As a women who is both a veteran punk and an extreme lover of music of just about every genre, I am not stupid. I realize that music has always held sexist undertones and sometimes even been blatantly predatory. And I was probably naive, and most definitely too accepting of some of the lyrics and behaviors I’ve witnessed over the years. Punk, unlike many other music genres, was always very heavy on the testosterone. I was often one of only a handful of girls at shows as I was growing up. But the thing was, I was never made to feel that being a girl was a bad thing. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years in that I ever experienced being treated as anything but a complete equal by the men and boys in the punk scene. Punk was a world in which you fought sexism. You stood up against those who exhibited bigotry and misogyny and hate. It was a place to be strong and stand up. It was a place of acceptance. It was a place where you never backed down from what you believed. When the Dickies controversy happened, I was angry. But I was also very willing to look at both sides of the argument. What blew my mind, was how many people laughed this off. I’ve spent every day since it happened trying to figure out if I was being too sensitive, too naive or too un-punk. But It has helped me to figure out an awful lot about what I see as right, what I see as wrong, and what I am willing to risk to take a stand. For over 3 decades, that’s what I have come to believe really being punk is.
I consider myself a feminist. I’ve raised both a fiercely strong, bad-ass daughter, and a strong son, who is confident enough in his own skin to understand that women are his equals and treat them accordingly. This is not self-congratulatory. I was raised by a man who believed this, so its always come naturally to me to raise my children the same way. Being raised this way makes misogyny even harder to understand. Most disturbing to me, however, is when I look into my beloved punk rock music scene and see that it isn’t always what I believed it to be. I’ve written a blog post about having to give up favorite band of mine when one of the singers became an outspoken Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and I’ve re-examined many of the other bands I love who’s political and social messages seem to not reside in the same universe as mine. But I’m not stupid and I’m not naive. I’m fully aware of the fact that if I were to drop every single band that had lyrics that didn’t match my belief system exactly, I’d have a pretty small music catalog to listen to. I’m no snowflake ( a term I happen to despise, but gets tossed around so frequently by bullies and right-wing extremists, that it seems relevant) but when extreme language and derogatory behavior towards women spill over into the real world, when musicians or actors or that asshole at your job, or now even the fucking President of the United States, decide this language and behavior is acceptable, when it is laughed off and justified, It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines and to speak up. If not, how will anything ever change? And isn’t that what punk is really about?
For those of you who are unaware, The Dickies, who have long been a favorite band of mine, stirred up some controversy at Warped Tour in Denver recently. The band, who I was lucky enough to interview in 2016 (minus singer Leonard Graves Phillips, who is at the center of the controversy) and who I’ve seen many times over the last decades, has always been politically incorrect. Their humor is tongue-in-cheek and juvenile, yet often really funny. There was never a single moment when anything this band has done has been offensive to me. (At least I thought not, but I guess I had missed a couple of things. More on that later.) I laugh at songs about Stuart the penis and take joy in the fact the show includes a freaking penis puppet. I am not easily offended and I understand that humor is the key to so many great things in life. I also think that punk rock should remain punk and be dangerous and continue to challenge authority, but Phillips actions at this show were dangerous. And it’s where I have to draw the line.
There have been many versions of the story about what happened passed around. But the one that seems to stand is that Phillips was making some pretty predatory remarks about some of the underage girls in the audience, as well as the audience members as a whole. A women who was a part of a group called Safer Scenes, who were at the show, (along with a band called War On Women), to help prevent harassment and violence at shows, took great offense to Phillips words and held up a sign to protest. The sign read “Teen girls should be shown respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men. Punk shouldn’t be predatory.” Phillips, who can clearly dish out the shit, but can’t take it, responded with this:
“Kiss it, ya bitch! I have fucked farm animals that were prettier than you, you fucking hog,” he then proceeded to attempt to lead the audience in a chant of “Blow me! Blow me! Blow me!’ and wrapped it all up with the lovely and endearing “How does it feel?To get shouted away, you cunt? C.U.N.T. can you spell it? You’re a fat cunt. Fuck you!”
Phillips rant went viral and many in the scene began to take sides. Many men went so far as to celebrate Phillips for his “punk ” behavior. Phillips issued a statement that fell very far short of an apology. In fact, it was more like an essay on how hard it is to be Leonard. While initially, a statement from the Warped Tour producers alluded to the Dickies being kicked off the tour, this was not the case, as the incident happened on their last scheduled day of performing.
I’ve been a Dickies fan forever, and when I interviewed all but Leonard last year, I found them to be thoughtful, intelligent and kind. I still hold onto that belief about them. And I understand them wanting to defend one of their own, That’s human nature. But this is about way more than just the Dickies or a loud-mouthed dope who went too far. It’s about society and what it deems appropriate. It’s about how we, as a nation, continue to view women. How so many men get away with speaking to and about women in a way that is intentionally meant to demean, degrade and put them in their “place”. It’s about the sexualization of underage girls and the degradation of women who don’t meet specific standards of beauty (The hypocrisy of this is often maddening, when you look at what many of the men hurling this hate look like themselves). It’s about the fact that so many people (including some women) in this country make a women’s value and worth based solely on what she looks like.
I reached out to many members of the punk community about this topic. A few didn’t respond. One male musician agreed wholeheartedly that misogyny and the rants of Phillips had no place in punk, but preferred I not include his statement. One was on the side of Phillips. But I interviewed punk rock goddess Alice Bag about the situation, and as always, she answered perfectly.
J. Do you believe there is a problem with sexism in the punk world?
Alice: Sadly, yes. I think there is sexism everywhere but it makes me particularly sad to see it in punk. Punk is meaningless if it excludes women or engages in misogynistic practices.
J: Is it ever ok to excuse predatory and violent behavior towards Women and do you believe that Phillips actions fall under those categories?
Alice: It is never ok to excuse predatory behavior. I have to admit that I am not a completely nonviolent person, I will defend myself from anyone threatening me or a loved one with physical violence.
I don’t know that I would classify Leonard’s behavior as predatory. I’m thinking that he might have felt defensive and lashed out at the woman holding the sign but his response was grossly inappropriate, misogynistic and dangerous.
J: How do you feel we, as women, should stand up against the sexism so out in the open in this country today?
Alice: I think we need to call it out when we see it or hear it. It’s tough, especially when the people who are doing it are people who you consider friends but sometimes friends need to hear that they’ve done or said.
This is no longer about a band, but a society in which misogyny and a lack of human decency are exhibited way too often. In which these kinds of behaviors seem to be getting the green light more and more. It’s about living in a country where enough people find talk about sexually assaulting women by “Grabbing them by the pussy” so inoffensive that the perpetrator of those heinous words now resides in the White House.
The real issue about the controversy is that this behavior and the acceptance of it spawn more hate. By turning a blind eye and laughing it off and accepting that it is EVER okay, under any circumstance, gives credence and power to those who treat women this way. It empowers them to believe it is okay. That women are NOT mens equals and that this kind of behavior is justified. How language this offensive, degrading and cruel is no less violent than the hurling of a fist. And speaking of fists, it’s time to address the elephant in the room of this entire controversy. That is, that men who spew such venomous hate are rarely doing it for the first time and they have often done much worse. That brings me to an incident that happened with Phillips in Australia in 2015, when he got angry at a female audience member and not only pulled her hair, but punched her repeatedly in the head. Why has this not been brought up? I find it extraordinarily relevant. Phillips issued an apology after the incident, but apparently has learned no lesson. And while I may have been willing to forgive horrific behavior once, this makes it much more difficult to swallow.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe behavior of the Safer Scenes woman was not appropriate. She apparently went so far as to throw the sign at Phillips. I will never condone that kind of behavior. But I’m also not going to sit back and be quiet when I find something to be extraordinarily WRONG.
I know many of you reading this will disagree with me. I know I may lose readers and I may even lose interviews because of my view. But I’ll stand by these words. Punk has never been about being a bully. It’s always been about sticking to your beliefs, challenging things you find wrong and never, ever backing down. So in my view, punk is not dead. And it never will be. As long as we always do just that.