seeing women pressured to remove their tops in a public setting, not only by punters attending BDO, but by BDO itself. I’d really like to see less people in the crowd trying to pressure women to do these things.
I go to big day out to have fun and appreciate music, not to expose myself or watch others pressured into doing that. It’s not like that particular occurrence is something that just “happened” because of the “atmosphere”.
People yelling things out, people pulling other people’s tops down, and the things written on the big screen – those are all deliberate actions taken by people, who made choices to say and do those things. People can change their minds and choose to treat women with respect instead. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable ask in this day and age.”

The thing is, it’s really not unreasonable to ask. But sadly, this wasn’t the only example of sexualisation at BDO. There were also many other examples during the festival of female sexuality being deliberately marketed. There was a clothing stall dedicated to selling the ‘girl tshirts’ for men (which have become increasingly popular over the last year), filled with images of topless women sneering at the camera, being spanked as they bent over a bench, or generally looking like sexual door-mats – you know, the types of shirts that automatically emit a ”wanker alert” whenever worn.

I was also horrified at how many men have now moved on from the ‘sexy lingerie girl’ shirts to those featuring full frontal nudity. I was hanging out with a young guy who I befriended while walking to the festival, and we decided to have a competition to see how many of these shirts we could see. We counted at least 5 in a space of 10 metres! Once again, these weren’t just images of women posing in sexy positions – these were full nudity porn images of women’s bodies (all with fake silicone breasts and either no pubic hair or a barely-there strip).

Don’t tell me this isn’t about sexism – I mean, for crying out loud how many women would you see wearing a dress featuring a massive erect penis?

I left the festival feeling majorly bummed out – not only due to the fact that the Chili Peppers show was a disaster in terms of audio, but also because the whole festival experience is becoming so unfriendly and uncomfortable for women.

I took to the Big Day Out Facebook page to vent my frustrations with their sexualisation of women, suggesting that perhaps they should spend less time encouraging women to get naked and more time getting their audio equipment right, and doing what they’re supposed to be – providing a kick ass experience for men and women.

I expected lots of other pissed off Chili Pepper fans to show their support, but I was surprised at how quickly my post grew compared to others on the site. What surprised me the most however, was the following : an official response from Big Day Out, not about the audio situation, but about their sexualisation of women.

“Big Day Out deplores the actions of the rogue contract technician who took over the running of the messaging on the main stage screen. The individual was employed by an external supplier. The content on this screen was not endorsed by Big Day Out. Big Day Out does not support the sexualisation of any of our audience, whether male or female.
The individual has been identified and has been replaced. We expect respectful behaviour at our festivals and respectful discussions by our online community.” – BDO

Whilst there is some skepticism of exactly how much things may change, I commend BDO on addressing the issue and taking positive action against the individual who took advantage of women in the crowd. It should not be unreasonable for women to want to enjoy a festival without having to worry about being exposed on camera if they sit on someone’s shoulders, or to have to wear a high necked shirt in case someone tries to rip their clothing off.

Everyone has a right to enjoy festivals. As a woman I have a right to feel safe and comfortable at an event. It is unfair to suggest (as did one Facebook user) that if I don’t enjoy the ‘atmosphere’ of a festival which pressures women to expose themselves that I should “sit in a library and listen to a cd”.

“If your so keen on only the sound of the music (which is mostly about sex and drugs anyway) and not about the atmosphere that goes with live performance. Go sit in a library and listen to the albums.”

Totally missing the point.

As a community we have a lot of power to bring about positive social change. It just takes the conscious decision of each person to decide not to sit back and wait for someone else to do it, but to be that person. To be a decent human being.

As Bec Wolfers writes:

“Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you’re not a musician or a music fan, who’s there to have fun. If you’re reading this, and were one of those disrespectful men pressuring women to take their tops off, try watching less porn and more videos of female musicians ripping it up. We deserve to be there and be safe as much as you do.”



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