It’s a Thursday night in the middle of October, and I am covered in the familiar, musky cocktail of sweat, blood and beer. Other humans knock clumsily into my shoulders and back, and the air is alive with masculine energy. Despite my whole body damp, sore, or tired, I feel invigorated, and alive. This young throng has screamed their lungs raw, thrown themselves into the violent unknown and somehow all come out breathing.
It’s moments like this that make me remember we don’t choose where we fit. Instead, we go about our weird routines and belonging finds us along the way. Standing among the black T-shirts, hairy legs and shaggy haircuts has somehow become my happy place. This is a place of pseudo-war, and it’s not for everyone.
I can’t deny the fact that being a woman in this environment is difficult. I am certain the kinds of predatory, imposing behaviours I cop are not unique to the millennials. However, it doesn’t mean we should be complacent – because we can mend this. The whole #MeToo movement was not born from nothing. Let’s be clear, though, I don’t mind you tripping me in the circle pit tonight, you can crowd-surf over me, and if your arse collides with my face, I can forgive you.
What I will not tolerate right now is a drunk, grabby lunatic who uses the mosh pit as an excuse to shove the button of his jeans into my buttock, and slowly get hard. No amount of grog, or thumping bass, or unbridled wildness gives you permission to undermine my autonomy. This is about choice, and this pit does not give me a chance to escape.
I am 5’10” and around 80kg – I can take you on if I so desire, but that is not what this is about. You might think you’re a great bloke, and a big fan. You probably blast Triple J in your car, buy stupid band T-shirts with skulls and ice-creams emblazoned on them, and you probably drink beers out of your beaten-up converse shoe to impress your mates. They may excuse what you do to me, but I never will. You make the pit a shit place to be.
I can hear the whispers of discontent echoing in my head, statements like: ‘that’s what you get when you join a group of drunk men’ or ‘why don’t you just punch them in the face?’ Mate, I paid $70 to be here, I don’t want to pick up an assault charge or jail time when I could just enjoy my favourite band. That is what this boils down to. I should be allowed to love this, and I do.
There has been only one band that I plucked up the courage to crowd-surf in. I was 24 and had been going to punk, rock and metal gigs for eight years – that’s a whole lot of mosh pits. I was alone in the crowd, and three acts had already laid down their sets. The crowd was stirring, and ready to let every single worry fall out of their brains through their ears. The volume was going to be so loud, we weren’t going to be able to hear ourselves think.
Mid-way through the fourth song, things were great. The fans were smashing and crashing and spinning and throwing and smoking, we were all living as best we knew. A tall, strong, dark-haired bloke looked down at me and yelled ‘WANNA GO UP?!’ I had always been too afraid of being violated, being groped, or having my clothes torn off. But for the first time in my life, I did not hesitate.
I nodded, and the guy tapped two friends on the shoulder. They formed a military-style formation and threw me into the sky. Immediately, I was supported by dozens of people, all carefully handling my legs, shoulders and back – making sure I would not fall. When I finally found the ground, I felt multiple strong hands pull me up. All at once, I felt the passion, the community of music, and the gentleness of those around me.
None of my fears eventuated that night, and I cannot explain how wonderful it felt. After years of harassment, of unwanted attention, of leering and of undesired touch, I finally knew what it was like to be a man – to be an equal. The pit forgot my gender, my short, plaid dress, and accepted me as a member of the wonderful chaos. I will treasure that night, that band, and that moment. Violent Soho, props to you guys – you bring the most supportive, exciting crowds I have ever experienced.
My hope and mission are that every. Single. Gig. Is like this – including tonight. I am not sure if a lot of men, young and old, truly understand that they own the mosh pit. They make the rules, and women are the pretty invaders that “can’t hold their own” or are there for physical or visual pleasure. Let me do what I love and treat me like your mate. On this warm Thursday night, you can wrap your arm around my shoulder and belt out lyrics with me, you can jump with me in the faster part of the chorus, you can share your beer with me, and you can even help me crowd-surf – but please, don’t treat me like an object. I adore this place, just like you.
I want us to be the generation that lets everyone get a bloody nose or a battle scar, and nothing else. Please, put your phone down, stop filming the band, and support your sister standing next to you if there is a creepy guy making her night awful. She needs to know you have her back when an entitled prick gropes her, or keeps trying to get her name or number. Don’t worry about her in the wall of death, though. She will hurl herself into an oncoming person, cop a few bruises and laugh. After all, she loves this shit as much as you do.
Kathleen Jessop is a 20-something radio journalist, artist and musician based in Melbourne. She’s been part of the city’s punk and metal subcultures over a decade, and regularly attends and plays live music. Kathleen is passionate about getting women better recognition in the scene, regardless of whether they’re behind the merch stand, in the pit, or up on stage.