“Is That Your Boyfriend’s Guitar?" And Other Annoying Questions
As a Mable, I think it goes without saying that I love shows. And as far as shows go, I think I’ve seen them from almost every seat in the house. I’ve played them in bands. I’ve booked and promoted them. I’ve worked the door, house-managed, been pit security, sound crew, hospitality, and cleaned up cigarette butts in the parking lot. I’ve been that merch girl posted up in the back. And I couldn’t begin to count the number of shows I’ve been an audience member for.
Shows are where I feel most at home and, more often than not, I feel almost out of sorts at them without a job to do. My husband is an audio-engineer/former tour-manager/musician and this was one of our first deep connections- making a show go, in one way or another, feels damn good. Going to shows is beyond a hobby, it’s part of my world. His and my experiences with shows, however, have been very different.
If you see a lady carrying a guitar and amp down the street to a venue in stilettos, you better believe that she is NOT carrying it for her boyfriend. And yet the question never seems to get old for door workers and the early birds smoking outside the club. Other questions have come up regularly about my presence before a show too. Assumptions of my roles and relationships-"Oh you’re IN the band? Which band member’s your boyfriend? You must be the singer, right? Can you do merch for the other band too? Girls sell more shirts… Are you a groupie for the band? Where is the real person I need to talk to?" And questions of my abilities- "Can you really lift that? Do you know how that works? Are you sure you’re ok in front by the pit? " These are not questions my husband has ever been asked. What’s interesting to me too is that these questions are not just asked by men.
This isn’t to say that I’ve had these questions at every show, definitely not. I have been lucky enough to have bandmates and coworkers that don’t hesitate to let me drag heavy amps around a stage. And I do feel like punk rock shows are usually somewhat better than others about this. But these questions have changed how I approach shows.
Because of this, when I was younger, I felt like I had to prove that I should be there. I would wear my toughest boots, stay in the pit even when it hurt, and generally overcompensated so there was no question that I could handle myself. Looking back now, I also see that I wasn’t as supportive of my fellow ladies who stood in the back as I probably should have been. And I was critical of women playing “girl” parts in bands. In rebelling against those questions, I was missing something. Nowadays, I say fuck your questions. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. And helping other women feel comfortable at a show is another way to say that too. I understand that walking into a room with nothing to prove and just taking care of business is the real silencer of these questions. I know why I’m there and I know what I am there to do, whether that’s playing or just seeing a show with my friend.
But sometimes I still get this twinge. The urge to clarify that it was ME that booked the show my hubs and I put on, not just him with me tagging along. The need to immediately clarify, when someone asks me about my bands, that I play an instrument and that it’s not tambourine (not that there’s anything wrong with tambourine, shake it if ya got it) or some other role the only girl in a band is “supposed” to have. Is this a need to be taken seriously? I love working the merch table. It’s fun and a great way for a semi-awkward person like myself to chat with people at the show (plus a great place to stash your purse and beer). And I love supporting my husband’s bands. But I worry about feeding a stereotype when I’m in these roles.
I talk sometimes with my fellow band-wives about this and the consensus seems mixed. Some like the role of cute merch girl supporting her guy, while others feel that the stereotype cheapens their position supporting the show. And both responses are totally legitimate. I feel that pressure to not be a stereotype but, if I feed into that too much, I may not be meeting my own wants or might actually be the one missing out on the fun of the show in the process. And sometimes yeah, I am fan-girling a little watching my hubby or a friend or a longtime band crush play. What’s wrong with that? It’s the stereotype that’s the problem, not our actions.
So, what would be my advice for dealing with dumb questions and stereotypes at a show? I by no means have this all figured out but I wish someone would have pulled a young me aside and told me that whatever reason you’re at the show, be there for yourself too. If you want to be at the merch table because you like it, do that. If you want it crystal clear that you are not just the token girl on stage, own it and rock your shit. It will show. Stand up front. Go in the pit or don’t. Show your support for the band or your friends in whatever form that takes. Talk to somebody or soak in the show alone. It’s all ok. Your “place” at a show is wherever you are standing, having the experience you want for yourself. You belong there, it’s your space too.
And if a guy blocks two dudes in the pit from smashing into you and wiping out your beer- thank him. I used to have to remind myself that sometimes people are doing things just to be a nice human and not because of how they see me as a girl. Not everyone asks those questions and that is important to remember too, especially when things get frustrating at a show.
Punk Rock is all about being genuine, doing things on your own terms, and building community, right? There is an amazing community of women in punk rock who support each other and many awesome male allies backing these women all the way. Maybe fighting the patriarchy, or even just making dumb questions about women at shows a thing of the past, is less about flexing girl-power now and more about showing each other that we are all on the same team. Maybe. Ask me again after my next eye roll at the door.