As you probably already know, back in March Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel punched a female fan in the face at SXSW because she threw ice at the stage after Ben spent the entire set complaining about the audience and generally exhibiting a pretty rude ‘tude. I know this is old news by now — Weaselfest was cancelled, Ben apologized, the rest of the band quickly released a heartfelt statement and distanced themselves from him — but I’m not done being mad about it.
I’m not done being mad about it because the second the above clip hit Youtube, the Internet was awash with comments from people (mostly, I’m guessing, people of the male persuasion) saying really infuriating things like “she deserved it” and “what did she expect?” and “that’s what punk is about.”
No. I’m sorry, but no.
First of all, no, she didn’t “deserve” it. What she deserved was to be reprimanded by club security and removed from the venue if she kept acting up. She didn’t deserve to get hit in the face. No one, regardless of gender, deserves to get hit in the face for drunkenly tossing some ice onstage because the singer of a band they’ve always venerated is acting like a total asshole. What did she expect? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she did not expect to get punched in the fucking face. Second of all, that’s not what punk is about. If punk was about hitting women I would not be a punk. Maybe some misguided people think that because GG and Sid had issues with women it’s somehow a hallmark of the scene, but frankly, it’s fucking not, and the idea that people somehow think violence towards women is okay in a punk context makes me feel physically ill.
Okay, though. He apologized for his outburst. “Whatever my feelings are about fans crossing the line like that,” he said in his official statement, already pushing the blame back onto his victim for ‘crossing the line,’ “I wish I could have that moment back and deal with it in the same spirit as I did the preceding 60 minutes.” My problem with this is that he didn’t exactly present himself in a stellar manner in the preceding sixty minutes either. In the moments leading up to the altercation, Ben implored female audience members to beat this girl up, made vulgar comments to her about sucking him off and licking his ass, invited her to scrap with him and told her to get her “skanky ass” onstage because he “didn’t care” whether or not she was a girl.
It’s one thing to call someone out for being an asshole, which Ben would have been totally within his parameters to do in this situation. But it’s another thing to make it about gender, and with the language he chose to use, Ben had proven even before any punches were thrown that he has zero respect for women. Instead he immediately began belittling the girl sexually, making debasing comments that put him in the traditional position of power over her even though, as he was the one with the microphone, the stage, and the fanbase, he clearly already had the upper hand. He could have gotten his point across without bringing gender into it. Instead he chose to take the low road, and I will never forget it.
The word “skank” is derogatory and sexist, and telling someone to suck your cock is harassment. Ben Weasel may not think he’s a misogynist, but the fact that these terms fell so easily off his tongue tells a different story. A person who doesn’t hesitate to say things like this into a microphone to a woman he does not know is a fucking sexist person. And by doing so, he’s inadvertently made hundreds of impressionable teenage punk boys think that this kind of attitude towards women is okay; that there are scenarios in which a woman — or anyone — “deserves” or should “expect” to be hit by a man. Punk rock is sexist enough without one of the most respected veterans in the scene spouting hate speech into a microphone for thousands of people to applaud on Youtube.
I like Screeching Weasel, and I’m bummed by Ben’s outburst, but I’ve come not to expect too much from my punk rock icons (they can’t all be Kevin Seconds). I get that he’s one of the more curmudgeonly dudes in punk and if nothing else I can appreciate that he apologized. Considering that he’s the father of twin girls, too, I’m hopeful that this experience will help him to readjust his attitude toward women — and his fans in general — in the future.
What I do expect, though, is not about Ben Weasel or any other individual. What I expect is for my scene to be about solidarity and support. What I expect is to be able to go to shows without having to worry about whether or not other people think it’s okay to abuse each other because it’s “punk.” What I expect is for punks to hold each other up, not oppress one another. Violence and sexual harassment towards women isn’t punk, and perpetuating the idea that it is alienates half the members of the scene. Females may not have the loudest voices in punk rock, but that doesn’t mean we’re not equally important, and we deserve to be treated as such. Maybe I’m too sensitive, or I’m getting too P.C. in my old age, but I feel that punk rock ought to be a safe space for women, not one that enforces the male privilege we deal with everywhere else in our lives.