men explain (music) things to me.


men explain (music) things to me.

\I know every song on the Nuggets album by heart, and have for decades. I have collected some of those songs on 45s. Pretty much every video I shot from the tribute evenings is unusable because I am singing along at the top of my lungs because I fucking love those songs and they feel like home. I knew who every one of the musicians were, have seen many of them perform many times, chat with many of them on social media.

Isn’t this dumb? I’m starting this piece by trying to provide some kind of proof, some kind of legitimate bona-fides to establish my right to have been at City Winery at the end of July, all because some dumbass thought he was being cute or funny or witty. The problem is, of course, is that’s not what that statement was. That statement was about a man letting me know that this is his place that he is letting me, a woman, into; that I do not actually belong there; that I do not have any right of my own to be there; that my presence in this location and at this event is questionable. And it isn’t just this particular concert where this kind of encounter has occurred between some dude and a woman who is just trying to watch some rock and roll.

I know that there will be some of you — some of whom actually subscribe to this newsletter to read what I, a woman, have to say about rock and roll music — who will say things like “calm down” or “he was just being friendly” or “can’t you take a joke” or “why do you have to make everything into a big deal” but all of that is because you, the men (or the women who think that if they can prove to the world that they’re “not like other girls” or that they can “hang” or whatever other excuse you can come up with in hopes that the patriarchy will just leave you in peace [news flash: it will not]) never have to fucking deal with this kind of bullshit when you go to a rock and roll concert. No one questions your right to be there. No one asks if this is your first show, if you’re here with your girlfriend, if you’ve seen them before, if you bought the last record. The assumption is that because you are a man (or sufficiently male-presenting) that you have every single right to be there. No one is ever going to look at your Velvet Underground or your Love or your Blues Magoos t-shirt and ask you if you have ever heard that band. It is never going to happen! You could wear any band shirt as a pure fashion statement and never ever be challenged on it! What does that feel like?

I think that the first few times this happened to me, I just ignored it. And then it kept happening, and you’d write it off to people being friendly, or dudes trying to hit on you, but then you’d see it happen to other friends and you’d talk to people on the line or inside at the show who weren’t sexist jerks and realize that there was a big difference between genuine conversation and the men who needed to review your knowledge and fandom in order to determine whether or not you belonged there, if you were entitled to your ticket and the few feet of space you were occupying at the front of the stage, if you met the criteria of TRUE FAN and could answer their barrage of trivia questions or give answers they approved of on your opinion of the band’s albums, songwriting, roster of bass players, or current setlist. Even then, it had to be some kind of fluke, some kind of unnatural thing, it couldn’t just be status quo. There’s a reason the book launch party for my first novel was titled, “You Sure Know A Lot About Music For A Girl.”

A friend who replied to my Instagram post about this event told a story about going to see the Heartbreakers (that’s Johnny Thunders, not Tom Petty) and a man wanted her space and so he yanked her hair to try to get her to move. (She did not move.) I had short hair in that era, and in my case, remember being in the front row at a JT show at Irving Plaza where the move of the dudes behind us was to jump up and down literally on top of us so we had no choice but to notice their boners, and then either move and give up our spots we had waited hours for or to just let them commit minor sexual assault and get off on rubbing up against us all night. Yes, sexual assault is about power. That is exactly what transpired. That particular event happened 38 years ago. I haven’t been able to forget it. I wish I could.

Have you stopped reading? If you have stopped reading then please just do me the favor of unsubscribing. I do not need or want your patronage. Because you, the men, are the ones who can STOP THIS. You are the ones who are standing with your group of friends when a guy accosts a woman to ask her if she’s ever actually listened to Metallica. You went to get beers and come back and one of your dudes says, “Wow, she knows so much about [band]! Can you believe it?” Literally: the thing that needs to happen to stop this is men telling other men to fucking knock it off. It continues because men do not do that. They shake their heads and they tell us we don’t deserve to be treated like this and then they do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE.

Here is an incomplete list of stupid shit I have had to deal with.

  1. “You’re taking *notes*?” - said in response to me pulling out a notebook and pen
  2. “Are you writing down the setlist?” - said with a look that expressed “oh aren’t you so adorable” when I was on assignment, and when I told him to get lost, baby had a tantrum: “Oh I’m SO SORRY if I am BOTHERING you” - yes! you are, in fact, bothering me, so now that I have told you, stop it
  3. “You know you don’t have to do that, it’ll be on the internet tomorrow” - a man commenting on my notebook and pen
  4. “We know you’re a superfan, sweetheart, don’t worry” - a man once again commenting on my note-taking

These are just the ones in recent memory, and by that I mean the last five years. I also really don’t want to have to revisit unpleasant situations just to write a newsletter or find the example that is egregious or convincing enough that it might change someone’s mind. I’m going to ask you to take my word for it: I am 59. There are so many more. Like most women I know, I have just pushed them out of my head, or I have done the invisible, silent math in the inevitable conversation in my head to avoid them: Can I tell this guy off? Will I have to worry about him being a dick during the show if I do? My car is parked a couple of blocks away to save money; do I think he’s going to follow me after the show if he’s pissed off enough? Can I make a joke about it? Will he think the joke is funny or will he get hostile? Is it too late to find another place to stand that’s just as good as this one? Maybe he’ll get bored or drunk and move.

Then there is the unwanted physical contact: the men who have to touch the small of your back as they make their way through the crowd, the ones who elbow you while they take photographs over or around your head, the ones who think that if they mosh hard enough that eventually you’ll get tired and let them have your spot, the ones who try to edge around you to get in front of you and when challenged, inform you that they’ve seen the band 67 times and therefore are entitled to have a better spot than you do. Or the ones to whom you are invisible because you are not sufficiently attractive to garner their attention, which is a blessing because they ignore you, but it then turns into a problem when they bump into you like you’re not there the third or fourth or fifth time. That last one is actually the worst situation, because those kinds of men get very angry when women who do not conform to their standards of beauty plain old exist, and they will get angry or meaner or slowly take up more and more space so you either bail or are incredibly uncomfortable for the rest of the show.

Then there are the ones that completely look right through you and talk to any male person who might be at the performance with you, and despite the clear assertions from that individual that no, we are here on her fan club number, or I don’t know anything about these guys, I’m just here with her, or I’ve never seen them before, but she’s a huge fan, that they would keep talking to the man because their brain literally cannot compute that a woman is a music fan. This is even worse if you have gone to the show on your own, because these men’s brains cannot process a woman enjoying herself alone in the world at large. You are a unicorn!

We are in 2023. I am tired. All of the women are tired.

It is just never going to change, and women stop going to concerts or going down front or standing at the stage because of this nonsense. The good men should care and don’t. The bad ones don’t notice and just think the lack of women is proof that women don’t really like this music, or aren’t tough enough, or aren’t smart enough, or just don’t get it, so the cycle perpetuates itself. This time out, I was with an actual cis white male, and even that subconscious perception of ownership didn’t make any difference.

I titled this of course based on Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant Men Explain Things To Me and I have read almost everything she has written (25 books, at her last interview) and this kind of thing has happened to her, just in different ways, for the entirety of her career as well. This fact is both comforting and horrifying, because she is incredibly well-spoken, a brilliant thinker and writer about things that actually matter, like climate change, and I just write about rock and roll. This happens to scientists, bird watchers, rock climbers, bass players, doctors, you name it, none of the professions are immune. But all of this would end if every single man who witnessed it said, “Yo, that is stupid, can you hear yourself talking?” You don’t. It’s time to start. It will not change until you do, and it will probably take hundreds of years to fix even if every well-meaning man began this today.

On Saint Peter Street: Pete Townshend at Preservation Hall

Caryn Rose • May 2, 2022


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