A clear homage to Kathleen Hannah and Bikini Kill, The Dollhouse proudly displays a homemade sign that reads “Girls To The Front,” above the venue’s house drum kit. The sign, as edgy, feminist and punk as it is, is hardly a surprise; The Dollhouse is one of Chicago’s only venues exclusively run by female-identified folks.
“I want, especially the women, especially the people of color, especially queer people to feel like their safety is our number one priority,” said 22-year-old Serena Fath, a founder and current organizer of The Dollhouse. “I know most of the world doesn’t really care, but we do.”
Fath said safe spaces prohibit entry to those who assert or promote oppressive behavior. The recent change is more in the discussion of safe venues rather than the existence of safe space mentalities, as a result of underrepresented folks in underground scenes growing frustrated by the unspoken nature of DIY etiquette.
The Dollhouse, along with several other Chicago DIY venues, has recently adopted intersectional feminist principles with the help of the Feminist Action Support Network (FASN). FASN is an organization that is currently “working to address sexual and gendered violence in Chicago’s music, DIY, art and literary scenes.” One of the ways they address issues surrounding oppressive behavior and violence is by providing guidelines that spaces can adopt in order to become “safe spaces.”
Some punks from slightly older generations, however, argue that DIY venues have always been a place for oppressed folks to feel welcomed.
“When I was a lot younger – like in my early teens – and I was going to shows at DIY venues, there definitely is this like… I don’t know… a punk way of thinking, which includes kind of being vocal about a safe space,” Miranda Winters, 29, the singer of local noise rock band, Melkbelly, said.
FASN offers three flexible definitions of safe spaces, which provide guiding principles for DIY spaces to maintain safety from harmful behavior – such as violence, harassment and violation of consent – and oppressive behavior – including “any action that perpetuates racism, misogyny, heterosexism, transphobia and other systemic oppressions through antagonism, silencing, intimidation or coercion.”
“What does it mean then that we’re like now existing in a place where we have to say it out loud and it’s not just insinuated, where it’s not sort of like an intuitive thing?” Winters said.
They also mediate “accountability processes” to those accused of oppressive behavior, and offer the chance for people to apologize and own up to their actions. Failure to comply results in prohibited entry to the venue.
Fath and other feminist folks consider this approach to be the antithesis of how the American prison system works. Rather than permanently banning oppressive people, they offer a chance for change.
“Every person is just a person,” Fath said. “Sometimes people do (bad) stuff. They have it in them to be a person.”
However, The Dollhouse also has their reservations on the strategy, since most respond to the accountability process angrily and with disdain.
This level of organized intolerance to oppressive behavior is something the punk world has yet to see. Clearly, influences of the Riot Grrrl movement are heavily weaved in, but it goes beyond white cisgender – those whose gender assignment at birth agree with their individual experiences – women’s issues as well.
“I think it’s cool that (feminist punk) is being looked at a little more intensely and that it is progressing,” Winters said. “It’s starting to… invite other people to the conversation. It’s evolving into something kind of new and better.”