Tawni Freeland, Frogpond
It was the mid-'90s, and my all-girl band Frogpond was scheduled to play a show that night at The Hurricane in Kansas City, Missouri. We played there regularly, as it was a consistently fun venue in the popular Westport area of the city.
Quite often when scheduling bands, booking agents would place us into a chick band lineup, and tonight was no exception. An all-female band from Minneapolis was opening for us. We met them backstage, which at The Hurricane is actually located within the rabbit warren labyrinth beneath the club, and they were very polite.
I sincerely hope that being a girl in a rock band is no different from being a guy in a rock band now, but back in the '90s our group experienced occasional moments of sexism. Despite the best efforts of amazing women like Joan Jett to pave the way for female musicians, girls on a stage holding instruments still equaled an excuse to holler degrading things for some of the “less enlightened” among us.
We were sometimes greeted by audience members with cries of, “Take off your shirts!” It was insulting because we were just trying to play rock and roll. And if we wanted to be strippers, trust me -- we’d be making a hell of a lot more money than we were for playing music. (In short: If anyone reading this is still yelling sexist things at female musicians, please desist immediately and go back to shouting “Play Freebird!” with the other douche bags.)
As the band of three women we’d just met took the stage and began to play, we nodded in appreciation over the loud music. But the usual suspects were in the crowd that night, and soon raucous male cries of, “Show us your tits!” began to ring out between songs like irritating little Neanderthal gnats buzzing in the face of intelligent evolution. We cringed in embarrassment. They were opening for us on our home turf, and this was the best group of fans we had to offer? A bunch of meatheads yelling disgusting things at them?
Disappointed, we slunk over to the bar side of the building to brace ourselves with liquid courage for our impending time onstage enduring requests for clothing removal. Plus, we really liked to drink.
After a few songs, a strange thing began to happen on the other side of the bar. There was a collective gasp from the audience, a sudden charge of murmuring electricity across the crowd, and a surge of bodies from the back of the room toward the stage.
“What’s going on?,” I asked a stranger standing in front of me.
“The lead singer just took off her shirt,” the girl replied, wrinkling her nose. “She’s also not wearing a bra.”
I immediately walked to the side of the crowd to get a good look at the stage, and sure enough, there stood the half-naked lead singer amid wide-eyed, gawking people. She was a petite, thin blonde with a very small chest. She didn’t acknowledge her missing shirt -- she didn’t flirt or play it up -- she was just nonchalantly, unapologetically topless. She played the rest of the set sans shirt, oblivious to the stares. The lecherous catcallers in the crowd watched the rest of the show in stunned silence. If she was trying to get the guys to just finally shut up about seeing boobs, then mission accomplished. Even a modest A-cup-size seemed to mesmerize them. All eyes were on her. Well, part of her, anyway.
I felt kind of sorry for the other musicians in her band who were being upstaged by skin and nipples. Nobody would have noticed if they’d walked off the stage at that point for all the attention they weren’t getting. I wondered if they supported her actions, or if they hated it when she did this. I wondered what other commands screamed from a crowd she might also blindly obey. If I yelled, “Jump around like a bunny and slap yourself on the ass!,” would she do that too?
Standing there watching the set, I felt conflicted. On one hand, it could be interpreted as a brilliant fuck-you to everyone trying to degrade her -- a way of taking the power out of the suggestion. Nudity is natural and really no big deal, after all. The fact that she didn’t have the large breasts that guys accustomed to yelling, “Show us your tits!” at women on stages are used to seeing was also a delightful slap in the face. You want breasts? Okay. Here are some real breasts.
But on the other hand, the morons in the crowd requesting a striptease show from a rock band were never going to intellectually grasp a complex removal of power from “potential degrader” by “potential degradee,” if that was indeed her intention. And now she’d made our job twice as hard by rewarding these assholes with nudity. I felt overwhelmingly disappointed by the shirt removal for this reason. By exposing herself, she had effectively chummed the audience waters for teat-seeking sharks, making a harassment-free show impossible for our chick band.
I have no idea what she hoped to accomplish by stripping that night, as I never talked to her about the incident. Searching for her band on the Internet while writing this, I discovered that she later went on to start the second-ever live webcam on the Internet ... and got a boob job. I was disappointed to hear about the boob job, as I thought her smaller natural breasts were perfectly lovely. I wasn’t shocked to read that she had a webcam.
Because there is no place for my interpretation of her motivation within this story; I can only share how it made me feel inside, and that would be, in a word: dirty. If she’d gotten onstage topless, it would have been her decision, on her conditions, and would have bothered me less. But it wasn’t on her terms: She did as she was told and took off her shirt for the rude guys like an obedient little bitch. It made my authority issues tingle and raised my feminist hackles. And that’s what bothered me the most.
After the opening band finished, we got onstage and played our set. The expected amount of audience members shouted, “Take off your shirts!” A stripping precedent had been set before we even got on the stage, and we failed to live up to it.