The Stage Is a Womb: Looking Toward a Better Future for Local Music

It’s time to end the culture of toxic machismo that has dominated the local music scene for so long.

by Mariah Reodica, art by Mags Ocampo

 

Of course this is personal. I’m the woman I am today because of music. I grew up in a conservative Catholic school where I endured long lectures about how a woman is as good as her beauty and obedience. I couldn’t answer back in class. Instead, I played guitar until my fingers bled on sunny afternoons during band practice in my best friend’s garage. At sixteen, it was only on the stage or in the moshpit where I was more than a helpless young girl. I could throw myself into a mass of colliding bodies in reckless abandon–and still get pulled up when I’d fall. Everything else felt like a losing battle, but if music was involved, I had a fighting chance.

 

As time went on, it was also at gigs where I learned that I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t have to be consumed by anger. Our circle in the local music scene was a safe space where we were respected, and we could feel safe. We fully knew that we were in a fragile bubble that was the exception rather than the norm, but it was still our collective womb. Terrible things would happen outside of it, but we were there to watch out for each other. It’s the women around me–bandmates, collaborators, producers, musicians, production organizers, managers, zinemakers, and more–who are my examples of strength and courage.

 

That’s why every act of sexual misconduct is a betrayal of the trust that people in our community, regardless of gender, share amongst each other.

 

Many female musicians, myself included, have gone onstage only to have our confidence shattered by a single man yelling, “take off your shirt.” Last February, at a show we put up, a man walked by and groped three of my friends in front of their boyfriends out of the blue. Their boyfriends had the patience and restraint to bring him to the police station instead of beating him up on the spot. Last June, Flying Ipis guitarist Ymi Castel and filmmaker Cha Roque were assaulted on the street outside another bar by a man who refused to leave them alone despite Cha telling him to get away from her girlfriend. Not even our favorite live houses are always safe.

 

While parading under the refined moniker “Laglag Panty Gang” isn’t a criminal offense, sexual harassment is serious.

 

I don’t feel as assured or as safe as I did when I was younger. In addition to the political climate and our president, a huge sector of rock and roll still seems to be dominated by machismo. It was just August last year when a Pulp Magazine cover featured Sud gleefully shooting two women undressing on a bed. The band stared straight into the camera, and in the foreground were two pairs of legs in the act of undressing one piece of lacy pink lingerie. In the language of the image, the rest of the women’s upper bodies were cropped out, robbing them of their agency and identity. Not to mention that it was also artistically tasteless.

 

In reaction to the online outrage, Pulp’s publisher Vernon Go defended the cover by tweeting, “Photography of the female form that is sexy and provocative has nothing to do with misogyny. It is the actual worship of the power of womankind.” The band released a timid press statement. Negative reactions to the shoot were shrugged off, and Sud still got booked for gig after gig even though how they saw women was in plain sight, on a magazine stand. Nothing much seemed to have changed up until Adrienne Onday’s viral Twitter thread, which became an outpouring of women’s experiences of being victimized by local musicians.

 

While parading under the refined moniker “Laglag Panty Gang” isn’t a criminal offence, sexual harassment is serious. In light of the allegations directed toward several well-established artists, things have shifted drastically. Productions are dropping bands, bands are releasing press statements, and the mainstream media is covering what they can of it. I haven’t seen public conversation about sexual harassment in the local music scene on this scale. I talked to Mich Dulce to sort my thoughts out and she told me, “My generation had instances of assault and rape that people privately knew about, but no one spoke out.”

 

It’s been happening for that long. Sexual harassment takes place everywhere, not just in the music scene. Like Harvey Weinstein, and the numerous other celebrities who’ve been accused of abuse, they’ve used their power as men, and influence as public figures, as leverage over women. However–unlike Hollywood, which is separated from us by a silver screen and the Pacific Ocean–at a live show, audiences are face-to-face with our public figures.

 

Since we’re in such close proximity to each other, acting responsibly is more crucial than ever. Just because there isn’t any money in playing in a band doesn’t mean that musicians can deny their influence as public figures. It’s in their image, how they conduct themselves onstage, and in their lyrics. The words we use convey the values that we impart to other people. Aside from that, playing a show is an endorsement on a band’s part; if there’s an event, the musician and their management should discern its advocacies. (I still can’t believe we have gig posters that still objectify women in 2017.)

 

This is not hippie “we are one” nonsense; it’s basic human decency.

 

Production organizers’ responsibilities are more than putting up a show, promoting it, and compensating bands properly; they should consciously create a safe and inclusive space for a diverse audience, with regards not just to gender, but sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing, race, and the myriad factors that constitute an individual’s identity; even if it means passing on that band that could bring in a huge crowd. These are just some of the many lessons I’ve learned from my peers and seniors, but they’re by no means exhaustive.

 

We’re up against a longstanding system of oppression at the hands of a capitalist patriarchy. Against Goliath, we have our subcultures. “The local music scene” is really different communities that share common people and venues. They are also more than niches deviating from the mainstream where artistic experimentation flourishes; subcultures and art have also served as progressive platforms of critical resistance against what’s wrong in the status quo.

 

Local music is inherently fragmented. People will have different strategies of fighting the patriarchy. These different pockets may not be entirely united, but in times of disheartening disappointments, I remind myself of the collective effort always going elsewhere, all toward the bigger picture: a safer place for everyone in public and private spaces, based on understanding, respect, and empathy. This is not hippie “we are one” nonsense; it’s basic human decency. If the music has been nurturing to you, then do your part to extend the same nurturing to other people. Here’s to hoping that our aim is and will always stay true.