Punk band Screeching Weasel breaks up after frontman punches two women at SXSW

Ben Weasel (Foster) stands on stage in front of a crowd

*Trigger warning.*

Ah, South by Southwest. The two week-long interactive conference and festival is well known for its music, technology, film, parties, and….violence against women?!

Sigh.

Last week during a show at SXSW last week, Screeching Weasel frontman Ben Weseal (real name Ben Foster) punched two female audience members in the face.

And late last night, the four other member of the band issued a heartfelt resignation, condemning their frontman’s actions, including his violence on stage, as “shameful and embarrassing”.

I wish I could say I was more surprised that this hasn’t gotten much attention.

According to L Magazine, the altercation started when a woman near the stage reportedly threw an ice cube at him. Then things got ugly:

Weasel, real name Foster, angrily leapt off the stage and unleashed a wild right-hand punch that clearly, frighteningly, landed squarely on her face. A second woman, reportedly the owner of the venue, quickly stepped in, and then Weasel punched her, too—first in the chest, and then in the side.

There is video, but it is violent and as L Magazine warns, hard to watch.

Ben Weasel (Foster) sings into a mic on stage

As if this couldn’t get worse, according to Punk News, the woman who spit at him was herself provoked by his “misogynistic rantings.”

I’m really disturbed to hear about this incident. It is hard enough for women to feel comfortable and welcome attending music shows and festivals without male performers literally doing violence unto them.

There’s no doubt that we need more music spaces that feel safe and open for women, especially given the speckled history of gender-inclusiveness at SXSW and stuff like it. Feministing has had a presence at SXSW in the past, and Ann and Samhita have spoken candidly about their experiences as women at the event.

But it wasn’t all bad. Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon attended this year and notes that “every act I saw worth really writing about was female-led or even all female. And, more importantly to my feminist heart, this wasn’t something I really noticed until I was uploading the pictures to Flickr. It’s becoming normalized for women to be in leadership roles in music.” For a slightly more positive take on some of the feminist-friendly goings-on at SXSW, check out more of Amanda Marcotte’s coverage over at Pandagon.

h/t Amanda Burden

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31 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Punching a woman is NOT punk rock!

  2. Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I’m glad the band resigned. I think all too often shit like this goes without ANY repercussions. Of course, he should face legal action too, but on the artistic/professional front of his life, this is what needs to happen.

    I would add that this story did get local news attention here in Austin. I learned about it because the SXSW people have a meeting w/ the city and police to see how this (and some other really horrible things that went down this year) can be avoided and better handled in the future.

  3. Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    To me, the saddest thing about this video is that after he is detained by the security folks, he gives the crowd a double thumbs up – AND THEY CHEER FOR HIM. Women and men alike. That part really got to me.

    • Posted March 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, people in the back probably couldn’t see exactly what happened. All they might have seen was a punk legend being taken off the stage. And Screeching Weasel is indeed a legendary band.

  4. Posted March 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    She was spitting at him and throwing ice at him for the entire show, and he asked her multiple times to stop. As a feminist, I believe that women should be treated equally so I don’t think what he did was wrong, inappropriate yes, but he warned her and this wouldn’t have been a big deal if it was a man.

    • Posted March 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      So punching is tantamount to gobbing and ice? There was no alternative, not throwing the ice back or anything else? There was nothing equal about this form of retaliation. And the second woman, the owner of the club, from what I could see was simply trying to break things up when they got out of control, as a venue owner should take responsibility for – what was the justification for punching her?

      I hadn’t known this didn’t get much attention – I’ve seen a lot of links to it and discussion amongst my friend, including one woman who opted not to go to a show she’d planned to (this was before the rest of the band announced their resignation). We live in a mainstream world where people make jokes when Chris Brown beats up a woman but are scandalized when he punches a window. Let’s not start making excuses for a wannabe GG (like one wasn’t enough) in the non-mainstream.

    • Posted March 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      As a feminist, I believe that no one deserves or should have to endure violence. Full stop.

      The goal of my feminism isn’t to be equal to men in realms where men are treated poorly, but to better everyone’s situation. The obviously solution was to have security remove her from the show.

      I honestly can’t believe you just advocated for a woman getting punched.

  5. Posted March 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading Feministing for some time now, and count myself a very enthusiastic fan. Apologies in advance for the long first-ever-post.

    I’ve been a fan of Screeching Weasel for going on 16 years. I’ll probably have a hard time listening to them after this.

    That being said, I think the analysis of this story is flawed, and its inclusion in its current form on this otherwise fantastic blog is inappropriate.

    It’s my understanding that Ben Weasel suffers from mental health issues, and things kind of “get to him.” I share that problem with him. Unfortunately, Ben probably should have stayed home. His return to the national stage after a long absence was probably ill-advised, and isn’t doing him any favors. He’s not gotten himself into an indefensible position, and please remember that I make no excuse for his behavior. His attack was out of proportion, and he was not defending himself.

    His actions are and were NOT however, the following:

    A. An example of “violence against women.”

    B. A story.

    Each and every rock and roll musician who takes the stage knows what it’s like to be subjected to treatment that one would never, ever encounter on the street. Somehow, holding an instrument or microphone makes it open season on performers. This is unfortunate, but we know it. It’s our responsibility to keep our urges to retaliate in check. That being said, the person who was struck first was clearly also behaving in an indefensible manner. She made a choice to show up and abuse the band. This is antagonistic behavior, and if I were to do it, I would expect that I would be at an increased risk of being hit. Seriously. No question. I’m male. For better or for worse, we know that’s how we’re “supposed” to behave.

    But why then is this a story? Ben Weasel hits women? No. Ben Weasel hit a heckler who threw things at him. Would we really, honestly prefer that he held back his (again, indefensible) attack because “it’s a girl?” I know we’re beyond that, aren’t we? If Ben Weasel wanted to engage in “violence against women,” then he could have, and would have started hitting women a long time ago. He’s certainly encountered enough miserable behavior in his career that this can’t be the first time a women has been abusive toward him. No. This is “violence against hecklers.” Unless we’re going to start claiming privilege for women who go to see punk bands, we probably shouldn’t be labeling this as a gender-based attack.

    Seriously. This cis white male has been marching for reproductive rights since he was about seven years old. He studied gender sexuality. He knows how much more sexism, racism, homophobia, and fear goes into our cultural experience than even the most observant of us are willing to acknowledge. This incident is not rooted in gender. We’ve got bigger fish to fry

    • Posted March 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      “Unless we’re going to start claiming privilege for women who go to see punk bands, we probably shouldn’t be labeling this as a gender-based attack.”

      I completely agree. This is getting into the sort of region where any violence against a woman is getting turned into ‘violence against women.’

      I don’t know enough about this guy to guess if he was spewing misogynistic rantings. I’m kinda curious. Maybe that could change the tone of the situation.

    • Posted March 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this story really does seem to be somewhat incorrectly framed. This was an example of an over-the-top, inappropriate and violent response: that’s the issue. The fact that it was perpetrated against a woman isn’t particularly relevant, so framing this as an example of misogyny is off-base.

      I’m not seeing any compelling reason to believe that the gender of any of the involved parties was relevant to what happened.

    • Posted March 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Either way, thanks for the mansplain. That’s always fresh and original. (Not.)

      • Posted March 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        How exactly is this “mansplaining”? I was under the impression that mansplaining was when dudes condescendingly explained something with the assumption that they must be right because they’re men. A dissenting opinion from a man is not necessarily mansplaining, and leveling that accusation in a trivial fashion is eye-rollingly unhelpful. It’s on the same level as accusing everyone who disagrees with you of being a troll.

        • Posted March 25, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          It’s not mansplaining because he disagrees. It’s mansplaining because of the officious tone he takes, and his last paragraph about how “This cis white male has been marching for reproductive rights since he was about seven years old. He studied gender sexuality. He knows how much more sexism, racism, homophobia, and fear goes into our cultural experience than even the most observant of us are willing to acknowledge” sounds like he considers himself some kind of final arbiter of what is worth our discussion and what is not. Wow, Benjamin, you know a lot about this stuff. Let’s give you a medal.

          Of course people are going to disagree with whether or not this was gender-based violence, and yeah, a discussion about it is great. But to come along and be like, “*I* say this is not sexist, therefore it should never have even been posted here” is mansplaining.

          • Posted March 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            “This cis white male has been marching for reproductive rights since he was about seven years old. He studied gender sexuality. He knows how much more sexism, racism, homophobia, and fear goes into our cultural experience than even the most observant of us are willing to acknowledge”

            I was assuming that he was talking about Ben Weasel here, not himself (though a quick googling didn’t turn up any indication to support this).

            If the quoted paragraph is Benjamin M describing himself in the third person, I absolutely retract my criticism of your comment; that would absolutely be mansplaining.

    • Posted March 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Uh-huh. Have a mental health diagnosis of my own, fronted two NYC punk bands in my time. Still not buying that a)a heckler can’t be handled without punching them and b)the second woman, who is reported to have been the owner of the venue can also be labeled a heckler.

  6. Posted March 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    ben weasel and chris brown should start a side project called “the douchebags.”

  7. Posted March 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi to everyone, this being my introductory post.
    I personally believe, apart from the fact that Ben’s attitude was way beyond appropriate, that in a setting like concerts, the responsability of everyone’s safety (or may I say, to prevent accidents like this to happen) is the security crew, which obviously failed here to do a good job. I mean, if this girl was “throwing ice cubes” for a while, they could have put her out. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for such “reaction”.
    I read also some comments of the youtube video, and I am truly horrified by the tone and the content of some of them. Do some people really believe that they can justify such dumb gesture with hiding behind the concept of punk culture? Sad.

  8. Posted March 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Since I wasn’t there, all I have to go on is 44 seconds of video, most of which is aftermath. What I see there is that the singer did not jump off the stage. He took a swing (I assume at the woman in the crowd) from the stage. He took a very ineffectual swing at the woman on stage whom I presume was the club owner.

    Hard to watch? Hardly.

    Hard to listen to the cheers at the end, but I doubt that those who were cheering really knew what was going on. Just drunk patrons.

    If the woman in the audience was harassing the singer, as someone wrote, then security should have done its job. The singer should have called for security. Or he should have left the stage. He made poor decisions. I don’t want to see anyone get hit, female or male. It’s supposed to be about the music.

    This is a story, but it’s not this story.

  9. Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    I must agree that some of this is misframed. I wasn’t there, but a good friend of mine with excellent judgement was.

    His actions are indefensible. This is a case of rage and frustration allowed to get well out of hand. He should not have reacted that way, but on the same end I can’t feel as if the girl involved is that much of a victim.

    As I understand it, this entire set was incredibly hostile towards the band. Things had been thrown at the stage for quite awhile and just prior to this recording the front man had someone’s beer poured all over him.

    You shouldn’t be surprised when you harass someone into reacting. As I understand it, this is a case of a musician who was getting too into things and who should have just left the stage mid act. He was looking for a fight with the very next person who did anything to him and it really didn’t matter *who* it was. People do crazy things when they get put under heavy stress, and this is definitely a case of that.

    • Posted March 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      “You shouldn’t be surprised when you harass someone into reacting.”

      So she was asking for it?

  10. Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s a point that’s been brought up a few times, but if each person in the front row is equally likely to be male or female, then if a person punches two people at random, then there is a 25% chance of both people being women. That evidence, by itself, is not statistically significant in terms of proving hatred of women.

    What is of greater interest is the allegation of Weasel using “misogynistic rantings.” It is a serious allegation, but with it coming from a woman who reportedly spit on him, it is also a charge that comes with self-interest. Even if those allegations are accurate, this individual had a hand turning unwarranted moderate misogyny into weakly-warranted hardcore misogyny. Even though his step up in behavior is undeniably excessive, her provocation does constitute behavior that provides the frontman a defense (a very weak one in terms of using violence, but a more significant one in terms of him being sexist since her actions provided objective grounds for retaliation).

    It is also a little interesting to note that he offered this quote before this incident: “I’m embarrassed to be playing it… I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this debacle. It’s a paid vacation for rock critics and industry hacks and we’re the suckers who provide the free entertainment.” Based off the Wikipedia description of the event, his perception is not grossly inaccurate, and in addition to not receiving desirable compensation, these performers and those in the audience may lack some of the respect for each other that is necessary for their good function (this goes for performers and audience members alike). Some entertainers may be able to work in that format, but it is not for everyone. Some may feel like they are selling themselves out by accommodating the industry or the establishment by performing at such an event. I think it is somewhat telling that this guy was so fiercely against participating when the rest of his band had strong opinions the other way (if the rest of the band was ambivalent, they probably would have stayed away). Should a band with members with such a philosophical difference exist in the first place? It seems like the perfect hindsight question to ask, because the events that transpired conveniently suggest an answer of “no,” particularly since the offender was the person most out of their element. But we are working in hindsight with a biased sample (we don’t have an appropriate tally of when things go anywhere from “well” to “somewhat bad” for bands where members have those kinds of differences).

    I just don’t see enough evidence (direct quotes, objective descriptions) to prove that sexism is a (primary) reason for the events that transpired. Even though the outcome and possible implications are severe, it is not fair to take shortcuts when it comes to burden of proof (it’s not like any uncertainty of sexism is going to take away from the certainty of his violence). In fact, something more suggestive of sexism is the quote:

    “every act I saw worth really writing about was female-led or even all female.”

    …although there exists a number of defenses of various qualities that can mitigate the sexism of the statement: dumb luck, small sample size, a nuanced explanation of why she feels all the attention-worthy male bands happened to have already received their deserved coverage, and the possibility that the idea of “I saw worth really writing about” refers specifically to what she feels most qualified to write about (versus who she feels is deserving for anyone to write about). But clearly in the author’s case, the stakes are much lower.

  11. Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Given that it doesn’t seem that he hit his two victims _because_ they were women, how exactly is this any different than it would be if they were men? If some guy spit on a woman and she then decked him, I think most people here would be applauding. Punching the person who tried to break it up is BS, though.

  12. Posted March 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Foster’s actions are defensible at all. It doesn’t matter that
    -it was a concert setting
    -Foster was in a bad mood
    -Foster didn’t want to do the show
    -Foster felt disrespected by the audience
    etc.

    It really sucks that the audience was being disrespectful. And yes, the first woman he punched was being obnoxious by throwing things at him/ spitting at him/ etc. However, that doesn’t warrant a punch to the face. That warrants a “security, please remove this woman.” The fact that Foster’s a veteran musician only confirms that he should know enough to deal with hecklers in the correct way by now, not that he has the right to start punching people because he feels agitated. The “eye for an eye” school of thought doesn’t hold much water in, you know, a functioning society.

    The reason that violence against women is an issue is that historically, violence has been used against women as a form of oppression. The way I see it, it’s similar to the reasoning behind hate crime legislation. It may be “the same crime,” as one you could commit against a member of a dominant group, but there is a separate meaning behind committing an act of violence against a historically oppressed group. There is reason to be especially critical of such crimes because, put simply, we don’t want to regress to a time when such acts were acceptable.

    At least, that’s how I understand it. Hopefully, that makes sense. The reasons behind it are a lot more complex than “you shouldn’t punch women because it’s unchivalrous,” or whatever.

  13. Posted March 25, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    here is another video (starts at about 2:50) from right before the fight where ben weasel says he cant hit a girl and offers girls in the audience $20 to beat her up for him.

    also offers such gems as “i tell you what, i havent whipped my dick out in about twenty years but i’m on the verge of doing it just so, just so the fucking skanky wench who threw a beer at me could come up and suck on it. just so she can delicately lick my taint”

    apparently a second girl throws an ice cube after this and he calls her to get her “skanky whore ass” on stage so he can beat her up.

    you know what, we can agree that perhaps people shouldnt throw shit at bands.

    but perhaps influential bands shouldnt encourage audience members to beat up women for money. and maybe these same band members shouldnt instantly jump to calling women skanks and whores for doing something that so many MEN do to bands on the reg. and because it was a lady who did this, and not a dude, obviously that means she should submit to you sexually? because any woman who does anything wrong to you is instantly a whore skank slut etc? and you say this to a scene where the majority are men? and then you beat her?

    why are you people sympathizing with this jackass again?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOXuvbT0eUo&feature=player_embedded#at=147

    • Posted March 26, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink

      When you say “why are you people sympathizing with this jackass again?” you should clarify the antecedent to your pronoun. If you take offense to someone, make it clear who you are and aren’t talking about, because it does affect the flavor of your argument. In my particular case, I have tried to choose my words carefully based off the information available to me, and yet I can’t tell if I am a part of your “you” attack. Heck, I don’t even know if *you* know, or if you are reacting to some people you feel are saying that thing and a bunch of other people perhaps saying something similar even though there are essential differences.

      A problem with this post is that, before your comment, no one had provided substantial evidence that the behavior was driven by misogyny. The premises were true, the conclusion was true, but the argument was invalid. People can have weird reactions to invalid arguments. Some people will take the conclusion unchallenged (perhaps understandably in case they actually knew of evidence not included in the article, or perhaps on faith just because the writer was trusted). Other people identified the invalid argument and thus did not accept the conclusion: people tend to have a complicated reaction to rejected conclusions — at times people may overreact and assume the opposite, but the logical meaning of rejecting a conclusion is “we cannot agree with the conclusion based on the evidence presented, but we can accept it later if the evidence available in sufficient to support the conclusion.”

      You have done something important for this article: you actually provided evidence that Weasel’s behavior behavior was misogynistic. By combining your evidence with the original post, you make the article a valid one. As such, we skeptics can actually believe the main conclusion. Thank you.

      As for the notion that people are defending the guy, depending on who you are charging with that action, that can be a misleading framing of what people are saying. When I discuss contributors to the violent act (and based on the evidence available to me now, we have the frontman’s violent disposition, stress leading up to the event, misogyny, and a little physical provocation), it’s not as if #2 and #4 make the guy anywhere near blameless. That much mainly just shows he did not attack in “cold blood.”

    • Posted March 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      “Here is another video (starts at about 2:50)”

      http://www.youtube.com/user/1337Freez#p/u/3/xOXuvbT0eUo

      Actually, try going back to 2:20, where he first starts to address the disrespect of people throwing beer on him and asks who did it . A girl fesses up and he says

      “oh, it’s a girl, I can’t beat up a girl, is there another girl who will beat her up, I’ll give you 20 bucks”.

      As there was no takers, and security didn’t do anything to this girl, he proceeded to heckle her back. This is what people are calling misogynistic banter? A guy cussing out some twit that threw beer on him is “misogynistic banter”? As he never spoke about women in particular (other then he can’t beat up a girl), I can hardly call it misogynistic to insult a specific person, unless the definition of misogyny has changed to be “any speech that isn’t prostrating oneself to the uterus”.

      As to the girl who threw icecubes (multiple) and hit him in the face, he didn’t know it was a girl until after he had told whoever it was, he didn’t care who, that he was going to beat them up. She accepted that challenge by coming up to the stage. He did nothing wrong 9especially considering the club was doing nothing to protect him from people flinging icecubes to the face, unless people are prepared to claim that women should be treated as children, able to hit and spit and not need suffer any consequences for it. If she didn’t want to get in a fight with this singer, she shouldn’t have thrown the icecubes, and certainly shouldn’t have come forward when he went looking for the culprit.

      Equality doesn’t mean being treated differently. Many feminists don’t seem to get this fact though, which is why it’s clear feminism has never been about equality. You want to be treated like a guy, don’t complain when you pick a fight and actually do get treated like a guy. This would not have been “inappropriate behaviour had the person punched been a man, and you all know it.

      As to the second woman he punched… He had already been assulted by two women, and when a third jumped on him, I don’t blame him for not hesitating. Once he realized who it was, he seemed to back down. But if she was the club owner, she should have been coming to HIS aid after being assaulted with icecubes, not waiting until he took matters into his own hands and then holding it against him. She, as club owner (or bouncer) is responsible for the bands safety first.

  14. Posted March 25, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “This is getting into the sort of region where any violence against a woman is getting turned into ‘violence against women.’”

    Laodamia, it should be that way. It’s kind of a tautology. It’s like complaining that abusing a puppy is considered “puppy abuse.”

    “He warned her” from Rae– The implications of that excuse means that any woman must shut her mouth when a man threatens violence. You can’t hit people because you warned them.

    This is not original, but I wanted to make a noise to tilt the conversation towards the side of not hitting people. All the subtle justifications bugged me.

    • Posted March 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Laodamia, it should be that way. It’s kind of a tautology. It’s like complaining that abusing a puppy is considered “puppy abuse.”

      I think it’s this assumption of tautology is precisely what people are disagreeing with. The term “violence against women” has a more precise connotation than simply “any act of violence where the victim is female.” It is (I think) commonly accepted to mean acts of violence targeted against women as a class, or violence targeted at someone because they are a woman.

      The puppy abuse analogy doesn’t really hold water. This situation would be more comparable to an arsonist burning down a house that happened to contain a puppy. We wouldn’t refer to that as “puppy abuse” even though the arson caused suffering to an animal, and we wouldn’t make the implied claim that the purpose of the arson was to hurt puppies.

      In short, we can condemn someone’s inappropriate actions without assigning inaccurate ideological motivations to those actions.

    • Posted March 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      “The implications of that excuse means that any woman must shut her mouth when a man threatens violence. ”

      No, the implications is that any PERSON who doesn’t want to get in a row with someone should not continue to provoke a fight after they have been warned. Men are just as susceptible to warnings as women, and so, women are just as capable of accepting the repercussions of ignoring those warnings. Equality doesn’t mean free reign to be as obnoxious as you choose without suffering consequences. Are you seriously suggesting that a woman should be able to do anything she wants to a man without fear of repercussion? (Are you an activist in the DV industry?)

  15. Posted March 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Some of the comments here are almost as cringe-inducing as the ones at Youtube. Equal rights, equal fights, amirite? He would have been a sexist NOT to hit her, amirite? She really was asking for it, amirite? He was asking to be spat on, amirite? Club owner shouldn’t have gotten involved, amirite?

    The whole conversation and general fuckery around this whole thing is amazing. Huge SW fan. Also have been going to shows for…eh…approaching 20 years. And have played in bands while female. You want to sit here and tell me it’s just a punk rock thing, and not a general hostility to women in “men’s spaces” thing, where men’s spaces = stage, crowd, or mosh pit? BULL. SHIT.

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