The Jazz, Heritage, and Misogyny Festival: or, “Hey Jackass, Don’t Spray Me With Your Water Bottle!”
This weekend I went with a group of (all female) friends to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival, an outdoor fest that lasts two long weekends and encompasses tons of music, fun, and culinary ecstasy (crawfish pistolettes are the best food ever, for those of you who have never had the pleasure). Outdoor festivals are the sort of events that put me in two minds. While I love the feeling of community and emotional connection that comes from being outside with a bunch of (supposedly like-minded) strangers, that same sense of presumed community often leads to a blurring of personal boundaries. In other words, festivals are an excellent place to view misogyny at work. They are also an excellent place to view Yours Truly getting called a “bitch,” a “cunt,” a “party pooper” and – bet you didn’t see this one coming – “humorless.”
Anytime lots of people gather together, a bit of accidental encroachment into personal space is inevitable. But plenty of douchebags are willing to use the situation as an excuse to bully, assault, and grope the people around them. Early in our second day of attendance, my friend Charlotte and I were walking through a crowd to get to the yummy crawfish po-boys that we smelled wafting on the air. As we passed by a group of middle-aged men, I noticed one of them glaring at us with what I will charitably call “mischief” in his eyes. He was holding a squirt bottle in his right hand, and he was clearly scanning us to see which of us might make a good target. He noticed me staring at him, and so clearly chose Charlotte – who was a few inches in front of me and entirely unaware of the situation. He made the active choice to aim his bottle at the girl who was completely unaware rather than the one who had made eye contact – proving that, for him, the enjoyment didn’t come so much from squirting people with liquid as it did from taking them completely by surprise. I walked forward quickly so that I stood between him and Charlotte. I looked him firmly in the eye, held my hand in front of the squirt gun, and said in a low voice, “No.” He glared at me for a split second, muttered “cunt” under his breath, and then squirted the woman who was approaching just behind us. She squealed, shocked at the sudden feeling of cold on hip. He then turned, looked at me again, and laughed.
I realize that, as another friend pointed out to me later, he was “just trying to have fun.” I realize that a burst of water isn’t likely to actually harm anyone – particularly at a crowded festival in a hot, humid city. And had he been squirting his friends and loved ones, I would have completely understood that explanation. But the thing is, he wasn’t getting his kicks from the act of getting people’s torsos a little damp. He was getting his fun from the jumps and squeals of the unsuspecting – from his position of power relative to those at whom he was aiming his bottle. (Also, do I need to point out that most of the people he aimed at were women? I saw him periodically throughout the day, since I had to walk past his seat anytime I wanted to exit the field, and each time I neared him I noticed him targeting women with that damn bottle.) And, for me, that’s just not okay. It’s more than just juvenile assholery. It’s yet another example of a culture that teaches men that women’s bodies are part of their property – that springing surprise physical contact on someone else without prior consent is a completely acceptable act, as long as it’s done “in fun.” As long as it does no harm. Well what about the harm done over time, with hundreds upon hundreds of these guys proving everyday in a million tiny ways their presumed control over the autonomy of others? What about the harm done when a man is taught to believe that getting kicks from someone else’s shock or discomfort is completely acceptable? He might not have been hurting anyone on this particular day, but so what? Do I have to display a bruise in order to argue that my space has been violated, or that someone has targeted myself or a friend with malice?
Another example of men being pissed at me for demanding autonomy over my own body occurred during the uber-crowded Pearl Jam show at dusk on Saturday. Sometime during the set I desperately had to pee, meaning that I had to wade through the crowd to the port-a-potties located just outside of the fenced-in stage area. Unfortunately, the exit closest to me was also the exit closest to the stage, so I had to move through the most densely packed parts of the crowd. I understand that in any crowd-navigation situation I’m going to get bumped and jostled. I’m going to bump and jostle others, too. Occasionally someone’s hand or elbow or some other appendage will land on my ass or my breasts or some other similar place, and that’s no big deal. It’s part of moving through densely packed areas. But a man walking a few inches behind me kept bumping into my ass. Over, and over, and over again. In exactly the same spot. Finally he gave up the pretense of “bumping” into me altogether and just laid his hand directly ON my ass, as though he were a boyfriend just helping me navigate through the throngs. I picked up his hand and moved it away. He put it back. I sidestepped him. He put his hand back. I turned around and said, “STOP IT.” He said, predictably, “bitch” and “I was just trying to push you along.” Right. Totally innocent. Just trying to push me along, using my backside as an accelerator button, I suppose. Or possibly a steering wheel?
Again, he didn’t do me any particular harm. But that shouldn’t really matter. What should matter is that he had no respect for me, for my body, or for my own personal wishes. And that’s bullshit. That’s rape culture, whether it’s an ass-tap at an outdoor concert or a grope during crowd surfing. It’s all part of the patriarchal structure that teaches men they have power over the bodies of women. And I ain’t takin’ it.