During Sled Island in June, a drunk guy beside me put his hand up my shirt while the crowd was excitedly waiting for Cloud Nothings. I removed his hand and shouted, “What the f*** are you doing? Keep your hands to yourself.

Don’t touch me.” My friend Paul stepped between me and my harasser who quickly became verbally abusive. Another friend found a venue volunteer who intervened with security to remove this drunken patron.

I am consistently blown away by the magnitude of this problem. Many of my friends, my family and, acquaintances have stories of assault, ranging from being groped at concerts to being raped. Their experiences are supported by Statistics Canada, which reports one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime

 I’m relieved to see people actively working to make the Calgary music scene safer.  Femme Wave kicked off Nov. 16 at Commonwealth Bar and Stage in downtown Calgary. I’ve been a Safe Space volunteer with this  Here’s what they’re doing to push back.

Femme Wave’s safer spaces policy states that their festival and their organizers are committed to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone regardless of:

  • Gender (including gender identity/expression)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Physical appearance
  • Body size
  • Race
  • Religion

“Having safer spaces policies and volunteers on site at a festival is so important because it acts not only as a signal of support to those that might need it if anything goes wrong, but as a reminder for everyone to be mindful of the spaces that we occupy every day,” says Amanda Aust, Femme Wave’s workshops and safer spaces co-ordinator.

“We all come from a society of systematic oppressions that influence our everyday life in ways that we — particularly those with certain privileges — might not realize, so it’s important to challenge those barriers where we can.”

Femme Wave’s shown this dedication to creating a safer space by making sure volunteers or organizers are present at each event, clear signage of the venue’s rules at each entrance and “ensuring a venue is accessible to different abilities, has gender-neutral washrooms, is dry and all-ages, or is pay what you can.”

femme wave sign One of Femme Wave’s safer space signs from their 2016 festival. Photo by Kennedy Enns.

Aust continues, “these small acts not only make it more welcoming, safe and accessible for everyone to participate in, but it challenges our perspective of the spaces that we see around Calgary every day.”

Founders and co-artistic directors Kaely Cormack and Hayley Muir have made changes to this year’s festival include more all-ages venues and free shows as a way of making their third year more accessible to everyone.

With the current onslaught of accusations of sexual misconduct flooding social media timelines for weeks now. It seems like you can’t use the internet without finding out another celebrity has been outed as predator.

But this is not the first time sexual assault trials have made headlines, in the festival’s first two years there were local, national and global assault trials at the front of the news cycle.

“It does feel very relevant but it’s felt relevant every year. This year it’s maybe more on the forefront of people’s brains, not just those in the feminist community,” Cormack says, “but it’s been relevant every year and I’m pretty sure it will continue to be unfortunately.”

It’s not just in times of tragedy that we need festivals to focus on providing safer, accessible spaces, but knowing that they’re there can help.

femme wave safer spacesOne of Femme Wave’s safer spaces back patches which can be attached to clothes.Photo by Kennedy Enns.

“You know that you’re going to go and be surrounded by people that also feel exhausted, and heavy, and laid-bare and ripped open, all the time. But, at least you can all be doing that together in one room and hopefully come out of it happier,” Muir says.

It’s the sense of community that Femme Wave creates that keeps people coming back and bringing people in. With acts from as far away as Philadelphia and San Diego, as well as from across Canada, Femme Wave is creating a network of people that have each other’s backs.

“I know a lot of people are feeling more empowered to speak out and that there’s a more accepting and safer community to do that,” says Cormack. “So I hope that with the safer spaces that we provide and the work that we do, hopefully that will tie in with everything that’s happening and people will feel that this is the time to come out to a music show, especially if you didn’t feel like you could before.”

Femme Wave starts Thursday, Nov. 16 at Commonwealth Bar and Stage, with events happening every day until Sunday. A full copy of Femme Wave’s safer spaces policy can be found on their website as well as their schedule.


Editor: Anna Junker | ajunker@cjournal.ca

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