Patrick Kindlon (End of a Year/Self Defense Family) talks sexism

Amid all the recent stories regarding sexism in the punk scene, Punknews has reached out to several artists to add some variety to the topic. Patrick Kindlon (vocalist for End of a Year Self Defense Family) was asked to join the discussion, both due to being an active member of the punk scene and, in part, to an incident that plagued the band during a trip to Europe in 2009. Kindlon states:

I've been asked to contribute to this ongoing feature about sexism in punk because I've been on the, "other side" of it. It's a difficult position to write from. The danger, of course, is that I'll come off looking like a massive douche. I'll be advocating for a marketplace of ideas and someone will misread it as cheerleading rape-culture. It pains me that I have to write a disclaimer for the dumbest possible reader, but here goes: Threats are not protected by free speech laws or the law of common sense; violence, obviously, is not acceptable. Creating a menacing atmosphere makes you a scumbag. Duh.
Now, onto my story.

I’ve witnessed what happens when people with the "best intentions" impose their will on others. It’s only slightly better than when those with the worst intentions do. Two years ago my band toured Europe. We do this often and it’s usually a fun time. This occasion was different. We started getting emails months before our departure asking us about certain rumors. First, they wanted to know if I had been with prostitutes on our previous trips to Germany. They said it was very important that they knew what kind of band they were booking, because the show-goers of their town would not tolerate sexist performers.

I will take a moment here to point out this idea is, in itself, idiotic. Feminism, both academic and in practice, has a multitude of responses to sex-work. Labeling someone who visits prostitutes a "sexist" without further consideration is the act of someone who is neither well-read nor particularly progressive. More on that in a minute.

My response to this email was to the effect of, "I didn’t realize I was playing a Christian venue. I will understand if you kick us off the show; do as your god demands. No hard feelings." Obviously this was hyperbole. I knew it wasn’t a Christian venue, but I did find their stance to be anti-intellectual and wanted to illustrate that. After a few more emails, the matter seemed handled. No one would seek to penetrate my personal affairs and I would respect their views. Weeks later, I received an email with new allegations of sexism. I make video-flyers for shows I promote. If I’m doing a show in my hometown, I’ll devote an hour to making a (very) low-budget Youtube video that gives the details of the show. Usually there is a narrative of some kind. The emailer had been approached by some people who had been unsatisfied by the original volley of communication and went looking for further evidence I’m sexist. The found it, in their view, in my videos. Again, very stupid. The videos depicted women in sexually provocative situations. The concerned party failed to recognize the men in the videos were in similar situations. Or that the videos were resolutely tongue-in-cheek and often parodies. After another back-and-forth via email this matter was resolved, or so I believed, by the time we got on the plane to Frankfurt.

I was wrong. We were kicked off of two shows and the remaining shows included visits from (mostly) well-intentioned inquisitors. Here’s what I learned from the people who confronted me:
I should get new friends because the female friends I cast in my videos were too "traditionally attractive" and therefore guilty of subjugating less-attractive women.
Prostitutes, despite being adults working in an industry that is better regulated [in Germany] than dentistry is in the US, are mindless slaves and should be pushed into other careers.
Women, by nature, are victims and it is the role of certain men to defend them. [The above is near verbatim, incidentally. I asked the person who said it for clarification because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He repeated himself.]
Most of the people who approached me admitted that they were working off of very few facts. They had heard through an Internet messageboard that I should be confronted because I am sexist and "sexism has no place in hardcore." There was no unity in their message. Some people had a problem with aspect X while others had a problem because of aspect Y, yet they all raised the same flag.

I started to wonder if I was, in fact, sexist. No one had provided me a reasoned answer as to why I was, but enough people seemed to think it. So I asked a couple of my friends who identify as feminist. One has been published on this topic and the other had recently spent time on the frontlines of gender politics in the developing world. These are people who would not spare my feelings. I showed them as balanced a view of the matter as I could, including the videos in question. They both prefaced their answers by explaining that feminism as an idea is not monolithic in nature and, like any ideology, has many branches. Then they got to the business of shitting on my accusers. The videos, they said, depicted women in positions of power, sexually and otherwise, and don’t fall into what educated people are calling "sexist" anymore. And the prostitute thing… well they ripped that apart, one calling the view of my accusers "plainly classist" and the other categorizing it as "the sort of ivory tower academia that makes it hard for people working in the trenches of an issue to make real progress." The point of my story isn’t to vindicate myself more than two years after the fact, but to illustrate that when we say things like "________ has no place here" we risk mob mentality. One of the people who kicked us off a show confessed he didn’t care at all about the politics being discussed but couldn’t afford to rock the boat. A dozen German political punks told me, "Your problem is you got caught. You have to avoid detection when you do these things." And then, of course, there is the matter of the hard-drives of my accusers. I don’t think it’s entirely speculative to say a close inspection of their recently visited websites would yield interesting results. But those same people saw fit to attack me- because a cause had given them the greenlight to do so. As it turned out, the fervor was started by someone who had taken personal offense to something I said offhand the tour before. The whole thing could have been resolved by approaching me for clarification.

Efforts to bully people with different views are counterproductive. I’m an adult with a brain, so my first response was to examine the situation and attempt to see if from other perspectives. If I was nineteen when this happened, my response would have been, "Kiss my ass, nerds. I’m going shut you out and go harder in my own direction." With that in mind, I think it’s important that punks ask themselves what the goal is when confronting someone. Is it to show them the "right" way to live through education? Or is it to change their behavior through intimidation? Or is it just to placate your superior attitude?

As I understand it, the essays people have contributed to on this topic have focused on the fact that sexism is prevalent in punk and hardcore music. Seems like a waste of bandwidth and time to me. We all know that. What I’m more curious about is why you expected anything other that what we currently have.

Where in your punk manual did you read that this was a place free of ugly ideas? Is that next to the page about unity? Punk, historically and today, is a place for varied opinions. Sometimes those opinions are in line with yours; sometimes they are not. For a 19 through 30-year-old to believe that he or she has the right to delegate what "punk" is about to not only his/her contemporaries but also predecessors, is asinine.

If you really try you can make your little corner of punk -your scene- anything you want. Sadly, this exercise demonstrates just how "unpunk" everyone really is. It starts with someone considered "cool" asserting their views and leveraging their popularity to make others fall in line. Congrats, you’ve reached homogony. All the freethinking qualities that people praise when discussing punk as a subculture or counterculture are replaced with the same sort of mindlessness you’d find anywhere else. If you don’t think this happens, you haven’t been around very long.

GG Allin and Crass both wore tight pants and made shitty music. Their similarities trail off after that. Their politics could not be any different. I’d love to hear the argument for either "having no place in punk." Sexism is present in punk. As is racism. As is classism. As are reasoned responses to those ideas. Viewpoints, ugly or noble, historically DO have a place in punk. Intelligent people should be fighting sexism because sexism is stupid on its own merits, not because it "doesn’t belong in punk/hardcore/ska/dub-step/klezmer/aggressive rock/big band/etc". Invite all ideas; accept only the ones that make sense to you.