Perspective: Meredith Graves
Meredith Graves is a writer, record label owner and the vocalist of Perfect Pussy. Here, in a piece entitled In Defence of Violence, she reflects on her encounters with male chauvinists at alternative rock gigs. Due to space restrictions in the print edition of Crack, a shorter version of this article has been published in the April issue. Here is the full, unedited version.
Last year at Toronto’s NXNE festival, my band was asked to headline a stacked show — we would follow Speedy Ortiz and Swearin’, so we knew we were in for a rough but exciting night. Spoon, recently having reunited, announced several hours before the show that they’d be playing a secret set after ours. The venue was already packed by the time Spoon fans started to filter in and elbow their way to the front to secure a spot. When we started to play, kids who were there to see us went absolutely nuts. The whole room was moving.
We made it through three songs — about six minutes of music— before our bass head blew. The stage smelled like an electrical fire. I tried to signal to the sound booth that we needed help, but they ignored me. Rather than help us, the event staff shrugged and tried to herd us off the stage to get Spoon on faster. A male tech told my drummer to get me off the stage. Not wanting to be forced into anything by rude people, our keyboard player and I stayed on stage, making a wall of experimental noise in the absence of guitars. Beardo indie dudes in the audience less than four feet away from me started shouting down at me to kill myself, calling me a bitch and a cunt, telling me I sucked, as I laid on stage screaming into a contact mic. Kids in the audience who had come to see us started to shout back at them in my defence. It started to feel dangerous— it was happening right in front of me, because of me, and I did nothing. By the time the venue sent a massive dude on stage to physically remove me, I was too exhausted and sad to say anything. The next day a local music blog printed that I’d had a “nervous breakdown,” without any mention of the fact that I’d been singled out and harassed by groups of men in the crowd.
A few months later, at a pseudo-squat community space in a small German town whose walls boasted anti-fa and anarchist propaganda, I was confronted for the second time by a guy who wasn’t content to let my voice be the loudest one in the room for even fifteen minutes. We’d played one of our most intense sets of the tour in a room that was pitch black except for red lightbulbs. I went at it hard, throwing up in my mouth and sweating through my clothes. When we finished, a man in the audience started screaming at me, in English, “Fuck you, you stupid fucking cunt, you fucking suck. Get off the stage, you stupid cunt.”
I thought about Toronto, my back on the cold stage, a wave of men’s voices washing over me, close enough to touch me. In that moment, three thousand miles from home, something in my brain snapped, never to be repaired.
“Bring ‘fuck you’ guy up here, please.” A space cleared in the crowd, and the guy who’d been screaming at me came forward.
“My name is Meredith and I’m a really nice person with a family and a cat and a life. I’m three thousand miles from home and I swear to God, I’m trying as hard as I can to do a good job. Obviously you think it’s very important that everyone hear what you have to say, so while my band is still on stage, why don’t you take this microphone—“ I thrust it in his face “— and you get up there and do what I just did. Then, when you’re done, I’ll stand in the back and scream at you.” He stared at me, wall-eyed, for a good twenty seconds. I was terrified, but I was mad, and I was bigger than him, and goddamn, I was ready to rip his fucking head off. He started to lurch towards me. Before I could react, our bass player came out of nowhere and knocked him out cold with one punch straight to the temple. He went down heavy like the sack of shit he is.
His friends started to scream at me, calling me every name they knew as they dragged his lifeless body out into the courtyard, telling me I’d ruined the show, and probably the space, for good. Strangely, most of the crowd seemed nonplussed. “Oh, that’s Toby,” one of the (male) venue coordinators told me. “He’s a self-important Marxist. He does that to women all the time. I’m surprised that hasn’t happened to him yet.”
Nobody had done that yet. I was amazed. Nobody had thought to grab Toby by the shirt and kick his fucking teeth in for being a braindead waste of space who got drunk and screamed at women performers. Nobody had thought to ban Toby from the space. Nobody, it seemed, had even spoken to Toby about why his behavior could possibly be considered unacceptable. It took a complete stranger from the other side of the world, scared and mad and sweaty and tired, to stop him, and even then, only temporarily.
Toby and the Tobys of the world deserve to have their stupid doughy faces beat in. This, I recognise, is an unpopular opinion. Violence is terrifying. It doesn’t necessarily solve problems. It leaves everyone involved feeling bad. However, for reasons I can’t always explain— reasons that come from a place deep within me, likely the same biologically-determined lizard-brain place that makes my heart hurt and my stomach twist when I find out a friend is pregnant— violence feels like a practical solution to the problem of harassment at shows. It’s absolutely not right, but maybe, just maybe, it will work.
What would happen if men knew before they entered a space that if they verbally or physically harassed a female performer, that someone would hold them down and punch them in the genitals until they threw up? That someone might pull a gun on them if they kept yelling the first time they were told to stop? That if they refused to adhere to the rules of basic human decency, that someone would follow them home, screaming at them, refusing to stop when they tried to assert their right to personal space? I’m guessing this behavior would stop pretty quick.
I know this, because the threat of violence and death is the reality that all women live with. These are things that actually happen to us, all the time. The threat of violence prevents us from living full, free lives. Women are habitually abused, and sometimes even killed, for refuting male advances, for speaking out against gendered violence, for refusing to comply with the rules patriarchy establishes for us. Men are a constant X factor because they are raised to feel entitled to women’s bodies, justified in taking what they feel belongs to them. We know that if we disagree with them, act outside of the boundaries they’ve established for us, contradict their statements, or deny them what they expect, we immediately come under threat of violence.
So we speak in lower voices, tone down our body language, dress in a way that makes us less noticeable but still allows us to be defined as acceptable by their standards. A myriad of other survival techniques that we learn from birth are also necessary to make it through a day without being harassed, hurt, or killed. Of course, all this goes quadruple for women of colour, and queer and trans women. The places where gender intersects with race, class, ability and sexuality open up a whole other world of violence that begins and ends at the hands of men.
Whether we’re musicians trying to give a good performance, women trying to access abortion services in the south, or teenagers trying to attend school in the middle east, the threat of male violence prevents us from actualising our full potential as people. I know I walk around sometimes feeling like a dog that was beaten too much in early life, my spine a lightning rod, walking with my keys between my fingers, holding my breath, waiting for someone to make a move. These experiences in Toronto and Germany (and the four or five other times I didn’t mention, including a recent event in Asheville, where a man stood in front of me, giving me the finger for the duration of our set before spitting on my face) have shaped my ability to get on stage and do my job. They’ve bent my body like a bonsai in its container. I am shaped in all ways by my fear of men.
I constantly wonder what would happen if the tables were turned— if men didn’t feel safe leaving their drink unattended for even thirty seconds, if they felt they couldn’t walk home alone at night for fear of being raped, if they wouldn’t dream of going to a show alone for fear of being harassed or worse.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 27 years in this body, it’s that an omnipresent threat of violence will govern your behavior and prevent you from speaking. The problem is that it’s the people in power who need to shut the ever-loving fuck up.
So yes, against my better judgment, I fantasise about violence, of a world where men who choose to drunkenly spew slurs at female performers are pinned up against a wall and punched square in the mouth. Somebody takes a picture of him bleeding and crying and puts it on the internet for all to see. People learn his name; he is shamed and held up as an example. He is forbidden to go to shows until he goes through some sort of accountability process, or maybe not at all. We slash your tires, we call your boss and get you fired over your treatment of women, we show up at your house and have a conversation about your choices with your girlfriend, with your mother, we show her the picture of you bleeding from the nose. You want to be a dude in an all-dude band with a name that condescends to half our species? Prepare to get bear-maced every time you try to set foot on stage. Then the next time it happens, we do it again. We do this, over and over, until the message starts to permeate.
Toby and his fucking friends start to understand what it’s like to inhabit a world where every move they make is in accordance with rules set by the people they have to stand next to at shows and enforced by a permeating, incessant fear. Then, when they’re walking down the street, we tell them to ‘smile.’
Then and only then, finally, maybe, things will start to change.
You can find more information on Meredith Graves’ new record label Honor Press here.