Collective strategies 2 – Ladyfest Hki (Sexism)

by Milla


One way of making open spaces more accessible and safe for other than hyper-masculinity, is to make one day of the week for women-lesbian-trans only. Revoltosa in Barcelona-Spain, and Utkanten in Malmö-Sweden have adopted Thursdays for this purpose.

So. A group of four, ended up talking about how to create safer spaces, on the last day of Ladyfest. We had a fairly short talk, sharing a general discontent and disappointment with the (punk, squatting, anarchist, activist, fill-in-autonomous-whatever…) scene. It was said that we function like a cult; a statement coming from a person with experiences of the covering up of incestual abuse within Jehova’s Witnesses in order not to smudge the public image of the sect. I can definitely see the same pattern within the activist community. We are the ‘good’ ones, and all the ‘bad’ in society can be found outside the social centre walls (or whatever imaginary boundary set up between ‘us, different’ and the ‘other, normal’ people). And that’s the end of it. If someone starts criticising within, you can expect to be persecuted for your belief in that we live in a free world and that everything can be talked about. Within the scene – silence is golden. And talking equals social-personal-political exclusion.

The same person bringing up the comparison with a cult was also pointing out the problematics with believing in sorting things out by ourselves without bringing in state-authority, such as police, and at the same time lacking an alternative, which leads to a space where ‘criminal minded’ spirits act freely without fear of repression or repercussions. (Or any other alternative healing methods that could be used in order to stop the violence between us.)

Most of the people I talked with, visiting the social centre for the first time, shared the same feeling of that the place isn’t inviting. It’s kind of scary, with all the tags. At the top of the entry door someone has written “anal sex = respect”. And it’s untidy, disorganized, dirty. There’s no clear place to find information, and you need to be pretty brave to go inside a space like this and ask for information yourself if you’ve never set foot in this kind of environment before.

It was said that Ladyfest could have been done in a different space, a space that would have been specifically for this event, where not so much other activity would be going on at the same time. The hyper-masculine expressions within the house – men with beer cans giving up loud burps, or men sparring with each other in the gym – was a disruption in the nice flow that came up in the workshops taking place around the house. I didn’t feel safe there.

One person talked about the punk scene specifically and her disappointment with that. Saying that the Ladyfest punk gig, didn’t have a ‘Ladyfest feel’ to it. It felt like the normal thing: Tall men standing in front of the band, making it difficult to see. Men taking space in the mosh pit, and making it not feel safe to explore own expressions of aggression in fear of ending up in the way of a man acting out without caring for what’s going on in her surroundings. It was appreciated that some women were making an effort to clear out the men taking space on the dance floor though, making an effort to create space for women to take the space we so seldom are allowed to take.

I heard many stories of violence from the persons frequenting the space on a regular basis. And during the Ladyfest punk gig on friday evening, there were several occasions of unsafe atmosphere created, that we should find ways to deal with. One strategy of ending endless talks leading no-where in order to get persons who’ve violated the physical integrity of others, to leave in order to create a safer space (a common problem at parties and gigs is that female bodies are being touched and groped without permission, with no care or consideration whatsoever for the person’s feelings, wishes and needs) – one thing could be to have a deal with the people working in the place to turn the lights on and the music off until the problem is resolved, and sharing this information at the beginning of the evening, at the entry, or before the gig starts: “Come to the bar if you’re having a problem, that you’d like to get support in sorting out”. This way there would be a collective responsibility behind creating a good atmosphere for everyone, and the person harassed (as well as the people supportive in making the space safer for her by removing the perpetrator) wouldn’t have to live with the frustrating prejudice shaming and blaming put on them by the friends supporting the perspective of the perpetrator, claiming that supporting the affected person is the same as ‘spoiling the party’ by ‘complaining’ and ‘not understanding good fun’, ‘making unnecessary attacking accusations’ because ‘this is a nice guy’. This way the perpetrator (plus friends) would get a clear signal that it’s not okay to do whatever they please without the consent of the other, and that they indeed are responsible for killing the spirit of the party – time to go home, sleep it out; or already start talking it out with some friends who are willing to give some supportive honest feedback on what behavior is wanted or not, and why.

At the Ladyfest gig, a band member was standing bent over to role up some cables when all of a sudden she feels that someone’s grabbing her waist and pressing their crotch against her bottom. At first thinking it’s someone she knows, but when seeing the shoes, immediately turning around and whacking the un-known offender. It’s a guy called Paavo. Apparently the ‘friend of everybody – A nice guy’. The woman had a hard time fending Paavo off. She was screaming for her to back off, she was pushing. But Paavo kept ignoring her and stepping back into her space.

I was sitting upstairs, backstage, this evening, and got to hear about this directly from the affected person. She said she was in total shock. Shaking. She made a call to her girlfriend in Sweden to get some sensible support. Downstairs the friends of Paavo had just been laughing at the situation, saying that she shouldn’t take it so seriously and that the situation is “funny” since “Paavo is gay”. As if a person’s sexual orientation would give them diplomatic immunity to touch, or as in Paavo’s case – play-fuck; play-rape – any person they feel like, cause they don’t “mean anything with it – it’s a joke”.

The woman upstairs was saying that the only positive thing she could find in the situation was that “at least the guy didn’t rape me”. The only comforting words coming from myself and the Finnish sisters was – well, “this is what it’s like in Finland”.

The evening continued with plenty of persons taking turns in confronting Paavo, and Paavo in her turn – saying “sorry” or; hiding behind friends, or; saying “but, I’m gay!” or; getting aggressive, or; denying anything had happened, or; saying “fucking feminists”; all the time refusing to leave.

I myself ended up being a part of the collective energy being wasted. After hours of talk and many women making efforts to make the space safer for the affected woman, I was looking outside the window and seeing the guy sitting there by the fire in front of the house, and hearing a band member, looking up from the yard, speaking to the women backstage with a hopeless tone of voice “It’s impossible, all her friends are just defending the guy”, and after this, in frustration walking up and smacking Paavo, saying “You won. We are leaving now, because of you”.

I admit. I lost it. I was just shouting out the window that I couldn’t believe that the guy was still here – and me being a perfect stranger to this person, and the guy being drunk and in general un-educated on issues like sexism, it’s not a very effective strategy to approach her and start shouting her down, asking “Do you understand, what you’ve done? Can you explain it to me?” and “You have violated the physical integrity of another person, and you need to leave. You don’t get to decide the physical boundaries of other persons. It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or not – this space isn’t safe to her when you’re here.”

I realize that me doing that, with a loud voice, could have been unpleasant and violent to persons standing around. Still – I don’t think the reactions I got from the surroundings was fair.

It was really the general Finnish drama. The situation felt completely surreal to me. At one point one woman was pointing at another man and asking why we were ‘picking on her friend Paavo’ when the man over there had hit her. As if there’s a competition in who is the most patriarchal and sexist and violent and abusive, and that this person then gets to carry the actions of ‘the lesser evil ones’ and walk away with all the bad feelings, and all the rest can stay and continue enjoying the party.

After a while, some men started gathering around and saying “Milla, you can’t do this” and “Milla, you see why you’re banned” and “Milla, I don’t like you – you want matriarchy”. And comments, mentioning ‘feminists’ in a muttering, negative way.

To me it’s clear that there’s a general negative attitude against feminism within the scene, and low awareness on what sexism is.

One of the things mentioned in the four-person-working-group this sunday, was that it would be good to have more visibility. Safety and recognition can be created with banners, such as: “Sexism free space”. And also posters in the toilets with information on what consent is. Leaflets and flyers. This is a way to raise awareness in spite of the unwillingness within the scene to join in on workshops or discussions on these ‘non-hot’ topics. I was mentioning stickers I had seen in Vienna, with photos of a fleshy woman, taken from a lower angle. She’s standing wearing a bra. Black ski-mask. A large knife in her hand. A text saying something about: Rapist, watch out. Or something like that. It would be nice with these kind of images around in order to break with the current standard idea of how a woman who simply does not agree or has a will of her own is perceived as ‘insane’ or ‘aggressive’ or ‘lacking a sense of humor’, and consequently gets – ignored.

These kind of banners, posters, leaflets, flyers and stickers would be good to have in large quantities in spaces such as the social centre, since this type of material is prone to be destroyed or tampered with. In the house, only the Ladyfest posters had been tagged on, other posters were left untouched. One woman had also brought a notice board for information about the Ladyfest to the house during the week, and the day after, someone had attached a fake program to the board, and another note saying something about not wanting to sponsor hippie shit with their money. One of the papers had been attached to the board by stabbing a pair of scissors into it.

This type of male aggression is normal and accepted in the house. A woman saying no – is not. A woman asking for collective support – is considered to be a burden for the community. If she can’t, won’t or refuses to deal with it by herself – she will be kicked out. Unless as in many cases – she chooses to exclude herself to avoid the negativity towards her.

Another thing coming up in a three-person-group, intensive 20 minute continuation of the workshop, was the need for a start. The need for a beginning of some sort in organizing, and discussing strategies within our groups, on how to deal with the problems we all know all too well by now.

I suggested having a meeting, for only talking strategy, according to the model that some women came up with during the Autonomous Feminist gathering in Vienna this April. To not overcrowd a meeting with workshops from morning till night, but instead create space for getting deeper into the discussions. Stop avoiding problems and conflicting points of view, and use methods to share what we think and feel without getting on a competitive war path. Get into a consensual feel and look for solutions comfortable for us all. Try to understand each other, and where we come from.

The suggestion coming up in Vienna was to have a gathering where there would be time for workshops in the morning – maybe even focusing on doing practical stuff, moving around, not just talk! And then picking perhaps four topics, or four strands, that we discuss and develop during several days in the afternoons and evenings. Sum ups of the discussions shared with everyone at the end of the day, making it possible for all to jump in between groups and topics. This way we would be able to leave the meeting with something more than just fond memories. We would be able to come up with common strategies for our common needs.

I suggested that we for the few groups here in Finland, could use a method where we first try to map the different ideas and problems, writing them down on pieces of paper, and then cluster them together in groups – after which we start focusing on finding solutions and strategies. This would make the process more constructive – moving us further, not only talking about the problems and having endless complaining sessions about how shitty the scene is, but start thinking about concrete actions that we could try out, learn from, and develop.

Could we make this possible in Finland? Are we ready for this? Are we enough who have had enough by now?


Enough is enough. It's time for something different.

Another thing that came up in the sunday talk was, the importance of supporting the affected person in her power of definition:

*** Power of definition: The affected person has the right to define
what is to be considered as a violation of their boundaries. They have
a right to define a situation as oppressive according to how they’ve
experienced it. The person regarded as the affected person is the one
who, considering structural power relations, is in the oppressed
position and who, additionally, considers themselves an affected
*** Partiality:  Partiality means positioning oneself with the
affected person and supporting their power of definition.

Examples of supremacist expressions:
1 —- “Can’t you have any fun?”
2 —- “That wasn’t meant to be sexist/racist/homophobic…you are too sensitive”
3 —- “Let’s not overreact.”
4 —- “Now you’re violating my boundaries when you jump all over me
like that, just because I was a little…”

Examples of objective structural power positions:

privilege: Human, Adult, Man, White, Hetero, Meat-eater
oppressed: Non-human animal, Child, Woman, Non-white, Non-hetero, Vegan

There is no space where these hierarchies are not in action.
There are spaces where there exists structures for working against
these hierarchies (not just words, but practice and actions). And
these spaces are more comfortable to move around in, for persons
belonging to the oppressed groups. (These spaces are usually more
caring in general, more humane. So they are also beneficial for the
persons in privileged positions. We all need to feel love.)

ABOUT PRIVILEGE: one benefit of belonging to a privileged group is the
total lack of looking at the behavior of that group in any critical
way. or having any recognition of the privileges that come with being
treated as a member of this group. the mainstream is perceived as
“normal”. the point of view of the oppressed is not seen as real. or
even sometimes perceived as a threat or a boundary-violation of the
privileged. privileged behavior can more easily be explained as >>
lack of empathy.


One Response

  1. I wanna say something about two topics you touched:

    First about the “come to the bar if you’re having a problem”-idea. You write: “This way there would be a collective responsibility behind creating a good atmosphere for everyone” – I’d like to qualify this. You are right in that sense that it is putting pressure on the guests to behave in a non-offensive/non-assaulting way towards everyone (well, everyone who would dare to go to the bar and ask for help, but nearly every support mechanism has barriers like that). But it is not encouraging people to react upon insensitive behaviour themselves. The responsibility is given to a group of people, namely the people at the bar. People could start to think that they don’t need to react if they see something that could be problematic for somebody because “the person can just go to the bar if s_he’s having a problem”. My vision would be a world where everyone steps in towards potential assaults when they see it. I know that this is not a very widespread behaviour and probably many people (including myself) would need some training in the recognition of problematic behaviour and ways of intervention to become able to do this. So, as long as there is no big awareness and no culture of direct support, this bar-concept is a start. Nevertheless, one more thing I’d like to criticise about it is that the people at the bar get some sort of pseudo-authority status and could start to take advantage of it, e.g. by playing down certain kinds of assaults as “not important enough to turn off the music” or playing up others, may it be because of sympathy or political opinions. In that case, not only the bar people but everyone should be able to turn on the light and stop the music and be able to act if desired.

    The sticker you mentioned, the one you’ve seen in Vienna: It says something like “groping others makes impotent”. For me it’s a clear threat of violence. Is says “If you touch somebody without their consent, I’ll use this big knife in my hand to castrate you.” It implies that only people who can become impotent – namely cis-men – are groping others or that only they need to be punished for it. What is more, the sticker plays with the fact that “for a real man” it is important to be potent and it is reaffirming this pattern. I don’t like this sticker, but maybe -you know- I’m lacking a sense of humor…

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