An inclusive metal scene? – Part 1 – Barriers to participation

written by Igor Jakobsen (Dreamslain)

What do you need to be a metalhead, to go to metal concerts or start a metal band?
Not much, the interest in heavy music should be enough. And yet, the metal scene seems to be dominated by white, heterosexual, able bodied young men.

I’ve already written about how this seems to be the case both on and off stage in my previous article “Sausagefest Rising”, and discussed several structural reasons. However, it makes little sense to have a majority person define what are good ways to overcome the barriers to participation and inclusion in the scene, be it on stage, in the audience, in fan groups or online.

Therefore, I sought out people with more knowledge than me to participate in a discussion panel that addresses this topic.

The recruitment seemed to reproduce some of the issues in the scene. Minority persons seemed reluctant to participate, while some majority persons volunteered, even though I stated explicitly that the discussion should be a minority space.

It could be out of fear of not being heard, fear of the discussion not leading to anything, and fear of repercussions for participating. In the end, only those knowing the discussion moderator personally, knowing his opinions and thus having expectations to be seen and heard, were willing to participate.

The discussion panel

The final discussion panel consisted of:

Holly Frances Royle, 26 years old. A musician composing and playing in the bands Disconnected Souls and Sensory Enigma who also works in PR: Deviate PR and C-Squared PR, writes reviews for a few metal focused sites. Currently studying for a PhD looking at intersectional inequality across the metal scene (from fans to industry), with a focus on hegemonic masculinities in white, Western metal.

Aud Jektvik, 42 years old. Metal fan, active in the scene for many years in her 20’s and still part of the scene, although less active now. Sexologist and social worker who has a lot of experience with volunteer work in different organisations. Particular areas of interest in this discussion are fatphobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia and feminism.

Anna Loppacher, 33 years old. Plays in the metal band Dreamslain, loves attending concerts and festivals, writes the occasional review within the metal or prog genre, and studies for a PhD in social sciences, on a topic that is not metal-related. Particular areas of interest are marginalisation, sexism, racism and all the problems affecting people who are defined out of the white, heteronormative, cisnormative and ableist status quo.

discussion moderator:
Igor Jakobsen, white heterosexual cis male, 36 years old, who doesn’t have to worry when going to metal shows.

Barriers to participation

The first task of the discussion group was to define the problem: What are the barriers to participation? Many minority persons are already painfully aware of these barriers, and yet many majority metalheads often seem surprised when someone brings up harassment in the metal scene.

Gatekeeping was the first barrier the panel brought up. It seems that minority persons are only accepted if they are able to demonstrate exceptionality, or usefulness. Minority persons are questioned and expected to prove they’re metal enough to a much greater extent than majority persons.

For women, there is additional gatekeeping by being cast only as sex objects and denied actual participation. Women attractive in a non-conventional way are either invisibilized, fetishized or seen as “last resort sex objects”, with an expectation for them to be grateful to gain access to the metal scene by this cost, or grateful for (sexual) harassment as an acknowledgement of their existence.
Size discrimination is a barrier that affects more women than men, due to the sex object issue.

Threats to safety are another important barrier. Persons minoritized by visible markers like skin colour, gender, displayed sexual orientation etc. face more harassment and physical violence than majority persons. Most men perceive themselves not to be at risk for harassment or physical violence in the metal scene.

This barrier becomes more severe because victims of harassment or violence often expect to not get aid from police or security personnel, and have to resort to needing someone from the majority group to accompany them to try and avoid harassment. A side note here is a cis-man’s comment that he would not help a person that is harassed because it would be a risk to him. The fact that a fellow metal fan was under attack, was apparently not important for him.

Regarding barriers to participating on stage, there is again the issue of having to be grateful to be allowed on stage at all. Thus, minority persons that are skeptical due to legitimate concerns or tokenism might be seen as “difficult to work with” and not get spots on stage. This can be practical issues such as sleeping arrangements, or chauvinistic ideas that women should not play stereotypically “male” instruments like guitars and drums.

The lack of accommodation for function varied persons and larger sized persons with respect to mobility, accessibility, properly sized furniture, and enough seating is another barrier in many venues.
These barriers seem to be sustained by ideological issues.

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