Monday, June 17, 2013

Waiting For Security to Come, or, BOYCOTT ROSKILDE

“When I was fourteen,” my friend suddenly confided in me, “a gigantic guy climbed on top of me and wouldn’t let me go. He wanted to rape me. I didn’t fight him back sincerely, even then, because I was afraid I would hurt him.” I clamped my eyes shut and bit my lip in a sudden shockwave of acute anger and humiliation; her story sounded all too familiar. Far, far too close to home. I tensed my eyelids so hard I began to see things. I was probably red. I was probably shaking. I wouldn’t really know. Here we’d been friends all this time, and ten years after the assault, she finally felt emotionally safe enough to tell me. Not that I blame her; repression and denial are perhaps the most common means of dealing with an existential mini-death like sexual assault. Thanks to the privacy and safety awarded by the Internet chat we were using, I could cry to my heart’s content, snot and make up streaming down my glistening face—but I didn’t cry. Not really. There was no contending my broken heart. No amount of tears could satiate my own horrible story from just last summer and its conjoined and prolonged sense of failure and humiliation. No cascade of salt water and make up could fix that tender hole in my heart that throbs and recoils when I think about the status of women.
            “Last year,” I began, “my boyfriend Brett took me to a music festival in Denmark to see The Cure,” which has been one of my favorite bands for half of my life. “Of all the music festivals in Europe, it has the lowest rate of violent crime, including rape and sexual assault. It’s considered to be the safest festival in Europe. But it’s not. It has the lowest rate of reported violent crime because there’s no one to report it to.”
            “What’s the festival called?”
            “Roskilde.” 


*          *          *

            I suppose it was a warm night, by Danish standards; it was July, and the second official night of the festival, which had had about three days of outrageous partying that really shattered my naïve misconceptions of Scandinavians as passive, quiet, and polite. It was really wild—so wild, in fact, that a young man in our party died the first night after taking a mysterious pill and suffering a fatal seizure.  Our gorgeous, wonderful, brilliant, inclusive Swedish friends who'd taken us there all went home immediately in shock and in mourning; Brett and I were left on our own in a strange country with surprisingly little ethnic diversity.
            We had never met the poor guy. We’d gone instead to check out Copenhägen for my first time, where I’d gotten sick and stayed a few extra days to see a doctor. The day of our return to the countryside, we got that dreadful phone call. We’d come all this way, and in all my many years as a dedicated Cure fan, I’d never had the chance to see them play. We had to stick around, at least for the four more days of the festival.
            Anyway, I’d been saying—I suppose it was a warm night, by Danish standards. I was still high on bliss from seeing The Cure the night before, in the third row, reeling and swooning over every note for the entire four-hour duration, which Brett and I barely made it through due to our all-too-human bladder capacities. I cried with joy for the entire performance. It was the most perfect moment of my life, and it just kept going and going, encore after encore, favorite song after favorite song. Brett told me he loved me. I told him I knew. My body vibrated, inundated with overwhelming love and gratitude. Nothing could ever compare to the transcendent exaltation I felt that gorgeous, glorious night.
            But our story takes place the following night; a night spent slightly disappointed by Jack White’s arrogant and solipsistic performance; a night spent feeling cocky and self-entitled, pretending to be more inebriated than I actually was to exploit the infamous passiveness of the Scandinavians and cut to the front row. It worked beautifully. I feel no guilt because I am a New Yorker, and the idea that someone ought not to get to the front of the show no matter his or her time of arrival seems illogical to me. I also knew that this mild selfishness was a good exercise for me, because I tend to be too altruistic, too polite, and thus end up trampled underfoot with a pointless scowl on my face. I believe this to be not so much the human condition as the condition of the meek. This night, however, was different. This night, I remembered my worth firmly and didn’t feel the need to accommodate strangers. I could finally experience that supposedly masculine state of not caring, of selfishness that doesn’t come at the expense of others. This, I told myself, was the summer of the meek. And the only way to take it was to overcome my meekness.
            After the show, Brett and I waded, arms wrapped around each other’s waists, through crushed plastic cups, food containers, napkins, toilet paper, food, and probably the unspeakable, which we had to ignore to survive on a conceptual level. The garbage came up to our ankles. The field was wet and muddy from two days of intermittent rain, and we’d come prepared with galoshes and an adopted attitude of selective Nihilism. Despite my friends’ tragedy, I was at a personal pinnacle of happiness, and I wasn’t about to give that up. I needed it. We bought ourselves each a cup of beer and made our way over to another stage where a local rap band was to be playing.
            We never made it to see that band. Swooning in our walking embrace, emanating love for each other, I was suddenly attacked by an older teenager from behind, who hit both my buttocks like he was playing the bongos. I broke out of my embrace with Brett, enraged, and yelled, “That guy just touched my ass!”
            Brett walked right up to him. “Did you touch her? I said, ‘Did you touch her?!’”
            With a smile that could only be described by the word “jackass” the gangly blonde man in his Adidas track suit hee-hawed with pride. I demanded an apology and got right in his face. As passive as I can sometimes be, I never have been remotely docile when it comes to crossing the line. If anything, I save all my pent-up rage for moments like these.
            From the shadows, perhaps summoned by the jackass’s self-conscious bawing, the vile, disgusting little boy’s eleven friends emerged out of the darkness. Our jackass, Aggressor Number One, hid behind them while they belligerently demanded what was going on and threatened to kill us. “We are twelve, and you are two,” one said in an accented staccato. “Just walk away. Walk away. We will kill you.” So we did. I hated it. I was writhing with anger. But we did.
            We hadn’t even gone five steps when the jackass came back to play bongos on my ass a second time. Without thinking I threw my entire beer right in his face, as hard as I could. I will never forget the gorgeous spin on that plastic cup, played on repeat in slow motion in the archives of memory, as their faces morphed from triumphant to dismayed, arms up and limp—posed like the little Vietnamese girl running naked, covered in napalm—as the beer soaked about five of them. They never dropped their malevolent expressions.
            What happened next happened so fast I can’t really recall it. To be brief, Brett and I were beaten up by all twelve of those nasty little Eurotrash gangsters in their matching Adidas tracksuits and visors. I was thrown in the mud, time and again, my bloody hands searching in the darkness for my glasses before the boys could stomp on them. An uninvolved man tried to stop the violence, pushed Brett and I away from those boys (which initially only enraged me further), and whispered that he had already called Security and they should be on their way. We kept the boys around for several minutes, waiting for Security to come. It was like waiting for Godot.
I did seize the hugely rewarding opportunity to punch three of these heinous misogynists in the face during this fight. But for some reason, probably due to my conditioning as a child, I never hit them where it count, or as hard as I could. Even as Brett and I were being hit, kicked, and slammed to the ground, I aimed time and again for the jaw, not the Adam’s apple, not the stomach; not the eyes, nor the nose, nor the groin. I didn’t want to hurt them. Hearing my old friend say almost exactly this the other day, a perpetual quiver ran down my spine. How many of us women don’t fight back in these situations because we’re afraid to hurt someone?
Globally, violence against women is more likely to cause injury and death than car crashes, cancer, malaria, and war combined, according to statistics from UNICEF. Femicide is the third leading cause of death in pregnant women. Globally, one in five women is raped between the ages of twelve and 24; in the U.S., it’s more like one in six, but in South Africa a disturbing 40% of women have admitted to having suffered from this kind of violence. I have known for years now that I am more likely to be killed by a man than a car. I have known for years now not to be docile when being attacked. I have known for years now that women weaned on modesty are contemporary flagellants. But I have only known this conceptually. It has floated like a balloon, abstract, irrelevant, in the chaos of my superego. Perhaps it floated out of my reach.
I feel like a Madonna-whore; I feel as though I have grown against my will into this projected identity placed over my body like a coffin-crown from before the time I myself had a gender identity. I feel angry, frustrated, internally and externally defeated. How could I have protected my saboteurs, like some selfless mother, even as they tried to maim my boyfriend and me? How could I still have had the benefit of the doubt as they threatened our lives? For days, I fumed. I cried. I hated. But with time, the tide of my blood has come to smooth the edges of those jagged boulders of self-blame and self-doubt. I came to realize that I was, in fact, blaming myself—and this is the most pathological defeat of them all. As a feminist—even as a woman who doesn’t identify as a feminist—to blame oneself is the final frontier of institutionalized sexism. I am not the sickness. I am the immune system. And I have not yet lost.
We got beaten up for several more minutes. Some girls got involved and of course immediately took the Danish boys’ side. One girl put her arm around Aggressor Number One, the jackass, and proclaimed that he was her boyfriend and he’d never hit me.  “You are a weak woman!” I screamed. “You would defend a man who touches women like this? Do you let him touch you like this? What kind of girlfriend would allow that?”
She continued to call me a “bitch” and a “slut.” Though the idea that the victim of sexual violence would be a “slut” absolutely and objectively defies logic, this concept is somehow neither new nor uncommon, even in places rumored to be more feminist and more egalitarian, like Scandinavia. This logic runs rampant in North America. In fact, three teenaged girls committed suicide this year after being assaulted or raped while unconscious, only to discover photos of the crime circulating social media. The rapists were high-fived and defended by teachers and principals. The girls were taunted and tormented, stabbed with that four-letter hate word, until they took their own lives. Slut. Slut. Slut. Slit.
Slut. I wish that archaic word in all its woman-hating gore and glory would take its own life instead, and its toxic connotations with it. It scares me that people at large still believe that a woman in charge of her sexuality is the most menacing concept on the planet. “Cunt,” the word for our genitalia, is considered the most offensive one—more than rape, more than murder. We are raised in a world that tells us to be sexy without being sexual, to be virginal and innocent in all our efforts to be “hot.” It hopes to prime us to be raped.
“I’m not afraid of you!” I remember screaming to the girl, “Come here and fight me!” Of course, she never did. She kept screaming that I was bleeding because I got drunk and fell. I told her she would obviously never convince me of that and reminded her that she wasn’t even there and it was none of her business. But of course, my words were useless. Logic has little do to with sexism.
The boys loomed ever nearer, threatening to come back for round three. “SECURITY! SECURITY!” I kept screaming, desperately. Brett was limping. Some girls at a table nearby started laughing, exaggeratedly. “Securiteeeee! Securiteeee!” they mocked. I shot them unfiltered hate from my eye beams. Why weren’t these women on my side? Is it really so much more of a social sin to stand up for yourself when being assaulted than to assault someone? I thought Scandinavia was supposed to be more egalitarian, more feminist than the United States. That night, I learned that Scandinavia is only more egalitarian because it’s more homogenous, that to stand out there is unpardonable.
As I’m sure you have guessed by now, Security never came. I had rocks embedded in my bleeding hands and Brett was hobbling like a veteran. Still shaking with rage too thorough to cry, I sought out some personnel in day-glo vests. I didn’t yet know that those people are just regular young men and women who volunteer to “work” at Roskilde for a free ticket. When I told one woman my story and pointed out the boys, triumphantly and casually walking away, she said, “So, what do you want me to do about it?”
“Kick them out!” I replied, thinking it the most obvious thing in the world.
“I don’t haff ze authority to do zat,” she replied coolly. Another woman not remotely on my side. I couldn’t believe so many misogynists were here, so excited to see Bjork headline in two days. Bjork would be furious, I told myself.
“Oh, but you have the authority to search our purses?” I snapped. No answer, of course, from her. But another man in a day-glo vest approached us and asked what was wrong. Barely composed, I told him our story. He laughed at us. Hard. It seemed like a fake laugh, a self-preserving laugh. A condescending laugh. I was blinded with fury.
“Let’s go back to America, Brett, where Bjork lives because it’s so much better than Scandinavia.” I admit, closed-minded words; it is hard to demonstrate a shining example of political correctness in the wake of an attack based on one’s gender.
All that night and all the next day, I hid in our tent. My tears ran thick and feverish. Brett was in no condition to walk to the train and get out of this dystopia. I was refused medical help at all for my hands when I had asked, and was unwilling to leave the tent and face that virus of humanity for at least a full day. They became obviously infected. It occurred to me that my festering wounds were my Feminist Stigmata. In this I found some solace and some pride--I felt like a martyr for my cause. I knew I'd done the right thing. 
When I finally did leave the tent and get help, the man who dug out what we thought was another rock but was just a gigantic ball of pus asked how I did it.
When I told him my story he asked if I learned anything.
That day, I saw two police officers walking around. “Excuse me,” I called. One put up his hand in a halting motion and told me, “Not now.” They walked on. And by “not now,” they really meant “not ever.”
I was left ignored, contemplating anarchy in a society that still has police that barely even exist on a symbolic level. I had experienced something like that at Burning Man, but at Burning Man I’d never been beaten or threatened at all. I only felt safe walking around naked in a microcosmos of love, art, equality, and respect. I have yet to elucidate by written word my conclusions as to why these two festivals provide such opposite extreme reactions to essential lawlessness. But those musings will come at another time.
There is a direct point to this story, and it isn’t self-pity. The point is, Roskilde is an unsafe festival where violence and bigotry go unaddressed to the point of encouragement. It is rampant with this sort of xenophobia where anyone who stands out, regardless of ethnicity, is the alien. The other. The existential enemy. The only answer to this is to boycott Roskilde. I am sharing this story with you because I don’t want this to keep happening to outsiders every year as punishment for having the courage to travel, expecting to have a good time and see beloved bands. I am sharing this story with you because Roskilde hates women. So I ask of you, attendees, bands, fellow humans: boycott Roskilde. Please don’t pay or play for them. 
            While I spent weeks in shock and in mourning for some small personal death, I finally did come to the conclusion that the heinous bigotry I experienced should not be allowed to ruin my summer. Nothing can soil the perfect night of watching the Cure with my darling, ecstatic and awe-struck, pulsating pure love. Even though Brett and I were beaten up that terrible night, I still got to spend an incredible six weeks traveling Europe, visiting old friends, seeing bands I love. I refuse to let this experience soil that summer because that kind of defeat is the end goal of sexism, and I refuse to participate.

17 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. What do you want to do moving forward? Petition, etc?

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    1. A petition sounds good, but I feel that sharing this essay with as many people as possible, especially any involved bands, would be more effective. I'm open to that, though. I want to petition that we boycott Roskilde until their volunteers are made to go through seminars on racism and sexism in addition to safety.

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  2. I would expect sharing this on the social platforms of the artists that performed at Roskilde, asking for patrons of these artists to share their similar stories by commenting on your experience(these there will be as you now do not need to imagine), may infuriate these artists as much as it does me - Bjork might 'go nuclear'.
    Your courage is inspiring. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and support. I think sharing this on the social platforms of artists who performed that year and who are due to perform this year is a really great place to start and a wonderful idea.

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  3. Dear Kendalle,

    Thanks a lot for letting us know about this. We're very sorry to hear about your terrible experience at Roskilde Festival.

    We make a great effort to make Roskilde Festival a safe place to be - and to make sure that our volunteers take all reports seriously. As you may or may not know, Roskilde Festival is based on volunteer work - everyone from music bookers to crowd safety workers are volunteers. This still means that they should be able to handle all situations responsibly. For instance, all security volunteers attend security courses prior to the festival.

    Still, with 130,000 people present at the same festival, you can't avoid attracting the wrong kind of people with bad intentions. But when you address our guards, they should always be able to help you. We're sorry that your experience tells the opposite.

    If you ever feel the need to write us directly, you are much welcome to do so at info@roskilde-festival.dk

    Take care!

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    1. Dear Roskilde,

      You make absolutely no effort to make Roskilde a safe place to be. It has good statistics because there is no one to report crime to. Your letter isn't going to make the pain and horror of what I went through go away. There is no Security and no real structure. What's even worse is that your volunteer workers have the authority to search our bags but not to kick out violent people. They are also comprised of people who are sexist and, I later learned, less likely to help someone who doesn't look Scandinavian. (I have brown hair and brown eyes.) You should have an anti-racism and anti-sexism conference with your volunteers. In fact, you're lucky I didn't bring up all the swastikas and "Heil Hitler" tags I saw all over many tents.

      I am still disgusted with my experience with your festival. I have no idea who of your team wrote me this letter, but I guarantee the writer doesn't actually represent all the people who "work" at the festival.

      Are you accusing ME of "attracting the wrong kind of people with bad intentions"? I hope you mean that YOU can't avoid attracting those people! Until I have some reason to believe that you are putting your volunteers through seminars not just about safety but about sexism and racism, I do not forgive you. The only way you can earn my respect ever again is by incorporating those simple seminars in your volunteers' training. Until then, I hope my story spreads.

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    2. I think they meant exactly that THEY can't help to attract them... In no way do they imply otherwise.

      What you went through was terrible and shouldn't have been allowed - but please don't waste away goodwill with pointless aggression over something that is CLEARLY not meant as a criticism of you, please?

      I am not scandinavian looking and I have a big group of friends who range from asian to south american and everything in between. Please don't make this about race or ethnicity.

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    3. Trond, Roskilde's apology basically said that all its many glaring faults and lack of safety won't be changed and can't be helped. They basically said, "Oh, too bad for you." That's not good will at all. It's shrugging off responsibility.

      You guys really freaked out when I brought up the ethnicity thing, but you didn't mention anything about the sexism. I guess that's still okay for you guys, huh?

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    4. Just for the sake of clarifying the last bit... The "you" is not directed at you as a person - It's a direct danish translation - the word is meant to mean "one" - as in "one can't avoid attracting the wrong people" - and here again there is no intent.

      I'm sorry you had a bad Roskilde - I was there that year too (I remember the story about the Swede). But as a dark skinned person I do not recognize the picture of the festival as such. I don't know anyone male or female who has experienced violence at Roskilde - or racism.

      You where very unlucky - assholes are everywhere... I think it's a bit hard to pin it on all Danes that a group of people attacked you. The volunteers are mostly teenagers who don't have the cash to get their own ticket - they can't throw out 12 violent people... you need to contact the police for that...

      I am not a representative of the festival - I just saw your post on their Facebook page - where their official profile also stated that they had replied to your essay. And I mostly just wanted to say that most people here are non violent, non racist and non sexist... you where just unlucky. Sorry about that - but please don't judge the rest of us on that experience.

      Kevin

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    5. Kevin, they can too throw out 12 violent people. Why did those idiots in the vests have walkie-talkies if they weren't going to use them to protect me and whatever other poor woman might fall into the way of those horrible men? Don't make stupid excuses for Roskilde. The point of this essay is that people are not protected at this festival, and it's such a sexist place that I was laughed at and derided by EVERYBODY. Get over the racist part. What about the sexist part? (GET THE HELL OVER YOURSELF!)

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  4. Tweeted it.

    Last year, a guy I was seeing had sex with me while I was unconscious. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, believing it was a misunderstanding. A couple weeks late her pinned me down and forcibly groped me because he was upset that I had changed and I didn't let him touch me as much as I used to. And the entire time he was pinning me down...I was thinking "Is this really happening? Is this the moment?" but I never struck back. I kept wondering if this was the appropriate moment to kick him in the balls or strike back. I never did. And at some point, shortly after he seemed to let me go.

    But afterwards, I remember thinking how lucky I was that I didn't retaliate because I'm not sure I would've made it out of the apartment.

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    1. Dear Jordan,

      I'm sad and horrified to hear of your experience. We're very lucky you're still with us, and that he didn't do that to you again. It's really a tragedy that we're raised to doubt ourselves instead of other people. Perhaps the benefit of the doubt is not a good thing at all.

      Stay strong.

      Love,

      Kendalle

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  5. It was wrong for that person and people to do what they done, but you really should have kept walking... I'm not saying it's right what they done but sometimes, especially when you are away from home, you need to exercise some common sense.. I have been at Roskilde seven times and will be there again this year. I even took my son there last year and will again this time. I am from Ireland and have brown hair, which is a silly part of your argument, anyway.. I have found the staff/volunteers very helpful while there. I really think you should have ignored it and lived with the lesser evil...You could have got on with the rest of your festival and still told your story... It didn't do any good , did it... Hope you don't think I am being cruel... Eddie...

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    1. Eddie, to stand up for myself is my duty not just as a feminist, but as a person. I would never, ever just walk away from abuse. I owe it to my fellow humans. I do indeed have plenty of common sense, and obviously you don't or you wouldn't have left such a pro-misogynist, meat-headed comment on my blog. I have found a way to take this horrible thing that happened and not only transcend it, but find a way to let it make me into a better person, so it did me plenty of good, didn't it? You're just excusing the sexists and thinking they should be left alone, just like the personnel at Roskilde. I don't think you're cruel, I think you're a sexist idiot. I hope you get sexually harassed and beaten this year.

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  6. You did the right thing in standing up for yourself, kendalle. Even though a lot of people may not see it, in writing this, you're standing up for yourself and other women. I know how it feels to not be taken seriously when this kind of harassment happens.

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  7. Glad I read this. Thanks Kendalle.

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