“I try to be an ally in feminism” — Steve Albini
In this exclusive article for Listen, Evelyn Morris recounts a difficult story of sexual trauma and how it impacted her love for Shellac, before posing a series of incisive question to the band’s frontman, Steve Albini. Albini answers Evelyn’s questions in detail here, saying: this is the first time I’ve been asked about these issues, specifically, and for that I thank you”.
I love Shellac. I have since I was around 19 years old. They hold a special place in my heart, the place where all the rage lives. I have experienced several moments in which the catharsis of hearing Shellac at high volume, alone in my car or my bedroom, was exactly what I needed to scratch an itch that I couldn’t put my finger on.
When listening to this band growing up within patriarchy, there have been liberating moments of acceptance of my anger, allowing me to better understand it and embrace it to fuel my feminist work. Which is interesting, given they tend to have a ‘code male’ sticker all over them at times.
I understand that not everyone is the biggest Shellac fan, but I want to use Shellac to stir the pot a bit. To break apart the dude-fest culture around music I love. To reclaim what I have always felt was rightfully mine. I have posed some tough questions to the band but that’s because I respect their music enough to rigorously question it and demand it exist within the feminist context I operate in.
I had the immense pleasure of touring with Shellac around Australia a couple of years ago as their opening act. As Pikelet, I perform what could be interpreted or coded as very ‘femme’ music. At the time I wasn’t performing darker sounding stuff – I was trialling some rather challenging instrumental piano pieces that were attempting to ‘channel my emotions’ rather than explain them with words because what I was feeling didn’t seem to fit into words. The experience of touring with Shellac at that particular point in time was incredibly important.
“These guys I’d had on a pedestal for most of my adult life were treating me as their peer.
They stood side of stage for every performance and gave me a hug and thanked me for playing. They commented on my set every night – on and off stage. They spent time backstage looking through my old videos and commenting on which songs they enjoyed (possibly to encourage me to play some of the more accessible material as opposed to the long instrumental piano pieces, sure) and overall made me feel we were in it together.
I felt utterly respected and that highlighted the many areas in which I had not felt this way within my musical communities. In some ways I feel that Shellac tour contributed to the strength I needed to harness to start LISTEN. I had fears about performing my emotional tunes to an audience I knew to be very male dominated; I had many assumptions about the Shellac crowd, in fact. Overcoming those fears and feeling accepted by Shellac went a long way in helping me to give less of a fuck about what dudes thought.
During the tour, I was processing a sexual trauma from several years prior that I had chalked up as “just one of those things that happens between pals”. It was a trauma inflicted on me by a person I know through music, whom I had played shows with and had an intimate history with. I had not a clue what was happening to me, during this process of realising that experience was not OK. I was riding waves of confusing emotions. It took another two years of processing, a relationship destroyed by my grief and anger and a whole lot of therapy to fully understand how much that moment of sexual coercion affected me.
At the time of the Shellac tour, those feelings I couldn’t put into words were being expressed through my piano pieces. They were basically feelings I have since found I can put into words quite eloquently in my feminist activities for LISTEN. They were feelings about not perceiving myself as worthy of defending my own experience, during the incident, and during the relationship that followed.
“Words I didn’t know I had a right to express at the time were ones that sound like an extension of Shellac’s song ‘You Came In Me’.”
If I were to rewrite that song it would include the line “Just let me have this moment” – the words my perp said when I questioned why he’d ejaculated inside me without my permission after having pressured me into unprotected sex at 5am after I was tired from my bar shift. It would have included words that explained that I was exhausted and that he hadn’t heard the many times I’d said no before saying yes.
At the most recent Shellac show in Melbourne I realised I needed to make an inquiry into their work. I was watching them perform ‘You Came In Me’ and feeling some very specific, localised rage that I now understand as being related to that incident and my trauma.
“I started to worry I couldn’t freely enjoy Shellac anymore, now that I identify as a survivor of sexual assault and as a feminist.”
The somewhat comical delivery of the song seemed to trivialise my experience, to make light of a situation I had taken so long to get over. This felt at odds with how incredibly powerful I’d felt on tour with them, experiencing their support and encouragement. It also just confused me given I have my own expressions of feminist rage that have been channelled through their songs for years, including that song. I have always enjoyed the satire of horrible male behaviour in Shellac and Big Black lyrics. I tried to put it aside for discussion after the show and kept enjoying the performance.
During the song ‘Prayer to God’ I noticed a guy flailing around and annoying other people in the front row. He happened to be a dude that was reported for harassing a woman in one of Melbourne’s small music scenes, so much so that she had to leave Australia, where he often still manages to harass her via the internet. Watching his entitled behaviour in the pit, disregarding any and all requests to tone down his dancing style seemed to perfectly mirror how he’d responded to requests to stop harassing the woman he used to date. All set to the tune of Shellac’s soundtrack to a jealous lover’s breakup rage: “Kill him, fucking kill him, kill him already, kill him”. I felt completely overwhelmed by it all.
I wrote to Steve Albini and Bob Weston in a flurry that night. I explained all of this and suggested we have a chat about some things that came up for me. Thankfully they were open to the idea. Steve felt slightly uncomfortable in discussing these matters, given they’re all men, but also appreciative of the chance to directly respond to feminist criticisms of their work.
Here are Steve’s answers, verbatim.
I have noticed your efforts to operate in a way consistent with how I believe male-feminist-allies should operate and I felt this need to be more fully investigated.
First off, “let me have this moment?” Jesus Christ. Maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
I have been active in music, making music addressing these issues since the late 1970s, and this is the first time I’ve ever been asked about them specifically, and for that I thank you. I consider women’s perspectives to be critically important to our scene, and I am pleased to be asked to comment rather than being used as an unexamined data point. Without being asked, I have always felt it appropriate to let women speak for themselves, and given the sensitive nature of the subjects and the obvious provocations in my history, I suspect my uninvited input in such conversations would be more irritating than enlightening. I appreciate being invited in.
I try to be an ally in feminism. We (Shellac) have been at it a long time, and early on we noticed that there was a jock- or bro- tinged contingent at our shows, so we actively set about making out shows more inclusive. We like playing with musicians whose aesthetics and practices aren’t similar to ours, and we have cultivated an audience that would appreciate seeing interesting bands with different voices playing alongside us. Most of those have been either solo female performers or bands that use a female perspective, and I am proud to have had a part in putting them in front of our audience.
Do you see your music as ‘masculine music’? Do you think other people perceive your music to be masculine? What does ‘masculine music’ even mean?
Having been raised male in our culture I have an ingrained a male perspective through experience, the same way I have a white perspective, a middle-class one, an educated American one. I have tried to cultivate an enlightened perspective, and I try to be an ally to women both in my life and in music. I feel like the female perspective, when adopted by men for song or story, is inevitably a caricature. At worst it’s minstrelsy or projection based on cultural norms and exploitative depiction in art. For that reason, I’ve rarely used a female perspective in songs. I guess that’s another facet of letting women speak for themselves. There have been exceptions, noted below. As for men, boys and other dudes, I feel like I can voice many of those perspectives without invention, and while I’m not about to speak for women, men are fair game, including the way they deal with women.
You mentioned privately the song “You Came in Me.” which, as you put it, is a caricature (though not much of an exaggeration) in expression of male sexual entitlement. The text of the song is minimal, “You came in me!” an expression of alarm. “He came in you?!” as an expression of shock at the inconceivable presumption that implies, then “What’d you think I was gonna do? That’s why I’m fucking you.” as a matter-of-fact dismissal of the affair, as though the intent and act should have been obvious. From a historical, male sexual-dominance perspective of course he came in her, of course he did. Presuming any other outcome would go against not just statistical norms but millennia of the presumptive intentions of men. Of course he did. It was likely the only thing on his mind.
“I thought it was worthwhile to bring to light this kind of thinking, normally kept between dudes or as an internal monolog, in an unvarnished presentation.”
It’s repellent or comic depending on your mood, and uncomfortably familiar to most men. That discomfort is maybe the reason to do it. I am pleased that as of yet nobody has pretended we are championing this sort of thinking, as in the creepy-as-fuck Men’s Rights type shit, and it has sparked some interesting discussions like this one. There’s a ticking clock though, and sooner or later I’ll have to answer for the protagonist in the song, sure as shit. If a genuine conversation isn’t possible because of context or because somebody presumptuously used it as an example, my standard dismissal would be to remind people that Agatha Christie wasn’t herself a murderess and get on with my day, but I prefer a more substantive discussion.
We used a similar tone and topic in the song ‘Prayer to God’, which examines the different facets of impotent male rage. The greater point is that his presumption of a natural order, having been upended by what are after all totally normal turns of events, warrants not just death as revenge but a righteous death, administered by a loving god who agrees with his perspective. This precise thinking trickles down into many male quasi-religious contexts, like the athlete praising god for his successes, praying for mitigation of natural disasters or political outcomes. The commingling of expectation, religion and patriarchy is one of the least examined yet most pernicious influences in our culture. If things like this remain unspoken, the thinking doesn’t die, it spreads sub-cutaneous like a fungus, making everything sick. To exorcise this kind of thinking it has to be stated plainly. Daylight is a great disinfectant.
“My country is currently undergoing a kind of national sickness, where the undercurrents of racism, sexism, xenophobia, worship of capital and oppression of minorities are being brought to a head, like an angry red boil, under the banner of Trump.”
He is preaching a kind of unvarnished fascism that is only useful as a kind of negative example, and possibly as a shock to the rational elements of society. The fear of someone like that actually holding the office of President has been enabled by these ideas being unchallenged for too long. Perhaps now that they’re on the surface, as the boil bursts, we can clean ourselves of it and move on.
As for the stylistic norms associated with “male” music, I think those are vestigial remnants from the time and the scenes where women were poorly represented and those presumptions are disappearing. In my job as a recording engineer, I’ve heard essentially every kind of music made by both women and men. Not equally, there isn’t equal participation, but the presumption of male exclusivity is archaic. There are idiomatic elements in some styles of music (rap, dancehall, gospel, country and western, metal) that are inherently sexist, but people who are into those styles are comfortable giving those things a pass, on the pretext of accepting cultural or historical differences. It’s a kind of indulgence I’m not often inclined to make myself, but I’m not really in the audience for those kinds of music so I don’t have to confront the dissonance. Even in those sexist grottoes though, the march of progress has come through and there are more enlightened versions of idiom now.
Do you think it’s the sound of the music you make that is coded as masculine? Or is it more to do with the personas enacted in your lyrics?
Sound only as associated stylistically with historical sexism, but still to a degree. I do not buy into the trope that testosterone induced aggression manifests itself in music made by dudes, mainly because the weakest, lamest, most puny music imaginable has definitively been made by dudes. Sure, music is described critically as “macho,” “ballsy,” etc, but those are the problems of criticism and its language, not the music itself. Critics still use the words “seminal” and “muscular” all the time, and I’d pay good money to watch them try to define those terms in a way that actually adds to the knowledge about music.
In my case, those assertions would likely be due to the text of the songs having male protagonist perspective and themes, but that’s a critical judgment again. You would need to ask the person making those assertions what he (or she) meant by it.
I told you a bit about the dude being annoying in the crowd that night and his history of jealous threats and harassment towards a woman he used to date. She contacted us through LISTEN and I had dealings with a small community group he operates within. That community group was mostly protective of his actions, preferring to have him exist in their artistic community than the woman that he was harassing. This is a common narrative I’ve come across since starting LISTEN and, in my opinion, factors into less female inclusion in many musical communities. People seem to prefer to protect the person being accused, especially if that person happens to be in a band that is favoured, or if they’re a person who people need to be pals with to get gigs.
I’d like to think that I’ve been lucky in that the scenes I’ve been involved in have been pretty successful in self-policing, but I accept that what you describe is a real phenomenon and I know that the worst part is that I will never know what I don’t know about certain people, incidents and behaviours, and this makes my perspective an ignorant one. I do not enjoy being comfortable in ignorance.
As people that many music nerds look up to, how do you feel you can contribute to dismantling this kind of victim-blaming culture within our music communities? Is this something you think about?
I know and accept the concept of blamelessness of victims and the exploited. It has been ingrained in me by my peer group and general social consciousness, and reinforced by interactions with victims and survivors in my personal and professional life. I’m aware of the creep of blame in the general consciousness, mass media etc. but I’m pleased that within our subculture it’s vanishingly rare. In the studio we’ve cultivated a workplace that’s welcoming and non-judgmental, and we’ve had employees and clients from all points of the spectrum. Granted, as a man I’m not subject to it so I’m certain I miss instances of it but the cultural sexism and presumption seems normalized in straight society, but is anathema to us. I don’t feel ill equipped to confront it when it presents itself due to the relationship we’ve cultivated with our audience and the relationship I have with the people I work with in the studio.
As a man, I’m circumspect about active efforts on my part. I feel pretty strongly that women should take the lead and the initiative, and in efforts that have actually changed culture it has been women defining and driving the conversation: suffrage, reproductive sovereignty, legal, structural and pay inequity, rape and exploitation consciousness.
“My first job when confronting an issue defined by women is to listen to them.”
My lack of perspective and ingrained privilege could lead to clumsy and counterproductive affairs, so I do my best to support women in their efforts, don’t tolerate sexism in person and work on expanding my enlightenment concerning women’s issues.
I want to make a distinction between not tolerating sexism in person and allowing sexist language and behaviour in characters and protagonists in song. The perspective of a song, it barely needs to be said (although apparently it needs to be said) doesn’t represent the mental state of the musician, and inhabiting it while conscious of the difference is important. I’m not deflecting such criticism by saying they’re “just stories,” I’m saying that every facet of humanity, even the worst, is present to a degree in all of us, and any of us can inhabit that perspective either willingly or be driven to it. It is important that we deal with it on a cultural level because sure as shit it will appear in real life.
Steve, you’ve received criticism throughout the years to do with the band Rapeman and some of your lyrics in Big Black and Shellac. I have detailed some disturbing personal details to do with my own unfortunate ‘brush with male entitlement in the bedroom’ and your song ‘You Came In Me’ was pretty hard to hear after realising how much all that had messed with my head. What feelings do you have about your work potentially stirring up trauma for people? It is imperative for an artist to be honest, to respect the creative impulse, wherever that may go. Anything less is just decoration or inconsequential humming. Sometimes the resulting art is repugnant, but I believe the world is better for it, that it is made richer by having those thoughts explored. Essentially any theme or subject could trigger memory of trauma depending on the context. The reason we value art is its ability to move people, its ability to be larger than itself and engender a greater experience, an experience that can inform an entire lifetime. In some cases that greater experience is unpleasant or insulting, but it is there. In our conversation (you and me) we’d be talking about you being brought back to a traumatic sexual incident. In conversation with others, they were reminded of the death of a parent, a traumatic incident from a tour in the military, a drug experience that put a friend in institutional care, incest, gang attack, suicide attempts and other trauma. These things leave the deepest scars in a person, they are the defining events in a life. It stands to reason that anything reminiscent of them will be unsettling. None of that is an argument not to address those topics and issues.
“That life encompasses trauma, evil or hurt means that art, if it is honest, will eventually get around to them as well.”
I appreciate that some of this is playing with fire, and if I’m going to do that, I am obliged to do it in a way that is both responsible (respects the truth) and worth the risk (not capricious, not frivolous). If these defences of offensive material are going to have any meaning, I should be specific. I’ll outline the sexual/power content of several songs, what was on my mind when we wrote them and what I think about them now.
‘Fists of Love’ (Big Black): We’ve all known people in relationships where there was a kind of wildness, whether sexual or not, that would appear to an observer to be violent, but within the context of the relationship, everything was part of the fun. My wife, for example, would once in a while slap me or another friend in the face, not out of anger, but because it was maybe the funniest way to conclude a sentence.
There are also aspects of sexual relationships that, while consensual and “enjoyed” by everyone involved, are frankly appalling on face value. Toys, bondage and light dominance are the vanilla wafers of this behaviour, but in my circle of friends choking, punching, penetration with fists and objects, cutting, branding, suturing etc. all made appearances. The dark side of this is that once behaviour like that enters your ken, the other kind of fisticuffs, the kind used to exert dominance, cause harm or exact revenge loses some of its context because it isn’t unique.
For a lot of people, squares in pure vanilla relationships for example, nobody gets hit, nobody gets tied up, nothing weird ever happens. In that context anything to the left of standard banging is de facto evil or criminal and nothing more needs to be said. That isn’t true in our circles, so the hinge of every relationship is consent. Not willingness, that can be engineered or manipulated, but consent. Two people who’ve been up for days on crank or crazy on pills can both be willing to do something, but if the situation has been engineered to exploit that, it isn’t consensual.
If there is an underlying power relationship, say bandleader to side player, manager or producer to artist, promoter/booker/club owner to band etc. then conditions may prevent the concept of consent from applying. If you agree to have sex with someone because he could ruin your career otherwise (or take your children or leave you homeless or cause you any of a million smaller consequences), then willingness isn’t consent, it’s the product of fear or coercion.
‘Jordan, Minnesota’ (Big Black): This song, inspired by news reports of a purported child sex abuse ring in the town of Jordan Minnesota, might be the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever had to own up to. Read the news reports of the day, and they all took at face value the preposterous accounts of an ambitious prosecutor, who groomed and falsified testimony from children as young as three or four. They painted a hellscape where children were regularly raped and traded between adults as sex objects. There was a round of scurrilous prosecutions and eventually some poor son of a bitch was scapegoated off to prison, but the whole thing was a sham. None of it happened. It fit the national mania at the time to find child sex predators, and it fit my personal pretension that all of us, all of humanity, is capable of both the most elevated and most depraved acts imaginable. I am deeply sorry I was duped, and if this song perpetuates the impression that these people were actually doing these things, then it’s caused harm, and I’m sorry for that as well. There is literally no way I can make up for that.
‘Trouser Minnow’ (Rapeman) – Relays a series of conversations with a woman who came to realize she had engineered most of the situations that have led to her relationship disappointment. These were sexually frank conversations.
‘Billiard Player Song’ (Shellac) – This is a song of nostalgia, memory and loss. The male character is reflecting on his life, and part of that is the way his mistreatment of the female character must have scarred her and how easy it was for him to slip into the mode of deception. The centrepiece of the song is improvised both musically and lyrically, and often devolves into scenes where a marginalized female character retains dignity under duress. This section always concludes with the cue, “a lot of people say she’s crazy but I know a lot of people and I think she’s alright.”
‘Song of the Minerals’ (Shellac) – This song is about the way “normal” behaviour has been culturally codified to reflect the male perspective. Women are subject to varying blood chemistry and hormone levels due to their biological cycles, and it’s only the chauvinistic perspective that a single, constant mental and emotional state should be either desirable or used as a baseline for normalcy. This normalization also ignores that men obviously undergo similar swings in emotional and mental state, triggered by aggression, exertion and arousal. I have a friend who was subject to extreme swings of mood and temper until the minerals in her brain were medically regulated, and it occurred to me that a less intrusive way of dealing with those swings would be for the rest of us to accommodate them rather than moderate them in the brain chemistry of women. This train of thought led me to thinking that other behaviours — marking, pica, cutting or other mild self-scarring, acting out sexually, eating disorders — while eccentric, may serve a psychic purpose. Viewed not as a symptom but a coping mechanism, some of these behaviours might have evolved in tandem with things like compassion, empathy, nurturing and other outward-looking behaviours to keep the internal peace as natural changes in blood chemistry occur. Granted, all these behaviours carry their own risks and observing them in others induces concern, but the song attempts to address even that, as the refrain, “It’s alright if it makes you feel better” is repeated even as an atonal chaos overwhelms it.
‘Prayer to God’ (Shellac) – You summarized this perfectly when you said it was a naked expression of male entitlement. It was inspired by a casual reflection on the idiom of the murder ballad, and how fucked up it was that we have a tradition of song that is basically dedicated to men murdering women. Then what if there was a guy who was too much of a wimp to actually murder anybody but just as frustrated and entitled.
‘Canaveral’ (Shellac) – The launch pad for NASA, from where the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttles took off, is on a spit of land called Cape Canaveral, which was renamed Cape Kennedy after the womanizing President. He was shot in 1963, and Canaveral was quickly re-named in his honour, notwithstanding that there may have been hundreds of men whom he had cuckolded still alive. I don’t know if that played a part, but Cape Kennedy reverted to its original name in 1973, during the Nixon administration. Nixon famously lost a close Presidential race to Kennedy in 1960, specifically due to ballot stuffing in Chicago and Texas, and stripping Kennedy of this small honour must have been satisfying to Nixon, one of the most petty men to rise to prominence in the BT era (Before Trump). The song is from the perspective of one of those men, men whose wives were fucked by John Kennedy, as he fantasizes his revenge on a person no longer even alive. I should point out that I have nothing against Kennedy. He was a decent, level-headed man who avoided a potential nuclear conflict with the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite instigating it with the disastrous Bay of Pigs episode.
‘Genuine Lulabelle’ (Shellac) – This song has a main theme, memory, and a secondary one, how the exploits of men are culturally valued as expression of their adventurous, un-tameable nature, while similar adventurousness in women is regarded as tragic or evidence of moral failure. The song part makes reference to male adventures tied to travel, drinking, fighting and whoring, in a way that suggests the protagonist is proud of his lusty, adventurous past. There is a spoken part, wherein voices appear, some famous as voiceovers from one place or another in culture, some with personal resonance to the band or people who might be familiar. This part makes use of the memory we carry of voices, showing that the voice itself rather than the content of speech can be the important part, important enough to be a commodity. Then there’s a brief interlude where the titular Lulabelle describes a scene of escalating depravity, then an interlude within the interlude where the male participants chime in with a perspective… that whole middle part is pretty confusing. At the end of the song, there’s a new voice, an Italian adult woman with a kind of scolding tone, essentially claiming her right to her memories and dismissing an observer’s perspective. I forget the actual translation but it’s something like “These are only episodes. You will respect me as a person who has lived a complete and complex life.”
Should criticisms of rape culture and intimate partner violence be something everyone comments on? Or should it be a territory reserved for people who have survived rape, violence or attempted murder by intimate partners?
That’s a more complex question than is immediately apparent. As is evident from what I do and what art I like, I think artists need a literally unrestricted hand in what their art explores. Some of it will inevitably be repugnant, some of it will be difficult for one person or another to suffer in an audience, but the greater cultural good of having everything open to examination and discussion outweighs the discomfort of specific individuals.
In no way do I mean to dismiss or belittle the suffering of people who relive trauma when triggered. It’s an established and powerful psychological effect, and my sympathy goes out to whoever suffers it. The argument for leaving such things to people with firsthand experience is that using imaginary scenarios in art makes it likely that what is portrayed misses the kernel of truth that justifies the insult of broaching the topic in the first place. The problem with making victim triggering the responsibility of an artist is that it also mutes what could be an avenue for understanding for people who are not yet sympathetic, who are blissfully ignorant.
“When culture defers to avoid offense it creates a shadow where something truly horrific can hide.”
To illuminate that void it then becomes incumbent on survivors to relive their horrors, something they are often reticent about. The biographical film Call Me Lucky about the life-long trauma of sex abuse at the hands of a priest makes a point of this; cultural shyness about addressing sexual violence becomes an enabling factor. While we need to hear and respect the stories of survivors and victims, we should not make it entirely their responsibility to address the issue. As discussed above, I don’t have a first-hand perspective on many of these issues, certainly not a female one, but I feel like I can speak with normal authority (i.e. not academic or clinical authority, just the experience of growing up male in our society) about- and to- men regarding their attitudes and behaviour.
I’m interested in ways to navigate ‘call-out culture’ so there are more regular public discussions around the painfully routine incidents of sexual violence and intimate partner violence that occur in our communities. Often the police and the legal system fail to provide solutions, so we are regularly need to navigate it ourselves. Generally we do not navigate it well, and I feel the only people discussing solutions are feminists and people who’ve personally dealt with assault. Often women and trans/intersex/genderqueer people that attempt to draw attention to bad behaviour within their community are shamed into leaving that community, or at the very least damage any hope they had for their own musical career by pissing off/scaring the dudes who are in power.
It’s clear that the internal music scene culture is not automatically a safe haven, but it is safer than a lot of places. I consider it part of my job as a participant to defend that safety. Occasionally in conflict with that is my preference for free and open experiences, where people get to live without concerning themselves with behaviour, social and sexual norms. When those two things conflict everybody in the scene fixes the balance differently and I appreciate that people can call other people out for behaviour or speech that bugs them or jeopardizes other people.
I essentially never think that kind of call-out is going too far. It’s one voice, and each voice has a threshold. They act as a kind of alarm or meter on the scene, and as more voices are induced to comment, the “meter” of the scene indicates problems. Sometimes, once in a great while (I emphasize that this is vanishingly rare), people are full of shit and just making noise to hear themselves, but even that is worth listening to as a means of calibrating the bullshit detector, as long as it doesn’t become a rationale to close down the entire discussion. Just because somebody erroneously yelled “fire!” once, that doesn’t make the theatre fireproof.
How would you respond if you heard of an incident of sexual or intimate partner violence within the Shellac community, if it were a pal of yours being accused? Do you think there are ways in which we can responsibly manage these incidents within our community? Any anecdotal stories you could share throughout your many years of touring and recording?
Though I haven’t had to manage that precise situation, there is an online forum associated with the studio I run, informally the PRF, and there was a male forum member who attended events and posted regularly, and was generally regarded as a responsible and positive addition to the community. Women in the community disclosed some abusive and sexually inappropriate behaviour of his, and he was quickly ostracized and made unwelcome in that company. The way this was handled was nearly ideal in my mind, in that it required no active policing on the part of the administration, it was peers enforcing responsibility and deciding what they wouldn’t put up with. Later, another occasional poster made some outlandish accusations toward a forum member, ostensibly speaking on behalf of women who were too frightened to come forward. When the specific women on whose behalf she claimed to be speaking joined the discussion and told her to stop, that she was being out of line, that she was making shit up, the conversation devolved and eventually the occasional poster was kicked off the forum. At one point, after she had been called out on creating nonsensical drama (though not yet banned from the forum or otherwise reprimanded) I got dragged into it and accused of being an enabler.
That was an unpalatable example of the same kind of self-policing that shows how it doesn’t always work. Given the options of trying to involve external authorities or confronting the behaviour directly, I prefer that the people involved in any incidents and the greater community confront abuse directly.
In closing, let me own up to a few things and make a disclaimer. I do not pretend to fully understand the experience women have, either as part of the music scene or society in general. I accept that I cannot ever fully understand it. I consider it my obligation then to listen to women when they want to speak about it and to do what I can to be an ally in feminism. I believe in feminism as a critical component of a worldview that values the individual and accommodates independence and freedom of thought and expression. A feminist perspective is essentially always welcome in comment, even (perhaps especially) when it is disruptive. As part of that perspective, it is important to hear perspectives on inappropriate behaviour, abuse and harassment, though those things bear discussion under any circumstances. I know that I cannot completely understand women’s experiences, so I try my best to be enlightened by them as related.
Thanks for asking me to do this.
This article originally appeared here: https://www.listenlistenlisten.org/stevealbini/