"I rarely walk alone, and when I do I have pepper spray at the ready … "

I recently sat down to write an article about the rampant use of misogynistic and degrading lyrics in the EDM and nightlife culture. Hoping to rattle some cages and wake people up to the rift between the music they consume and the values they claim to uphold, I asked several women from the industry how they feel when listening to songs that simply reduce their gender to objects of sex.

Turns out, most of them I spoke with aren’t all that offended. I wrongly assumed they'd share my conflicted feelings about a community claiming to respect everyone — yet never bats an eye when all the ‘bad bitches’ are called to dance floor to twerk with faces down and asses up.

Surely, they must know our society has a long and toxic history of objectifying women and that sexual violence against them is a widespread — albeit widely ignored — issue in the festival and club culture the world over.

After hearing feedback, it dawned on me that I know next to nothing about how women feel in nightlife settings like festivals and clubs. I have no idea the awkwardness of being objectified in song lyrics and music videos. Or how uncomfortable it is to be approached by multiple guys in a night because I’m wearing something revealing.

Likewise, I’ve never had a guy reach up my skirt without consent and never wonder if my drink has been drugged. I never look over my shoulder as I leave for the night, either, like so many women often do.

Realizing that I just wasn’t asking the right question, I posed a more important one: “As a woman, do you feel safe and comfortable at a concert, festival or club?”

Ellie, 21
“I've been in situations where guys have come up and started dancing on me (or as close to dancing as rubbing one's genitals against another's backside can be) and asked them to step off and had to repeat myself four or five times before they got it. Personally, I usually go to shows with friends who will be looking out for me. If I want to accept a drink a guy offers to buy me, my response is usually ‘if I can come to the bar with you’ so I can watch the bartender pour it and it goes from his hands to mine.”

Aviva, 24
“As a female, I do consistently feel safe in concert/festival/club settings. I generally stay pretty sober and keep my wits about me. I generally go to shows with friends, but a lot of times I will go alone … If I'm going alone, I am always sober and I keep my wits about me. Obviously power comes in numbers, making me more comfortable in a group setting. I would say I am equally comfortable in both though. If I am alone and I can't find parking close to the venue in a 'less safe' part of town, I won't go to the show. As a female it is my top priority to take care of myself.”

Nicolette, 26
“I was JUST talking to some female friends about this. We were at a patio bar in the ballpark area and even with some electronic music playing there were men just lined up waiting to grab one of us to dance/grind with. I generally do feel safe in those settings to the point where I know I will be ok if I am apart from my friends for a while. I think it would be harder for me to lose my friends in a club, but if I did I would feel the least comfortable there. Even if I'm with other female friends I’d get uncomfortable if men are being a bit aggressive.”

Rebecca, 25
“I generally feel safer at a concert or festival than at the club. There's also a much higher likeliness that a guy will attempt to hit on me at the club versus a concert. It always baffles me that men will blatantly stare or even point me out to one of their friends as if I don't notice. A lot of women will agree when they are at these types of places, we have our guard up and maintain a higher level of situational awareness so we're prepared to reject the guy whose been staring at us for the past 10 minutes. And if you decide to leave the club, hopefully with a friend or two, you're inclined to look behind you to make sure they didn't follow you to your car — which has happened before.”

Miranda, 26
“As a 94-pound, five-foot-one female, I generally don't feel safe. I rarely walk alone, and when I do I have pepper spray at the ready. I also occasionally conceal carry. I stopped going to clubs early on because of the general creepiness. You couldn't dance with your friends without some guy trying to shove his hands down your pants or up your dress. With that said, I have actually never felt unsafe at the rave or festival.  I have felt more uncomfortable in a tube dress in Denver then at EDC in my underwear.”

Sounds sort of shitty, right?

As a male, I understand that it can be easy to “not notice” (read: unknowingly ignore) harassment as it happens. Even as I think back and inventory my own experiences at concerts and clubs, I remember having to intervene when a drunk repeatedly tried to grind on both my wife and sister-in-law at a concert.

I remember stepping up to a six-foot-tall asshole who yelled in my wife’s face after she politely asked him not to invade her space at Red Rocks.
I recall a guy at the Fillmore who thought it was okay to put his arm around my wife’s neck.
Then there was the dude, rolled out on Molly, who thought that a quick grope was an appropriate way to thank a woman for giving him a drink of water.

Hell, I’ve even been harassed before by a guy (also fucked up) who repeatedly squeezed my ass at a concert.

And I’m not perfect, either. Admittedly, I’ve behaved like a shitty human before by not intervening when I should have or by being a creep myself. Like every man ever, I wrongly excused my behavior because of any of the convenient but cowardly excuses that have come to shape our current rape culture. I wasn’t sober. It wasn’t my girlfriend so it wasn’t my problem. It’s a woman’s responsibility to protect herself while boys are “just being boys.”

Of course, I’m not proud of those times. Now here I am trying to do penance. Whatever the case may be, there is never an excuse for creepy, inappropriate and sometimes violent behavior in any setting.

Harassment in the nightlife and dance music community is only one piece of much larger, more insidious puzzle, but it’s a damn good place to make efforts towards positive change. In a recent article for Mixmag, Sirin Kale eloquently writes that “Dancefloors are microcosms of our culture,” where the goal is to bring people together, “to have a fucking good time.” No one deserves to feel unsafe or uncomfortable while they’re trying to have fun, yet most women agree that they do.

The nightlife and dance music scenes — though progressive in a sense — are particularly ripe for some improvement to women’s safety. On one hand, you have a solid foundation of more than a few good-hearted, progressive-minded people from across the gender spectrum that genuinely want to have a positive impact on the community.

On the other, however, getting hammered and trying to score is par for the course for a lot of people, and when drugs and alcohol cross the line from social lubricant to social menace, the nightlife community becomes a more sinister place that leaves its patrons in a vulnerable, if not dangerous, position. 

Granted, there are some efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment in the dance music community here in the U.S., but unlike some programs in the UK and Canada, most of them never address the root of the problem — everyone who stands by and does nothing to help the situation.

Project Soundcheck, an organization based in Ottawa, Ontario, focuses its efforts on training and encouraging “bystander intervention” at music festivals. Similarly, the London-based Good Night Out campaign works with bars and nightlife venues to provide training to staff members on how to recognize and prevent sexual harassment in their establishments.

Though a Chicago chapter of Good Night Out was formed recently, the U.S. could use more of these types of efforts aimed at prevention and intervention in addition to providing safe spaces for women. The ultimate goal should be to stop harassment before it starts rather than just trying to avoid it. 

To be fair though, organizations like Dancesafe make efforts to spread education and awareness of sexual harassment and sexual health in the dance music community, but those efforts end up taking a back seat to other harm reduction campaigns like drug checking. This past summer, Electric Forest Festival also took a positive step by providing female festival goers a safe, women-only camping space with the “Her Forest” program.

Sadly, that move was still criticized by some who are living in denial of rape culture. If anything, what these small but commendable programs (and the meager responses to them) tell us is that we still have a long way to go to improve women’s safety in club and festival atmospheres.

I’ve gained some perspective, yet still can’t claim to know how women feel during a night out. I likely never will. But now I know that degrading song lyrics and misogynist artists are only a symptom of the bigger issue. We (men) are the real problem. Men who think that it’s okay to continue advancing on a woman even after she’s said no. Men who believe that a woman’s clothing is an open invitation to touch their bodies. Men who think their sexual conquest is more important than someone's safety and dignity.

Yes, even men who see these behaviors in their friends and don’t say a thing. As the old adage goes, unless we’re part of the solution, we most definitely are still part of the problem.

Surely, some men reading this will think they aren’t part of the problem. That’s great — now it’s time to help others follow in your footsteps. And there are probably men reading this acknowledging they're part of the problem, too. That’s a good first step — now it’s time to shape up. It’s time to quit acting like we care about everyone at the club or the festival and start actually caring. It’s time to stop just saying 'PLUR' and start living it.

Moral of the story: Respect everyone or GTFO.