I was privileged to have been raised on some of the best names in rock and roll. Growing up in a musical household half an hour from the Jersey Shore, my adolescence was set to the soundtrack of my father playing Billy Joel on the piano after dinner and my mother blasting Prince and Bruce Springsteen whenever she drove my younger brother and me anywhere.
That early exposure eventually transformed into a zeal for experiencing live music. From sixth grade on, I saw concerts ranging from the Jonas Brothers to Rooney, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to The Maine, and definitely a handful of Warped Tours and Bamboozles. Although my parents were afraid to leave me at shows alone with my friends until I was in high school, they made sure that if I wanted to go to a concert, I ended up there.
Midway through my sophomore year, while struggling more than ever with various chronic illnesses, music became something stronger in my life than just a weekend hobby: It started to feel like home. I wasn’t well enough to regularly go to school or compete in sports, but music was a constant that never slipped away. I still vividly remember the albums I played in constant rotation throughout my tumor diagnoses and surgeries, and the concerts I refused to miss even though I probably should have spent a few extra days recovering. The community I found and the friends I made through attending shows gave me a sense of security, a feeling that I would always be accepted and embraced, regardless of everything else I was going through. Though the crowds were usually diverse, our love of music united us — a feeling I'd never experienced before but couldn't imagine surviving without.
It was only once I decided to make the music community my profession that I realized this unity wasn't quite so simple, and that apparently not all music fans are created equal.
I had gotten flak for my love of boy bands growing up, but I looked forward to and loved those shows, so it never really bothered me. I proudly wore boy band merch to school, hung posters on my walls and in my locker, and spread the word about the groups I loved to friends on social media. As someone who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 10 years old, Nick Jonas's decision to go public with his diagnosis especially meant a lot to me. Seeing someone with a chronic illness continue to travel and play music reassured me that I could still go out and conquer the music industry, too. I carried that hope with me into high school, and it influenced me to get more involved in alternative music.
But as I got a little older, I started to pay more attention to the gendered language used to discuss certain genres of music — and the fans who support them. I heard comments like, "Girls who get dressed up for shows are just there to get attention," or "She’s obviously only backstage because she’s hooking up with someone in the band." Labels like "band slut" and "fangirl" were nonchalantly tossed around to refer to any woman present in a venue regardless of her age, attire, or any other factor. I started to realize that a woman's gender was interpreted by some as an open invitation to quiz her on her music knowledge and credibility, as if women could not possibly be passionate about music in the same way guys are. Even some of the male artists I worked with or was friends with made comments about the kind of fans they wanted to attract, implying that guys are the ones who truly find out about new music first, or even stating overtly that they "don’t want to appeal to 13-year-old girls."
Invalidating teenage girls' and young women's passion for music is a blatant form of sexism and ignorance, and it should be unacceptable in the music industry and throughout its broader community. Insinuating that young women only attend shows to fawn over male band members not only disrespects those fans but erases the efforts of female artists — women like Laura Jane Grace, Mitski, Julien Baker, and so many other strong, powerhouse role models who not only create incredible music, but also represent different sexualities, ethnicities, and body types. Diminishing the importance of so-called "fangirls" is not just insulting but ultimately detrimental to the industry as a whole, because these fans are also typically the ones who spend money on tickets, buy records and merchandise, and spread the word about these bands.
Sexist comments and attitudes like this make me feel very protective — less for myself than for the young women who are in a similar position to where I was when I found the music world. When I first started going to shows, I was impressionable, excited, curious, and passionate. Music was a positive force that helped me define myself when I felt like I was losing my sense of stability, and I still carry the peace and clarity it gave me in my heart. I feel obligated, therefore, to make sure that anyone who wants to find solace in this community (regardless of gender) has the same opportunity to do so — free from judgment or being told that they don’t have a place here.
We have to start doing a better job of shutting down this double-standard — and, moreover, creating an inclusive, safe space for people of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and backgrounds in the music world. For example, we could start by pointing out when people in the community use gendered language. Artists could model themselves after Speedy Ortiz, Modern Baseball and PWR BTTM, who have all made a conscious effort to make sure their venues are safe for people of all backgrounds.
It seems to me that the people who perpetuate these attitudes should start by reminding themselves why they got into music, and why they're part of this community in the first place. Die-hard music fans are lucky to have found something in which they believe so strongly. Some people search for that their entire lives.
So we should let these fans enjoy that passion. Even if they're dressed differently or get a little more excited about singing and dancing along, they should be able to do their own thing, and be respected for it. At the end of the day, supporting each other and building up our community is the only way we can make sure we don't lose it.
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