written by Igor Jakobsen (Dreamslain)
The discussion panel theorised that metal’s image as “music of the underdogs” might contribute to less willingness to address problematic sides within the scene.
Many seek to metal because of being marginalised in some way. But the metal scene, instead of welcoming diversity, ends up with policing itself even harder, casting out minorities in the minority, as some kind of trauma response. As a consequence, the majority in the minority, i.e. thin white straight males with aggression issues, get to define who is welcome and who will be marginalized.
According to a colleague of one of the panel members, who is a black woman, metal is perceived as “white” and thus not welcoming for minorities by persons belonging to ethnic minorities. Being white as a scene in this context means among others being tolerant towards racism, because it doesn’t affect those who are white, and belittling and invisibilizing experiences by black people and people of colour, thus effectively shunning them from the scene. This might be the reason for there being far less people of colour on stages and at metal shows than there are people of colour in the given area.
In many ways metal culture reproduces, rather than challenges majority culture and thus bigotry towards women, black people and people of colour, people that show signs of age, against minority religions and minority culture, against larger sized people and lgbtq+ – persons.
The sizeism might be further increased by ideals of control in black metal, where there’s a focus on control over one’s body, even though being large is in no way caused by lack of control.
While some band members step up to protect harassed audience members, and are praised for it, there seems to be little general shift in attitude towards harassment in their audiences. They are instead reproducing the majority myth of a “fair maiden being rescued”, which is “positive” sexism. Research shows that positive sexism still leads to higher assault and harassment proclivity, which might explain why the band members’ actions are not reducing harassment incidences.
The insistence on making metal an apolitical space is thus only making it more welcoming to majority beliefs, and reproduces the majority status quo by telling those who have to put up with all the -isms and -phobias in the majority spaces that they also in the metal scene have to put up with it, be quiet about it, not be difficult about it, not make a big deal etc. In other words, by no means rebel against the system and those benefiting from it.
For a subculture that praises being the underdog, there seems to be a lack of solidarity with marginalised groups in the metal scene. The widespread reproduction of the negative attitudes of the majority towards marginalised groups makes it unsafe for them to join, and they are unable to have space to be themselves. Thus, the metal scene becomes the boys’ club that many majority metalheads are just fine with. After all, they’re not the ones denied participation.
Thus, being politically neutral in metal is in fact to support majority power structures. To combat this, a grass root and individual uprising against these power structures is necessary. One should work actively to make it feminist, antiracist, anti-conventional, and pro-queer. Thus feminism has to be antiracist, antiracism has to be feminist and both movements have to accommodate queer communities and struggles. If metal should have pride in being a subculture, it should actually be subcultural. As the black woman who is a colleague of one of the panel members stated, one has to make it a norm to do this anti-oppression work: it should be normal to have conversations about harassment, discrimination and the prevention of it.
Some metal subscenes are already doing this and are setting a great example for the rest of us to follow. Examples of such scenes are the Anti-fascist black metal scene in Greece and United Kingdom. (If you know of other such scenes, please write about them in the comments!)
While any group that is large enough will have some shitty people, discrimination and harassment is prevalent and has become a systemic issue for the metal scene. Change needs therefore to occur on several levels, it can’t just be the responsibility of the individual metalhead.
An important first step is for venues and organisers to be clear that they care about these issues and advertise their values and willingness to protect minorities and marginalized groups.
This might divide the local scenes, and some might complain that one mixes metal and politics, but should one accept the majority dominance in the metal scene? It’s also likely that some organisers have “good values” but are scared to declare them in fear of losing revenue. Other organisers say that they would love to have all genders on stage, but have given up on getting anything but all-male bands booked. If they remain silent in these situations, and don’t try to affect the issue, do they really stand for those values to begin with, and is it relevant as long as they don’t act on them?
While one risks 2 subscenes – one anti-harassment and one “free for all”, it would still be a success if an anti-harassment space could be created. Responsibility to create this falls heavily on venue owners or promoters, however the individual metalhead has a responsibility to support such an endeavour and participate in those spaces.
In UK, “Ask Angela” is a good example of a campaign by venues to prevent sexual harassment and assault. Having venues writing short statements making their values clear would be great. We have already seen examples of venues (not in the metal scene) writing about bad customers. This could be used to demonstrate the venue’s actions on making them a safe space.
Another way to increase diversity would be to have minority quotas for performers until minorities have adequate representation on stage and in the community. It’s not ideal, but a pragmatic solution to help the situation short term. The panel finds that minorities are being squeezed out when metal goes from a youth to adult interest and that quotas might help keeping them in the scene.
When it comes to accessibility, there is already some work being done by various organisations to make venues truly accessible for people with mobility disadvantages. Similar modifications, with adequately sized seating should be made for larger people.
For a harassment-free space to exist, there would have to be consequences for harassment. Here the problem is that mostly majority organisers and venue owners define what is problematic and what is acceptable. There seems especially to be an unwillingness to address problems with major acts that behave in an unacceptable way. It will be very hard to create a harassment-free space if the venue or promoter defines it as unimportant by booking or working with bands that are sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic or chauvinist in other ways.
When someone is harassed or discriminated, it is important that venues actively investigate and prove with their actions that they want the venue to be a safe space. Some are already doing well with this, and at least in Manchester, messages both online and in venues about reporting any incidents and offering support are increasing.
Depending on what offence was committed, it can be appropriate for the venue to ban the offender. We know that being excluded is in itself a risk factor for becoming radicalized, therefore the ban should be temporal and focus both on keeping the other venue goers safe and on a restorative justice perspective where the offender should learn and be able to make amends.
In areas where the government, either local, regional, national or on EU level is involved in culture, one needs to work for them to include minority focus in their grants. The government cultural grants should have lifting marginalized voices and having quotas for minority participation as a condition when they claim to support diversity.