What’s the deal with men-free music festivals?

20 : 10 : 2017 Youth : Nightlife : Festivals
Traición, Mexico Traición, Mexico

While physically separating genders is avoiding the issue of patriarchal culture, all marginalised groups should receive equal treatment when creating their own safe spaces.

Holly Friend, picture researcher, LS:N Global

Music festivals have a problem with women. Gender disparity is already an issue on stage – all-male acts make up the vast majority of line-ups, from 67% at Governors Ball to a staggering 94% at electronic festival Electric Zoo. Considering that more than half of festival attendees are women, according to a study by The Huffington Post, it's depressing how slow the industry has been to modernise.

Although increasing the number of women in performer line-ups would be an important step in ensuring music festivals remain relevant, it will count for little if we can’t first address the experience of those in the crowd, where female festival-goers are increasingly subject to sexual harassment.

The situation is so drastic that some events are excluding men completely, a measure that comedian Emma Knyckare is implementing for her new Statement festival in Sweden. ‘What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome that will run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?’ Knyckare tweeted earlier this year, in response to the four rapes and 23 sexual assaults that took place at the Bråvalla rock festival in Sweden. The numbers were so alarming that next summer’s event has been cancelled.

After raising more than £46,430 (SKr500,000, $61,180, €51,830) through a Kickstarter campaign, Statement was given the official go-ahead last week, and Knyckare has since announced who will be allowed through the gates: self-defining cis women, transgender women and non-binary people.

By banning men, Statement raises questions about segregation, inclusivity and victim-blaming. On the surface, it seems unprogressive to exclude an entire gender in order to solve a problem caused by a small minority.

Sexual harassment goes hand in hand with night-time and festival culture, which are not only fuelled by alcohol, but where feelings of freedom and losing yourself are encouraged.

Unfortunately, however, sexual harassment seems to go hand in hand with night-time and festival culture, which are not only fuelled by alcohol, but where feelings of freedom and losing yourself are encouraged. According to a survey by Drinkaware and YouGov, 79% of women aged 18–24 said they expected inappropriate comments, touching and behaviour to take place when visiting nightclubs.

It is worrying to think that the antidote for such demeaning behaviour is women-only spaces. Shouldn’t we be intervening at the root of the problem – teaching men about security and consent – rather than physically separating genders? Surely, this is creating a new level of victim-blaming if we are telling women where to dance, drink and have fun in order to stay safe.

The concept of Safe Spaces is not new, especially for LGBTQ people and marginalised groups. Youth collectives such as BBZ and Room 4 Resistance organise their own harassment-free club nights. Their premise is simple – everyone should have the right to challenge heteronormative culture and feel secure.

In the short term, Statement will offer a space where women can feel liberated without the risk of male-inflicted sexual harassment. And for those who feel vulnerable or find crowded festival environments uncomfortable, this will be a revelation. For men – and those women who don’t wish to attend a female-only space – there are hundreds of alternative festivals. After all, being denied entry to one festival is a small price to pay for years of patriarchy and gentlemen’s clubs.

In the long term, however, let's change our thinking about sexual violence and strive to create a Neutral Culture society in which women's safety is not assured through segregation.

For more on how to harness your consumers’ feelings of security, belonging and identity, read our microtrend Safe Spaces.