Bigsound 2015 part 2: Ask a Feminist and Safe Spaces

Evelyn Morris reflects on two successful Bigsound panels, Ask A Feminist and Safe Spaces. Read part one here.

Evelyn Morris reflects on two successful Bigsound panels, Ask A Feminist and Safe Spaces. Read part one here.

‘Ask a Feminist’ was an informal public discussion about feminism to see where intersections with industry occur and how industry can impact and influence change within the larger community. Like the Great Imbalance panel, it was well attended but had only four men in view from where I sat. All of these men told us afterwards it had been rewarding. Shock horror. Men enjoying feminism.

We started by acknowledging how hilariously easy it was to tip the imbalance of a musical event in the opposite direction by adding the word ‘feminist’ to its name. The rest of the session was pure joy: almost everyone in the room asked a question or commented and the structure was fluid and flowed easily, covering all kinds of topics.

It embodied how I imagine feminist social structures could exist when allowed to flourish. Many voices and opinions were heard, many difficult topics broached with no defenses raised and, overall, a safe, respectful environment was created. A really peaceful moment within a cacophony of competitive behaviours, insecurities, anxieties, self-interest and pretense – such as I’ve grown to expect from capitalist music environments.

“The equality I’m interested in isn’t about wanting a bigger slice of that music career pie for more women. It’s about wanting those stages and venues stacked with women so younger women are safe and inspired, and shown their value at every moment.”

After the panel I kept drifting into imagining festivals and shows centered around choices that welcomed all kinds of people. The equality I’m interested in isn’t about wanting a bigger slice of that music career pie for more women. It’s about wanting those stages and venues stacked with all kinds of women so younger women are safe and inspired, and shown their value at every moment.

I want women to attend music festivals and flourish as humans because they’ve attended a social event and left knowing they’re valid and awesome in every way. Most of the women who go to festivals won’t end up on the stage, even if there was a 50% balance of performers. But they might get groped in the crowd, raped or sexually assaulted, harassed, talked down to, to, humiliated, belittled or excluded.

The final panel was about safe spaces. By now, I am perfectly clear about what I mean when I say these two words, partly from all the negative stories I’ve heard over the years and partly from having had experiences where I’ve been shown truly safe feminist spaces such as the one we experienced at the Ask A Feminist panel and the one I witnessed at Jessica Hopper’s keynote.

Safe space doesn’t just mean physically safe. It’s a space where you can voice your opinion or share your experience and be heard. A space where the idea that you’ll be targeted by some jerk – and then ignored when you speak about it – does not exist. You’re free to behave how you feel most comfortable. So when you are dealing with trauma from having had your body interfered with in some way or having had your brain messed with by years of being shown you’re worth less – you can tell people and they’re going to listen. A space where all around you – on stage, in the pit, at the bar, at the door with the bouncers, in the street outside the venue, in the cab, on the walk home – you feel reaffirmed in your right to exist and be heard. Not given a bunch of excuses or asked a bunch of questions as to whether or not it’s your fault you feel invalid.

“Our curatorial choices communicate a lot – if not everything – about what we value in broader society.”

Bigsound is trying to provide an alternative example by infusing its conference with conversations about feminism and by helping to roll-out a t-shirt campaign by Deb Suckling to raise awareness about domestic violence.  It also spent weeks prior having sticky conversations with me and one of the bands performing about a history of violence against women, insisting the perpetrator take steps towards owning his mistakes publicly and asserting that violence against women is wrong.

By making these choices it is actively choosing to be responsible for the community that it welcomes to its conference and also the social norms within that community. Not only that, but it’s doing it in an ongoing way. We will be there again next year.

In some circles, music is a product.  I understand that, even though it’s not how I choose to engage with music. But it’s not just any old product. It’s one that infuses our society with all kinds of ideas and narratives. Our curatorial choices communicate a lot – if not everything – about what we value in broader society. We need to be more aware of who we are putting in the spotlight and who we’re excluding.