BU professor’s research aims at safer music festival experiences for women

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Investigating women’s experiences in very masculine environments — heavy metal concerts — should help festival and concert planners provide safer and more inclusive practices in the future.

That’s one aim of Dr. Christopher Schneider’s new research, with Dr. Stacey Hannem of Wilfrid Laurier University, which recently was awarded a significant federal funding grant through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

“The majority of women will experience sexual harassment or sexual violence in their lifetime,” says Dr. Schneider, who is a Professor of Sociology at Brandon University as well as a member of the BU Gender and Women’s Studies program. “Our research uses heavy metal culture and music festivals as a microcosm — a space to improve our understanding of the gendered dimensions of voluntary risk-taking and agency as exercised by women.”

Their research draws on a long history of feminist theory to explore how misogynist, patriarchal, and paternalistic structures shape women’s everyday experiences, including participation in social life and experiences like music festivals.

“Society’s response to sexual assault and rape culture has largely been limited to telling women to curtail their behaviour and to be wary. This makes it harder for women to be empowered with full agency and to participate as full equals in the public domain,” Dr. Schneider says. “This research will explore this tension in the particularly male-dominated and pro-risk environment that is the heavy-metal music scene.”

The research project aims to describe women’s participation in heavy metal festivals and concerts, including their motivations, their perceptions of risks or concerns, and how they make choices around risk-taking, as well as their overall experience in the masculinist culture, in particular their own perceptions of how women are portrayed by the genre. The project will also try to better understand the impact of the #MeToo movement on heavy metal culture.

“This research is going to be of interest to scholars of gender and sexual violence, as well as advocacy groups, and it’s important to learn about women’s experiences of risk and safety at music festivals and to better understand risk assessment and personal autonomy,” Schneider says. “Plus, at an immediate practical level, we expect to find inclusive and practical measures that will improve women’s comfort, safety, and security in heavy metal festival and concert spaces. Festival and concert organizers will be able to use our findings right away to make people safer.”

This research project is expected to last for three years. It received $77,718 in funding through the SSHRC’s Insight program, which invests in researchers studying issues related to individuals and society.


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