This year, for the first time in Glastonbury's 45-year history, there will be a women-only zone at Glastonbury Festival. Stylist contributor Moya Crockett explains why she thinks it's about time.
It’s rare that I go out with just women. Generally, when the weekend rolls around, my friends and I will head out together in one big boy-girl gang. I like it that way, because my guy mates are great. They’re funny and respectful and cracking dancers, and I’ve never felt threatened by any of them, not once, not ever.
But a few Saturdays ago, after the boys vetoed the idea of accompanying us to a Beyoncé-themed club night, “the girls” and I went out alone. In a sticky basement in east London, the mood was startlingly joyful: as buoyant and light as a Mary Berry sponge. It was an atmosphere I hadn’t encountered on a night out for a long time. Partly, of course, this was due to the fact that they were playing back-to-back Queen B – but something else was different, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
And then I realised. For the first time in my life, I was in a nightclub with virtually no men in sight – and it was unexpectedly lovely. There was no hum of nascent aggression in the air, no unspoken threat that a fight might, just might, kick off. Nobody groped my arse as I walked to the bar. My friends and I danced with blissful abandon, without once having to fend off the advances of predatory strangers. Before that night, it had never occurred to me that partying without men would be such a freeing, joyful experience. But it was.
I thought about that night recently, when Glastonbury announced that this year’s festival will feature a woman-only venue for the first time. Tucked away in legendary after-hours zone Shangri-La, The Sisterhood club is billed as an “intersectional, queer, trans and disability-inclusive space open to all people who identify as women”. Everyone involved, from the staff and security to the performers and punters, will be female. Men are not invited.
Predictably, Twitter instantly split down the middle as to whether this was a good idea or not. Many users heralded it as an important step forward. However, others complained that women-only spaces like The Sisterhood are discriminatory against men and patronising to women.
Glastonbury's women only venue is perhaps the most brilliant bit of misguided thinking I've seen for awhile. Truly remarkable.— Basilio Nichols (@basilionichols) June 4, 2016
Cannot believe there is a women only area at glastonbury, imagine if they proposed a men only area— isaac (@isaac_wood_) June 5, 2016
Muirfield Golf Club gets slammed for not admitting women. Glastonbury then give women an exclusive gig tent banning men and it's fine!— Tom Hughes (@hertstennistom) June 6, 2016
But those who are up in arms at the idea of a female-only nightclub clearly don’t understand how exhausting it can be to be a woman who’s just trying to have a good time: at a festival, in a club, at a gig. They don’t know how boring it is to have to push a stranger’s hands off you for the fifth time in an hour. They don’t know how frustrating it is to be knocked bodily to the ground as you’re trying to dance to your favourite band, because the men in the mosh pit next to you have suddenly started full-on brawling.
They don’t know how it feels to always keep half an eye on your friends’ drinks, because three girls you know have been spiked before, one of whom ended up being raped. They don’t know how disgusting it is when a man won’t stop dancing behind you, grinding his penis against your back, even though you’ve asked, then told, him to please go away.
“Not all men are like that!” I hear you cry – and you’re right. But enough men are enough like that enough of the time for women to feel like their enjoyment of festivals or gigs or concerts is sometimes… curtailed. Not totally ruined, but dampened, like rain on your birthday. Most of the time, we simply endure the low-level bullshit; we think of it, subconsciously, as an occupational hazard of having a good time.
But what if we don’t want to anymore? What if we simply fancy a break from it all? I suppose we could just ask the men to leave us alone – it’s just that so far, that tactic hasn’t worked so well.
Some people have argued that that women-only spaces like The Sisterhood are just as sexist as male-only establishments like the infamous Muirfield golf club. But that’s comparing apples and oranges. As Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates points out in The Guardian, men-only spaces generally exist because of centuries of pointless patriarchal privilege; women-only spaces, meanwhile, tend to be created to make women feel safer.
And sexual assault and harassment is increasingly recognised as a serious problem at music festivals. Just last week, up to 26 women reported being sexually assaulted at a festival in Germany. In 2015 there were three sexual offences reported at Glastonbury and one rape reported at both Secret Garden Party and V Festival; the year before, two men were arrested for raping a woman at Reading Festival, and a male nurse assaulted two unconscious women in the medical tent at Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire in 2013.
Campaign groups such as Girls Against and Safe Gigs for Women are – admirably – trying to change the culture of sexual harassment at music events from the ground up. But until that happens, it’s not unreasonable that some women might feel safer knowing that a place like The Sisterhood exists.
This year, I’ll be going to Glastonbury with a posse of men and women. I don’t know whether I’ll visit The Sisterhood; I might not feel like I need to. But until enough men stop behaving in a way that makes women want to party without them, women should be able to do just that.
Images: Getty, girls.against / Instagram