Moshing and other consensual violence, through a radical feminist’s eyes

I am on facebook way more often than wordpress, so apologies. If you want to see what I am up to, please check out my facebook page. I want to post what I’m writing on moshing and other forms of consensual violence (with some edits from their original form).

I participated full-on in a mosh pit for the first time at anti-flag last nite. altho pretty fun, i still remain ambivalent about it and think it needs to be considered within a frame of consensual violence and problematized/politicized. in mosh pits, people really look out for and help people who fall. but many participate get really f’ing rough. i’ve no visible bruises, but still a few tender spots. 

i’m also wondering how this can be compared to other forms of consensual violence, eg bdsm. i think one can participate in something, find some good things about it, yet remain critical of it. i wonder if i will mosh again. the pain afterwards isn’t worth it, to me, although it is exciting and forms some unity within the moshing audience. i experienced some worry for short girls/women who were having a hard time getting out. and i think it effectively shuts off non-moshers from seeing the band, and injects our flailing bodies into the non-moshers’ space. some moshers used elbows to jab and hands to shove far too hard (eg ppl fell) which i think is fucked. however, bands tend to encourage moshing. it’s rare to see discouragement by punk and other “moshy” bands.

obv there are diffs b/t various forms of consensual violence, eg occurs in public (eg boxing) or private (eg bdsm), is sexualized none, somewhat, a lot, presence or absence of audience, recorded (eg pay per view wrestling, porn) or not, etc. and consensual violence is often not entirely so, both within those directly involved (eg enthusiastic consent vs “doing it for the money” vs force) and those not (eg wanting to see a music show but not “annoying punks” 😛 thrashing each other). another diff: simulated violence (eg “professional” wrestling) vs real (eg rugby) another is whether the audience views it as real or simulated, or experiences it as real or simulated, as well as how the participants view it. i also feel that piercing and tattooing are forms of consensual violence. who participates is also really important to examine.

being the radfem i am, i view all of these (and more) as very salient, particularly demographics of who is doing it (eg sex, gender, class, race, sexual orientation/preference), whether it’s for another, whether money is involved and how (eg employment), and whether it is sexualized.

also, me using bdsm as an example of consensual violence. was not meant to be exhaustive of either private and/or sexualized consensual violence. i am becoming wary of picking on bdsm in itself, because that serves to de-politicize heterosexuality as usual (unless one has the analysis that heterosexuality and bdsm are equally political, for many of the same reasons, which i’ve seen some radfems have). i’ve been wondering lately, and realizing, that heterosexuality, eg penis in vagina, heterosexuality as institution, etc, while arguably infused with a particular brand(s) of bdsm, has done far more damage, harm, and even death to women than bdsm has.

this had a response about moshing from a friend who talked about her experiences, that tended to be really violent, going beyond what she thought could be considered consensual:

“Some mosh pits are not so nice as what you describe, depending on the genre of music I suppose. I also haven’t been in a mosh pit in probably 10 or 15 years at this point– so maybe they have changed… I remember when I was a teenager and seeing people getting trampled (or getting trampled myself)– and sometimes trapped in them trying desperately to push my way out. Sometimes there were deliberate fist-fights within them, or people who purposely wore spiked jewelry or brass-knuckles to inflict the most pain. People sometimes covered in blood. I actually remember hearing in the late 90s of a few concerts where people died in them as a result. I believe that passes beyond consent at that point.

“One concert I saw a young girl with a clearly broken arm in one (her lower arm went at a right angle– not at the elbow, but below it). She was soo high she had no idea what was going on– and people kept pushing into her and her arm was spurting blood like mad. It was disgusting. We tried to get her out, but it was impossible and eventually she got trampled. Later I saw her being taken out by an ambulance– in pretty rough shape.”

I agreed:

what i was at was a lot better than that, but still had some of what you discuss, i saw one male with a bloody face (not severely, just like scratches), and two females got into a punch-fest, that was broken up after a minute or so.

yeah, i’…(tharr be more)d agree that when bones are broken, ppl wear spiked things to cause injury, etc. that goes beyond consent. esp considering that some ppl, as you said, aren’t aware of what is happening to them because they are so drunk.

i think it’s both in the “nature” of the activity (ie what it is) and how the people in it handle themselves, as well as the copious alcohol consumed by many.

also in that pit, some things happened that weren’t ok with me, but were accidental, like getting my toes stepped on, or falling into me b/c another pushed them.

i also think it was a rather better than average, based on what i’ve seen of moshing at other shows. i also had a knapsack to protect me on, so my back didn’t get hurt by pushing, etc.

white males tend to go the hardest, to prove their “toughness” bs.

this also reminds me of another big issue: can one get out of the violence, and if so, how easily?

certainly, in moshing, consent isn’t negotiated. if you’re in the area surrounding the stage, you get pushed/slammed into.

I invite other comments, and I’m sure my queries and arguments will be further developed! 🙂

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Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm  Comments (14)  

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  1. I can’t believe I forgot plastic surgery!

  2. I have a love hate relationship with pits. I love to get my mosh on, but being under 5’4″ (I’m around 160cms) it often makes things difficult and dangerous. People (mostly men) get so hell bent on being violent for the sake of being violent, more than having the music being so over-powering you just want to tear shit up.

    When I saw Slipknot a couple of years ago (holy fuck, the energy at their shows is AMAZING, it’s a shame they’re such gogans) I lasted about ten minutes in the pit. If that. It was pretty obvious that they were going for violence rather than REALLY getting into the music.

    And if really getting into the music, means violence, I think those people should just go home and grow the fuck up.

    • My first ever concert was Children of Bodom when I was 16 (but not my first show/festival). I tried to mosh there, having done it only a couple times. That was the first time I had met those who like to wear metal spikes and flail them in the air hoping to hit someone. Nazi punks fuck off! When I saw Slipknot live I also had to get out of the mosh pit although at that time I was still 15 and new.

      I do have a slight disagreement with the following though…

      “And if really getting into the music, means violence, I think those people should just go home and grow the fuck up.”

      If not from anger and violence then where did metal even come from? Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot, all of them were pissed off people before they were musicians. Granted, it was for different reasons than what people cite today. Sometimes the lyrics in Slayer songs speak out against social injustice and the stupidity of society whereas today, Slipknot is just angry “FML” lyrics(although I definitely agree – solid fucking live show. I’d probably agree with the gogans statement if I knew what it meant). They then made music for the pissed off people and people paid for and funded the movement. They vented through their music while the audience vented with them through moshing.

      When it comes to mosh pits I agree that some people are there simply to hurt and they are such jerks, but I don’t think the people in the pits are there solely for the music either. It’s a harmony of music and rage that make it appealing. Without a decent moshing type crown then nobody will catch the crowd surfers (and that hurts). Moshing would have died out instead of becoming a staple of a metal/punk show if it wasn’t something special. Sometimes I hate being at a show and just standing or sitting while watching, whereas dancing doesn’t appeal to me all the time.

      In the same way some people say metal is “not music” I suggest that mosh pits are something close to “not dancing”. People are sometimes proud of being part of a community that tries to distance itself from the norm so much that outsiders ask “why would you listen to that?”. I feel it’s the same for moshing – “what would you do that?”

      Sometimes the answer is simply “I want to because you don’t. It’s something I found on my own and not something that was suggested onto me by society.”

      Disclaimer: I’m a Physicist not a sociologist so I admit my “people are sometimes [feeling this way]..” statements might be weak. I am open to discussion.

      • I wish I could edit the comment.

        “Without a decent moshing type CROWD….”

      • Gogans, I believe, are called “mall goths” in many other places of the world. You know, the thirteen year olds who have just discovered black lipstick and wolf collars for the first time?

        But you raise a valid point, I didn’t actually even give that thought!

        • better waaaay late then never!

          thanks sam and berry for giving me more to think about!

          re: gogans. hahaha! 😉

          this moshing is complex, in part because except for some sub- and counter-cultures, it’s socially unacceptable/derided. but i can’t help but notice that most moshers are white dudes. i wonder about their class backrounds. and young. the infamous privileged white male rage at work?

  3. […] movie (or as close as horror movies can get to being feminist) named Teeth. She’s also got a brand spankin’ new post up about mosh pits and the ability to partake in violent, or potentially violent […]

  4. Thankfully, I’ve never been in the scary kind of mosh pit where people get meaningfully injured. I suspect (hope?) I’d avoid that. In my experience, moshing mainly involves bouncing off of people – like bumper cars without the cars. But I don’t go to shows these days, so what do I know?

    I really dig your analysis on the hypocrisy of focusing on BDSM while ignoring the violence of heterosexuality. I feel confident that institution has done vastly more harm to women than BDSM. Both deserve criticism, obviously, and go together, but it’s generally better to go after oppressive mainstream culture than an oppressive subculture.

    • I agree that it might be better to criticize the mainstream culture of heterosexuality, simply because if not for the paradigm of power imbalance in that culture, it could not be taken to an extreme in such a context as bdsm. Power is already eroticized in hetero relationships. Bdsm is just an extension of that.

      On the issue of consensual violence, I think that it is important to examine how the overarching sadomasochistic nature of our divided culture – men as aggressors, women as the object of aggression – plays into how people might behave in a mosh pit situation or similar consensual violence. The consensual nature of the activity redeems the aggressors from feeling guilt, and it instills a kind of redemptive guilt in the object of aggression. By redemptive guilt, I mean that kind of release that one might feel by negating the self. You cannot really be hurt if you want to be hurt seems to be the point; instead, it validates your negative self-image, or gives your own guiltless aggression fuel.

      These are merely some thoughts I had on the matter, anyway.

      • i def agree that bdsm is a syptom/offshoot of patriarchy/heterosexuality as institution, not the cause of it.

        that is a really interesting way of analysing it! hadn’t thought out gendering moshing that way. and consent is really abused to justify violence and absolve guilt. not to mention, it’s a legal invention (ie first used in legal settings, eg contracts). specifically brought to sexual situations, it’s a defense men use to keep out of jail for doing what they probably would have done (or did do) without consent.

    • better late than never eh? 😉

      i’m glad about your experiences with moshing. fun-moshing. bouncing is good times from what i’ve had. bashing no fun

      thanks! yesss, both het as institution and how het sex is defined have done massive harm, emotionally (cut off from women), materially (eg money), physically (hello unwanted pregnancy and pregnancy complications), etc. and while aspects of bdsm are part of heterosexuality as institution, other aspects and the ppl in it aren’t neccessarily part of the mainstream. good way of wording it, summer

  5. Wow, someone’s been in the bad kind of mosh pits. I’ve been in plenty and actual injuries were pretty rare. I’m a thin, weak, slightly over average height woman, and never gotten anything worse than a bloody nose and a wrenched baby finger.

    I don’t think it’s about liking violence or wanting to hurt, at least most of the time. I think it’s more that at a really basic level, blunt impact is pleasurable, so long as it’s not actually painful. It releases adrenaline and gives a nice big emotional jolt. In addition I think it’s kind of an extension of the urge to dance…with normal music, you roll your head a little bit and step back and forth…with the likes of Slipknot and Visceral Bleeding, it’s rather more intense 🙂

  6. If anything, I’ve always seen a similarity between mosh pits and rituals where people injure themselves in a state of religious extacy…you work yourself into a certain mental state, and you can’t feel pain like you normally would. I’ve loved mosh pits since my early teens, and I often find I’m the only girl in the pit- which, unfortunately, people often find either novel or sexy…because, ya know, its just so quaint to see a woman acting outside of constructed notions of female frailty. I agree with the above comment, but for myself I think it is also partially about liking to get really rough and physical with a bunch of people without there being actual antagonism within the group…I guess it’s similar to why I like tackle football or getting into wrestling matches with my friends where we actually end up hurting each other pretty badly- you get to test your physical limits, there’s a certain level of danger, but it’s within consensual parameters where you’re not actually at a serious risk. However, if other people in a mosh pit are subscribers to the whole “men as aggressors, women as the object of aggression” paradigm, then that changes things…consenting to be part of something like a mosh pit does not mean you are consenting to be the object of somebody’s sexualized views of violence. At more than a few punk shows I’ve seen guys get dragged out of the mosh pit for being complete assholes and just indiscriminately punching people in the face, rather than obeying “moshing etiquette” I guess you could call it.

  7. My experience of mosh pits – both as a participant and an outsider – is that the line of consent is blurred. It can be quite difficult to get out once you’re in, and for that matter they have a tendency to expand into the crowd of non-participants. This is of course not to say moshing is inherently non-consensual, but that a lot more thought needs to be put into keeping it consensual, and a greater effort needs to be made to make gratuitous violence within moshpits socially unacceptable in the punk etc community


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