How to see Sexism at Festivals

This post is part of an on-going dialog between myself and Rosie Lila who is the Special Events Maven at Burning Man / Burning Man Project  (which manifests the ten principals more widely than just the BM event itself).  It started with her response to my “Can Festivals Save the World?” post.  And then she followed up on my grousing about sexism at Burning Man with a new post called Sexism & Festivals, which includes the following helpful challenge.

I’d like to know more about what sexism at festivals looks like to the people who think that it happens as a majority occurrence.  Paxus’ mention of it is vague, and points to no evidence. So I am curious about this: What does sexism at festivals look like to you? And are your opinions based on your own direct experience?

Does this look funny?

Does this look funny?

i am a boy.  i dont see and experience sexism in the same way at these festivals as my women allies.  And i know from many conversations this is  big issue for a number of people, so i asked for help crafting a worthy reply to Rosie’s request.  And i got lucky, this is challenging response from BM particiant and i am happy to offer it up to this conversation, recognizing it is a controversial take.

burn the beer - schlitz ad

I think it is first helpful to talk about the kind of sexism that is expressed at festivals. Sexism a tricky, morphing thing that is more likely to find a new expression that makes it less detectable than disappearing from places. We don’t typically see the 1950’s “sweetheart, be a dear and fetch me my guitar” sexism at festivals for that reason. Festivals cultivate their own sexism, a festival acceptable sexism. If it were too overt it would be uprooted and the whole purpose it to be stealth enough to maintain dominance of the space.

There are both passive and aggressive forms of sexism that are employed in festival spaces. If it isn’t being called out, it isn’t that it doesn’t exist it is that it isn’t safe enough to raise the issue. People who raise it tend to get labeled “unfun.” Sure folks are not down with the patriarchy, but what does that mean in practice?


A) Passive-Aggressive Patriarchy:” (often come across as a victim/helpless/in need/dependent and get women in your life to be your physical and emotional caretakers? to buy you things? to take care of your responsibilities? pick up your slack? use guilt or manipulation to get out of your  responsibilities and equal share of the work? do you treat your female partner like a “mom” or your secretary?)

B) “Aggressive Patriarchy:” (Do you often take charge? Assume that a woman can’t do something right so you do it for her? Believe that only you can take care of things? Think that you always have the right answer? Treat your female partner like she’s helpless, fragile, a baby or weak? Do you put down your partner or minimize her feelings? Do you belittle her opinions?)

  • There are ways we can see sexism so clearly in conservative settings where women are also “celebrating their womenhood” through acts of service wearing make-up, having dinner on the table when the men come home from work or a sporting event. Yet at BM there is a similar dynamic of men being primarily in charge of the outside or visible or finite work while women’s work is invisiblized, constant and endless.  Women stay at camp (home) and cook while men go off and burn things (outside world). I’d just like people to think a bit about whether they’re happy in roles they may feel “assigned” to because they happen to be of one sex or another.
  • Do you believe that women have “natural characteristics” which are Inherent in our sex such as “passive,” “sweet,” “caring,” “nurturing,” “considerate,” “generous,” “weak,” or “emotional?”
  • Do you make fun of “typical” men or “frat boys” but not ever check yourself to see if you behave in the same ways?
  • Women in these spaces may have a wider range of beauty standards than the general public, but there remains a range of those who are most desirable. Younger women are often encourage most to “free themselves” of their clothes or sexual limits giving greater sexual access to men at the festivals. So there is a question of who is encourage and who is encourage not as much or is less touted. There is also a different ascetic, not no esthetic –where women spend time and money on procuring what is deemed sexy by the community at that particular time—leather, feathers, ??? (it’s been awhile—I can’t speak to ascetic well )