Spotlighting the important work of those who are changing the landscape of our music scenes without playing a single note…
Electric Zoo, Coachella, and Outside Lands. Those are just the U.S. ones, though. Let’s not forget Glastonbury Festival and Bestival in England and Bråvalla in Sweden. What connects these six music festivals—and many more—is that all of them have been in the news in recent years due to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. Last year at Bråvalla alone, there were a reported four rapes and 23 sexual assaults over the four-day event. This June, festival officials announced the end of Bråvalla, telling The Guardian, “Certain men […] apparently cannot behave. It’s a shame. We have therefore decided to cancel Bråvalla 2018.”
In 2016, two Chicago nonprofits decided to do something. Between Friends, an organization that supports victims of domestic abuse, and Resilience—formerly Rape Victim Advocates—which works with victims of sexual assault, created OurMusicMyBody. The campaign aims to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the music scene by working with festival and venue staff as well as fans to promote and create safe and enjoyable environments for everyone. Matt Walsh, Prevention Education Specialist at Between Friends, and Maggie Walsh, Prevention Educator for Resilience, spearhead the campaign.
“We realized that conversations around sexual violence or harassment weren’t happening,” Walsh says. “We’d hear from friends or we’d experience it personally, these acts of harassment or violence, and no one was having these conversations on this larger scale of change-making.”
When working with venues and festival promoters, whether that means creating anti-harassment policies for Chicago venues or setting up shop at Lollapalooza to provide people with resources and support, OurMusicMyBody start with a couple of questions: What do you want? What makes you imagine a safer space? Most people want to do better, but figuring out where to start is often the toughest part—and the starting point doesn’t look the same for everyone.
“We start from the approach that everyone is here to have a good time. We don’t go to festivals with big signs that say, ‘You’re gonna be sexually assaulted’ or ‘This is how many people are harassed at a festival,’” Walsh says. “We’re there to remind everyone that they deserve to have a good time, and your idea of a good time does not get to encroach on somebody else’s good time.”
Part of the challenge facing OurMusicMyBody is getting people to change how they think about sexual harassment and assault in terms of prevention, shifting the onus from potential victims to potential perpetrators. “So often, the promoters or organizers or whoever we’re working with have the best intentions, and they see that this is a problem and they want to help, but they are still operating from this mindset of ‘How do we protect women from getting assaulted?’” Arthur says. “We have to check them on that and tell them that’s not really what the conversation needs to be about. Instead, it needs to be about ‘How do we put into place policies and procedures that hold people accountable when they cause harm?’”
In their two short years, OurMusicMyBody—which, alongside Arthur and Walsh, consists of approximately 60 volunteers—has coauthored Riot Fest’s first anti-harassment policy; surveyed more than 500 music fans about their experiences with sexual harassment at concerts; worked with Chicago venues Beat Kitchen, Subterranean, and Lincoln Hall; and reached more than 10,000 music fans at Pitchfork Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. This summer, they took their campaign on the road, visiting Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware, and Audiotree Music Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The end goal is to get festivals and venues to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach.
“At first, OurMusicMyBody was going to fests and saying, ‘Hey, you have this problem. We’re here to help,’” Walsh says. “Now, fests are coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, we have this problem. Somebody call us out and help us.’ Hopefully, in a year or two, fests are coming to us and saying, ‘How can we do this before it gets picked up by the news and somebody has actually been harmed?’ That’s where we’re headed.”
“As prevention educators, there’s a joke that we’re basically trying to work ourselves out of a job,” Arthur says, laughing. “That’s the same attitude with OurMusicMyBody. We would love to do this work so hard that we don’t have to do it anymore.”
To learn more about OurMusicMyBody, visit ourmusicmybody.tumblr.com.