“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?”
* * *
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.