“One in five women in England and Wales has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 and women are nearly five times as likely to have experienced sexual assault as men”
– Victim Support
“We blame her for being there / We are all here / But we are all / Guilty”
If reading heavy metal websites and blogs is a lesson in one thing, it’s this: never read below the line. What happens above the comments section isn’t always great either, in all honesty, but stepping into a discussion board on a metal site is like stepping into something halfway between a cesspool and a nest of angry vipers in Watain shirts. It’s true that there is never a lot of sense to be found in the comments section but in some situations what’s left below the article line can be revealing, at least as a clumsy barometer of feeling within the metal community:
“society…is extremely prejudiced in favor of women, regardless of the asinine ‘progressive’ rhetoric that society hates women”
“ultra feminists and other knob heads will insist they paid off the legal system and they are definitely guilty because they are men…. All because some tart wanted a bit of cash/attention.”
“Lets open our eyes here, for people that know the music industry, girls want on rock stars busses, when they don’t get what they want.”
“That lying slut needs to get jail time and cop all the fees for Decapitated. Fucking white chicks always crying rape after a good fuck they can’t remember. I knew this story was bullshit from day one. Fuck all you beta cucks and white knights on the girl’s side.”
Whilst this quote highlights that many of the above commenters appear not to have even read the news article they were commenting on:
“Whilst I understand why it’s important to get facts. Please read that the charges were dropped because the alleged victim felt mentally unable to cope with the trial. This is not a sign of innocence on the accused party, we will just never know. X”
Statistics, empathy and reason still don’t play well, with a subculture still dominated by its stereotypical but stubbornly real core demographic of young, conservative, white men. As Deena Weinstein writes: ‘Masculinity is understood in the metal subculture to be the binary opposite of femininity…the metal subculture holds that gender differences are rooted in the order of things. It is perilous even to question…the boundaries.’ For a genre that posits itself as anti-authoritarian and anti-mainstream, it is surprising how often heavy metal and its followers regurgitate accepted conservative norms, be they based on gender, politics or race.
Given that existing ‘conservative’ politics has shifted inexorably to the right in Europe and the US, the defensive conservatism displayed by male musicians and fans in the metal community doesn’t come across as stubborn centrist position so much as a re-iteration and re-tooling of existing tropes of misogyny, homophobia, racism and nationalism. It’s speculative to say that reactions would have been different had Decapitated, or another all-male band, been found guilty of a sexual assault, but the recent track record of heavy music fans in believing and supporting female victims of male sexual violence has not been good.
While disbelieving, misogynist reactions to rape accusations can hardly be classed as surprising in a genre so troublingly addicted to imagining and revelling in sexual violence against women, it is still damning that it has taken the women within the metal subculture to question its sexism and challenge the boys’ club aesthetics and ethics of heavy metal. Men within heavy metal have traditionally sidelined and silenced women within the genre, as eye candy, ‘just another dude’ or the token girl in the band. What has been made evident by recent flame wars over musicians accused of sexual violence is that it should also be men taking other men to account over victim blaming, sexism and overt hostility towards women. Just as one false accusation doesn’t disprove all true ones, or negate the trauma of victims who never come forward, neither does one band who probably didn’t do something terrible exonerate all the musicians and people within heavy metal who have done and said terrible things against women, people of colour, religious minorities or LGBTQ people.
Ignoring the voices of women and disbelieving and attacking female members of the community isn’t just symptomatic of the worst excesses of toxic masculinity, it’s also indicative of sections of a male fanbase who would rather harm the genre they purport to love than question why such self-defeating beliefs and values still exist. Women and people from other minorities in heavy metal have had to fight way harder and for far longer than any white male to be part of the subculture. If men in metal feel challenged or undermined by a female presence then maybe it’s time to find a new genre or a new comments section to occupy. For any other men who want to stick around, it’s time to take a long hard look at ourselves and our male peers and call out our own privilege and sexist bullshit every time it rears its head. In metal, as with everything else, it’s not the minuscule percentage of false accusations that are the problem: it’s men, it’s misogyny and it’s the rape culture we help to perpetuate.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, follow these links:
Rape crisis: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/
Victim support: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/
Words: Andrew Day