Every summer, tens of millions of fans attend music festivals in the U.S. Last year, approximately , according to Nielsen data. And yet, music festivals are still struggling with gender equity, from their male-dominated lineups to reports of rapes and sexual harassment on their grounds.
This week, one fan floated the question of whether men should be banned from attending music festivals altogether.
Bråvalla, which bills itself as the “biggest music festival in Sweden,” after police received reports of four rapes and 23 sexual assaults at this year’s festival. In response, the Swedish radio presenter/comedian Emma Knyckare proposed a solution that quickly went viral.
“What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome, that we’ll run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?” she tweeted, later responding on that she received enough support to start planning the festival.
While banning men from music festivals is a drastic step, it’s worth asking what an all-female lineup of performers, or body of attendees, could accomplish. Stereotypes certainly exist of failed women-only festivals, from the to Transparent’s.
But perhaps a women-focused festival could buck the historical trend of male-dominated lineups — a recent found that, of the 996 acts surveyed at 23 major festivals, “only 14 percent were female, with an additional 12 percent from groups with male and female (or non-binary) members.” And while a primary criticism of women-only stages argues that female performers should be booking the same stages as men, that’s not the reality of music festivals today, as seen in the many viral graphics from around the internet that Photoshop the majority-male bands out of events’ posters, leaving the lineups nearly empty.
Beyond music festivals’ majority-male lineups, an all-female fest would also present an opportunity for organizers to avoid including performers with histories of sexual harassment. As an unfortunate incident at a recent Warped Tour performance shows, the harassers at music festivals are sometimes in the bands onstage. The Dickies frontman Leonard Graves Phillips about a woman in the crowd who was holding a sign protesting the show. “I have (expletive) farm animals that were prettier than you, you (expletive) hog,” he yelled, leading the crowd in a “Blow me” chant and repeating other unprintable slurs.
The woman, who was holding a sign reading “Teen girls deserve respect, not gross jokes from disgusting old men! Punk shouldn’t be predatory!” was on tour with the festival as part of the group Safer Scenes, a project created to prevent harassment and violence at shows, particularly against women, minorities and minors.
“Another good way to keep misogynist rants off your stages: don’t book artists that have attacked women fans, don’t book misogynist bands,” in response to the controversy.
While Safer Scenes took the extra step of protesting a Warped Tour performer, many other music festivals invite similar groups to host tables and lead workshops focused on preventing assaults, aimed at educating both men and women. Earlier this year, 60 British music festivals released outlining their plans to prevent sexual assault, in conjunction with the consent campaign group White Ribbon, which often tables at festivals to spread awareness. Groups like Canada’s and L.A. concert promoters hold classes for fans and staff about fighting sexual harassment.
Taking assault prevention a step further, the Electric Forest festival’s included a separate camping area for female-identifying attendees. Similarly, Glastonbury designated part of its grounds as “The Sisterhood,” a dedicated area for people who self-identify as women, meant to be “intersectional, queer, trans and disability-inclusive.”
“The producers of The Sisterhood believe that women-only spaces are necessary in a world that is still run by and designed to benefit mainly men,” said in a statement last year. Is it worth extending these women-only spaces across an entire festival?
Considering that people of all gender identities commit sex crimes, and female performers are , it’s wrong-headed to assume that an all-female festival would prevent assault by design. And yet, The Sisterhood organizers make a good point: Music festivals haven’t solved their gender equity problem using traditional means, and more radical approaches may be necessary to diversify lineups and keep attendees safe.
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