Dennis Magati

Sweden Plays Host to the World’s First “Cis Man-Free” Festival

How would you make a statement about the music industry?

Would you write a song about it? A blog? Perhaps you’d write a strongly worded letter to your favorite music publication, or throw an event about it? That’s a lot like what protests are; events planned to make a statement to the powers that be. For this reason, Statement Festival is aiming to be the first cisgender male-free festival.

They’re the first festival aiming to work exclusively with women, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. From curated artists, to security, catering, and even patrons, the festival will be the first free of cis-men. This came as a result of high reports of sexual assaults form Sweden’s largest music festival, Bråvalla. Between the Thursday and Sunday of the festival, four rapes and 23 other assaults were reported.

The high rate of sexual assaults led to the festival’s cancellation next year. As a result, Statement Festival was born to be a space free of cis-men right on Bananpiren, in Gothenburg, Sweden. The festival confirms nobody will be invasively questioned at the gate, but is working on a specialized “access system.” Ticket price categories begin at 850 SEK (about $92.91 USD) and end at 1,100 SEK ($120.23 USD.)

The term cisgender means the opposite of transgender; it means a person who’s gender matches what they were assigned at birth. It’s root word, cis, is a Latin derived prefix meaning “on this side of.” While this festival may not solve the problem of violence against women and gender diversity, organizers call it a reaction to a very real issue.

Different forms of violence are rampant, even in America

There are a number of factors that point to how women and gender minorities may feel. In the state of Washington alone, one in every 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. The rate of female contact with sexual assault is more than double the rate of men’s at nearly 45%. This figure is more than the national average of 36%. This means that while men still experience sexual violence at over 21%, women are vastly more victimized.

Violence against transgender people also remains far too common. The Human Rights Campaign reports that in 2017 at least 28 transgender people were killed as a result of transphobia. In 2018, we’re already seeing that number sit at 16 individuals. While many transgender people face many forms of assault, 58% said they felt uncomfortable asking police for help if they needed it.

As many as 61% of transgender people avoided using the bathroom for fear of their personal safety. 33% of homeless transgender people avoid a homeless shelter for fear of mistreatment. Within the transgender community, and among women out enjoying nightlife, it seems there is a sense of danger when it comes to being themselves. The value of safe spaces has always been there, most noticeably as bars catered to LGBTQ+ nightlife.

This sort of space exists for gender and sexual diversity to feel safe among peers. They provide a haven for their expression and enjoyment. Perhaps more than anything, Statement Festival is just like that..

Not the solution, but a reaction to a problem

An organizer of the festival, Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare, is far from apologetic about their exclusive event. She tells the BBC how the Gothenburg music festival is more than anything exactly what it sounds like; a statement about how women and minorities feel threatened in society.

“#MeToo has changed the debate, making it easier to organize the festival. . . Now we no longer have to justify our desire to create a safe place, a free zone. But it’s not the solution, it’s a reaction to the problem.”

Women and gender minorities may find enjoyment in a festival pragmatically reacting to a growing safety problem. It’s unclear what else may come from this, but it’s quite plain it’s here to serve community needs. Does exclusion mean safety? Not always, but safety comes surrounded by others who are just like you and know similar experiences. Who knows whether a statement like this one will be made here in North America.

Shambhala Music Festival already offers a safe space for any self-identified women to use if they feel unsafe. This comes from a need to ensure women feel safe. Given the data regarding sexual assaults right here in the PNW, we may soon see a larger scale reaction to personal safety issues, one that aims to improve the festival experience for those who feel threatened.

Have you ever felt unsafe or preyed on at music festival or event? Would you feel more comfortable in a space free of cis-men? Let us know in the comments!