War on Women on a Safer Scene

In our third entry of On a Safer Scene, we have Shawna from War on Women. You can get War on Women’s self-titled record here. We want to thank Shawna for contributing to a safer scene for everyone.

We appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Could you please state your name(s) and role(s) within the band?

I’m Shawna – I yell and dance in War On Women.

As a touring artist, have you ever noticed any behaviors that you consider harmful in the scene, especially in regards to harassment and/or discrimination?

Yeah, definitely. Like employees of a club making sexually inappropriate or explicit comments about me or other women in the band, assuming that women in bands do not know how to carry or use their own gear, bullshit dress codes that seem to target men of color, bathrooms based on a gender binary, men on stage encouraging other men to slam into each other with no regard of who else might be in the crowd…there’s a lot of stuff that can and does happen and it ranges from the overt to the deceptively innocuous.

What do you think needs to change specifically in order to help create a safer music scene for everyone?

Input from traditionally marginalized people, and everyone else actually listening to them. Make your venue accessible to people who are differently abled, recognize the trans experience and allow people to use the restroom they are most comfortable with, make sure security staff is trained in taking complaints of sexual harassment seriously, make sure bartenders know they have the power to remove anyone being too aggressive and predatory, booking agents making sure to make a bill a little more inclusive than they are probably comfortable with (financially) and audiences doing their part to pay for shows with diverse bands.

What role do you believe the following people should have in promoting a safer and more inclusive music scene?

Fans

Fans should call out shitty behavior when they see it, whether from people in the audience or people on stage. And actually pay for music or performance that contributes to a safer scene.

Musicians

We usually have a loud PA behind us, so we should use it to call out shitty behavior and get the attention of the security staff when necessary, and not feel bad about removing assholes from the pit.

Venues

Train your staff, book diverse shows, hire diverse people, and don’t put the women’s restroom super far away from everyone down a poorly lit hallway. I can’t tell you how many clubs I’ve been to that have their own, what I call, “rape alley”

Basically, everyone has a role and everyone can do something.

Are there any places, scenes and/or venues that you’ve noticed to be a safe space? If so, what are they doing that should be emulated by others?

Here in Baltimore we have Charm City Art Space, the Ottobar, the Sidebar, and Metro Gallery, who have all signed the Hollaback! Baltimore Safer Space pledge. They’ve all taken that extra step of seeking out the advice and expertise of others, hanging explicit signage that says “we don’t tolerate street harassment”, and believing victims and putting them first.

Are there any particular bands, musicians, and/or organizations you believe are making an effort to help this cause?

Full disclosure, I founded the Baltimore chapter of Hollaback! (an anti-street harassment organization), and while I have taken a step back from running it in order to concentrate more on War On Women, I am still an Advisory Board member and I run the training sessions for the Safer Spaces Program we created.

So, to toot our own horn, we are (voluntarily and without pay) dedicating 2 hours with these various venues to ensure they understand the issue of sexual harassment, where it intersects with race and gender identity, how it affects freedom of movement and restricts women’s access to public spaces, and what they can do about it. We go through crisis response, victim blaming, and more, and then tell them how to respond appropriately to complaints of street harassment when they occur. Not every chapter is able to do this training, of course, but that is why it is essential that organizations work together.

Any local women’s rights groups, trans rights, Ladyfest, anti-racism group, etc, should all be working together or supporting each other in order to show that all oppression is linked, and we can’t fight one without fighting it all.

I’m also happy to share the work of “Is this venue accessible”, by a Baltimore native, and I’ve heard about the band Speedy Ortiz starting a helpline you can call during their show if you feel unsafe. I would be very curious to see it in practice, as I’m a bit wary that maybe they bit off more than they can chew, but I think the obvious answer there would be to ensure that the staff of every venue is made ready to handle the safety of all their customers.

Thanks again for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Believe victims.

Believe victims.

Believe victims.

Believe victims.

Believe victims.

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Author: Safer Scene

Safer Scene aims to raise awareness and provide education about assault and discrimination in the alternative music scene.

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