If you hate it so much, why’d you come out, dudes?
This article about how Neko Case concerts are sometimes marred by sexist heckling is an interesting snapshot of an irritating phenomenon I’ve noticed. It tends to happen most when a band with a prominent female member or members have gotten popular enough that they start to attract male fans that don’t usually listen to many female musicians. Which is to say that I’ve seen this happen at Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, and the Donnas, but not so much with bands that have a smaller audience. Now Neko Case is getting it.
Soaking up one of her shows is about as close as you can come to feeling like a construction worker without actually learning to operate a backhoe. In San Francisco (!) several years back, one dude just chucked all caution/sense/decorum to the wind and requested she take off her shirt; Neko responded with the unfazed, elegant, bemused demeanor of someone accustomed to dealing with this sort of thing, something to the effect of, “No, no, you wouldn’t actually like that—it’d be like pulling up an old piece of plywood that’s been stuck in your front yard for years.” That (briefly) shut ’em up.
Here’s the theory I’ve concocted: We’re talking about women whose nets have been cast wide enough to pull in male fans who generally think of “women” and “musicians I really admire” as mutually exclusive groups. But this particular band broke through that categorizing, and they probably think of themselves as not-sexist men. Also, they probably assume that this band is the exception to the unspoken rule that only men make really great musicians. But the main thing is that they don’t think of themselves as the kind of sexist pigs who are easily threatened by talented women.
Then they get to the show and get a couple of drinks in them, and the subterranean anxiety about actually looking up to women kicks in. And in this sense, it’s literal—-you are physically looking up at this person who is the center of attention, who is doing something wonderful and meaningful that you can’t do. At this point, the fact that this woman is occupying a role that these dudes have subconsicously reserved for men only begins to bother them, and they try to restore the balance of power by reminding the people around you (and if she can hear you, the woman on stage) that the unusual (in your eyes) nature of the situation doesn’t actually threaten the proper balance of powers. You express this by saying, “Show your tits!”, or some variation of this. The important thing is pretending that it’s a joke, so no one calls you out for being an asshole who thinks that the whole world needs to know that you think it’s weird that a woman is on stage.
Just my theory, having seen this happen a few times. Le Tigre’s gotten big enough to pull this echelon of male fans in, but it’s a slightly different thing at their shows, because the women in feminist-themed shirts, gay people, and gaggles of women who came together and aren’t quietly hanging onto a man is intimidating. So instead, the “show your tits” guys end up hanging in the back, feeling weirded out, though they can’t quite explain why.