Last week, like many people, I read Eve Barlow’s blog on crowd behaviour at the Download Festival, the thrust of which was her disappointment and surprise at girls being pressured into flashing their chests on the main stage’s big screen. It wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as I went to the first day of this year’s Lovebox Festival in Victoria Park, but after a few hours, that situation had certainly changed.
I tend to stand on the periphery at any live music event, and thanks to the incredibly loud and frequent bass drops on show at Lovebox (24 hours later I’ve only just recovered), I was doing my usual killjoy impersonation. However, the planets seemed to align for some reason during Madeon’s DJ set. I’m not sure why really; it wasn’t particularly better than anything else I saw that day, and, when you’re my age, there’s something a little odd about raving your face off to someone who looks young enough to be your son.
This is Madeon. No, really, it is.
However, I found myself near the front, jumping around, limbs flailing and generally having a jolly old time.
As is often the case, a selection of girls (and some boys) were spending time sitting on their friends’ shoulders. The cameras would then focus in on these totem-people, display their image on the big screen, and the person on top would realise a split second too late to wave frantically at themselves. So far, so normal.
However, around 40 minutes in, a girl on her friend’s shoulders was subject to chanting from a group of lads in front of me (I think it’s fair to call them ‘lads’ here). First came a single, repeated word, “Boobs! Boobs! Boobs!”, before they decided to embark upon a chorus of, “Get your tits out for the lads” (see, they even self-identify as ‘lads’). The fact their singing was out-of-time with the pulsating beats of Madeon was far from the worst part; this girl looked genuinely distressed by what was happening. She started by just shaking her head at them but the longer the ordeal went on, the more sheepish she became, before she eventually got down from the shoulders of her friend. After another five minutes, she was gone, and I didn’t see her in the crowd again. The boys in front of me carried on dancing regardless, unaware the girl was even upset in the first place, let alone the fact she had left.
At this point, I was feeling pretty ashamed of my whole gender, but then the ‘lads’ turned their attention to another girl-on-shoulders. However, this girl seemed delighted to be the object of such attention, and lifted her top up to cheers and hoots of approval. This wasn’t enough for these people though, as she was wearing a bikini top. The chant of, “Boobs! Boobs!”, started up again, but this girl didn’t seem too bothered by it, and just descended and carried on dancing. Again, the boys lost interest.
I was genuinely baffled by this point. It’s fair to assume that many people in the crowd – me included – had had a few drinks by this point and, of course, that can lead to a loss of inhibition. Plus, many men change their behaviour when they’re exclusively in the company of other men (I’m not immune to this, my expletive rate certainly goes up when there’s an abundance of testosterone). But it didn’t stop me being amazed that men would be so blatant in their desire to see a woman take her top off and that there were women who didn’t see this as a problem. In fact, later in the set, a woman appeared on the big screen who had written the word, “TITS”, on her chest in red paint. Unsurprisingly, this won the much-coveted seal of approval from our good friends in front of me. What ‘legends’, eh?
However, the worst was yet to come. Near the end of Madeon’s set, one of the bantersauruses broke cover to go it alone and turn his attentions to another 11 foot female. His chat-up technique was extremely efficient. No timewasting with niceties such as conversation for our protagonist, no – he simply walked up the open-shirted girl, pointed at her chest and then grabbed one of her breasts. I expected him to get slapped, or at the very least a glower from the girl in question, but no, this didn’t seem to faze her one iota. Presumably buoyed by his previous ‘success’, he then proceeded to do it again. If you’re now thinking, “well, at least he wasn’t so lust-driven that he attempted to ‘motorboat’ her”, I’ve got news for you – he did that too. Following this, she climbed down from her friend’s shoulders, approached him, and they proceeded to happily bump and grind throughout the rest of the show.
Clearly, something’s wrong with this picture. Music festivals are, sadly, not renowned for being the safest places in the world. Even the Latitude Festival, an event whose USP is effectively family-friendliness – has been the setting for a sexual assault in its relatively short history. At a festival, you’re in a big crowd and most people are inebriated in some way – mostly through alcohol but Lovebox was also awash with drugs. I’ve led a pretty sheltered existence, so I was a little flummoxed by being offered drugs on six separate occasions during the course of the day.
Obviously this kind of male behaviour is deplorable, but I think I was more shocked and disheartened by the acceptance and even encouragement from the female side that I witnessed. The fact that, to some women, suggestive remarks and even blatant groping are taken in good humour or, in the most extreme example I was part to, are regarded as a substitute to an introduction, was an eye-opener to say the least.
There are a great number of brilliant feminist blogs and writers online, and in the media-centric, liberal bubble of the little corner of the internet I – and probably you – inhabit, it’s tempting to think we’re all well-balanced people with tolerant attitudes. But, as the popularity of sites such as UniLad have showed, there’s a huge following and lots of encouragement for this kind of thing and, scarily, it looks as if people are increasingly starting to see this as part of normal society.