Reading between the mosh: the sexual politics of the mosh pit

Earlier this summer, I attended what should have been one of the stand-out gigs of my summer: The Maccabees’ final farewell gig. It was emotional. It was heart-breaking. But most importantly, it was lively. This was a band I first saw when I was 14; now, at the end of 20, their farewell gig was a bookend of my youth.

While it was a beautiful gig, one of nostalgia, celebration and tears, there were a few things that irked me during it. I tried to ignore it, to quell the feeling, but it lingered.

Throughout the entirety of the gig, my (female) friend and I were on the outskirts of the mosh. Take one look at us, and maybe two 5”3 (and a half) 20-year-old women are not your average moshers. Throughout, it felt like we were being purposefully excluded from this all-male mosh. Everywhere we turned, we were met with elbows and sweaty backs that acted as moving blockades that excluded us. While said in jest, my friend’s younger sister jokingly said afterwards, ‘I got near the mosh and a sweaty older guy said, “don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the mosh”’.

This is a comment that will be uncommon to many women who have ever ventured near ‘the danger zone’. Yet what lies behind this seemingly jovial statement is an internalised sense of sexism. What this man was saying, behind the joking manner, beneath the sweat, was that the mosh isn’t a place for girls. Before she had even made the decision whether to enter or not, she was being told that it wasn’t a place for her. She was being positioned distinctly outside of what was now being made a male sphere, and that he, a man, would protect her, whether she liked it or not. It was an act of condescension whose undercurrents screamed that girls are not tough enough for the mosh. That we cannot enjoy music, in the same ways guys do.

Imagine it now: me, a 5”3 princess in a pink dress and glass slippers, accidentally stumbling, defenceless, into this scene of mayhem and danger. Dragons my arse, thank god this malnourished-looking guy in second hand converse is here to save me!

Like a lot of people, I was 15 and indie. Being from the Midlands, I would go to every Peace, Jaws and B-Town gig that I could get tickets for. It is only now that I am 20 and detached from the scene that I can see the extent of the issues that occurred within that scene.

It is nothing new to say that indie is a genre dominated by skinny white boys. But, looking back, you see the extent to which a girl in the indie scene of the early 2010s was side-lined. For boys, gigging was a rite of passage. It is only in retrospect can I see how passive my female friends and I were in that scene: we were always expected to prop up the oozing lad culture that was exerted from these gigs. Whether it was being a fangirl adoring these entirely male bands, getting your arse ‘accidentally’ groped by the guy behind you, or having to face resentment at being let into a mosh, it was never an equal position within this scene.

Indeed, the Girls Against movement brought the issue of sexual harassment at gigs to the forefront of musical discourse: everyone from Swim Deep to Spector got behind the movement. What this movement and greater vocalisation of these issues highlighted was how gigs were operating at a male-orientated level, and were perpetuating an internalised system that worked against women. Perhaps this is what made the title ‘Girls Against’ so popular.

And, indeed, moshpits were born out of excessive masculinity and were a masculine badge of honour within the punk scene. They were a hyper-masculine expression that transcended social order, in which only the toughest could hack it. It was a model that idolised masculinity being pushed to its very limits, leaving feminine expression the demonised counterpoint to this. Bands part of the Riot Grrl feminist movement began introducing ‘women to the front’ signs at the gigs to counter this male-orientated gigging experience after a female fan was killed in a moshpit at a Smashing Pumpkins gig, so that alternative forms of gigging could be prioritised.

But gone are the days where these stereotypes are so rigidly in place and, in fact, many girls I spoke to found them a liberating space. “I always found it quite a neutral space because everyone would push each other about regardless of what gender they were, and I remember quite a few times picking boys up off the floor,” one girl tells me.

And to demonize them altogether would be a disservice to moshing. I spent many happy moments of my teens stumbling out of moshes with heart-shaped bruises and dirt-ridden converse. But, in my own experience, what made moshpits so exciting as a 5”3-and-a-half female 15-year-old was the feeling of transgression. I would feel a sense of pride staggering out of a mosh having been one of the only girls to get thrown around in its chaos. In going into the mosh, I felt like I was abandoning any feminine expectations expected of me on its outskirts. I felt that I had managed to enter what felt like a distinctly masculine and laddish sphere: that I had become ‘one of the lads’.

If I chose to enter a mosh, then I do not want to be told by a man that I need protecting. This isn’t the 1930s, and you don’t owe anything to me. If I get a bruised rib or two, then that is my decision. Part of the issue lies in the fact that rather than admit that sexism is still prevalent in all walks of life today, as women we still place the blames on ourselves, believing that the issue lies with us, rather than questioning the behaviour of others.

With Wolf Alice releasing ‘Yuk Foo’ this summer, a song that just screams to be moshed to, maybe we should take inspiration from Ellie Rowsell’s “yuk foo” attitude. When the boys bore you to shit with their ‘delicate female’ attitudes, you push back. You mosh even harder. Because you know what? Sexism bores me to shit.

Juliette Rowsell

Art by Jess Brown

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