So Kitten Forever has just finished a really good set. The crowd is transferring from standing in front of the Rebel Stage to the Storyheart Stage adjacent to watch White Lung. I’m far enough back that all I have to do is turn my body. But I’m not really digging White Lung, so I scan the crowd. Then I notice a man, his camera up in the air, zoomed in, but not on White Lung. He is zoomed in on the body of a woman 10 yards away.
I’m shocked. Am I really seeing this? Or am I misunderstanding the situation? No, he’s not a friend of the woman. He’s not taking a shot of her and her friend enjoying the band for their Instagram. They clearly do not know each other. He is taking a picture of her body without her consent.
My heart pounds because I’m uncomfortable knowing this thing is happening and that this thing is not okay and that no one seems to notice but me and that I don’t know what to do. I want to do something but I don’t know what.
I think some people might read this and think: what’s wrong with this? At Riot Fest, I saw people taking pictures of punks’ mohawks without asking their permission. I’ve personally taken pictures of people I didn’t know without asking and posted those pictures on social media. For example on the Taipei metro when people were wearing interesting shirts or hats, I’d snap a picture. Once there was a guy who looked just like the Taiwanese version of my friend so I took a creeper pic of him. The mere fact I refer to it as a creeper pic should indicate that it’s not okay, but our current vernacular has adopted phrases like “creeper” and “stalking” into everyday, light conversation.
Now, however, on the grass in front of the Storyheart Stage, watching this guy do this, my stomach turns. I know this is not okay. He walks around the crowd a bit. I debate what to do. I feel at minimum I should tell this woman what he did and then let her know I would help her if she wants to confront him or tell security. “Oh yeah, he’s been hovering around us for a while,” she says. But she doesn’t want to do anything about him and I don’t want to pressure her. “Thanks though,” she says and I walk off.
But I don’t let this slide. I follow him. I “stalk” him for what felt like twenty minutes but is probably more like two. He walks away from the Storyheart Stage and I trail him like a CIA agent following her mark. It’s evening, so I let the absence of sun make me feel concealed. I’m still not sure if I want to confront him. He isn’t much taller than me and he is a little pudgy. He walks with a limp. He is alone.
I’m not afraid he’ll physically hurt me. More so that he’ll try to assert that what he’s doing is okay, or that he’ll try to deny having taken any pictures of women, and he’ll blow me off and I’ll feel powerless.
I lose him for a few seconds in the crowd and when I find him again I resolve to say something.
His back is to me as I approach him. He turns once I’m within a yard of him, but not because he senses my presence, rather because two women walk by him and he takes this opportunity to turn and look at their backsides. His eyes shift from looking down at their butts to looking up in my eyes and we’re staring at each other.
“Hey dude. I saw you taking pictures of some women. You should delete those.”
His eyes widen and scan the surrounding area. There is no one around us. There I am, hiking boots, thick black thighs in high-waisted turquoise jean shorts, a denim button-up long-sleeve, and short hair. My shoulders are high and my feet and spread in the most intimidating posture I can muster. I am a badass bitch from top to bottom.
“Oh,” he says and then fumbles over his words. I hold my voice firm: “it’s not okay to take pictures of people without asking first. Delete those pictures now.” He’s clearly flustered and this just bolsters my confidence.
“Okay,” and he begins tapping on his Samsung screen. “I need to find the photo gallery…”
“Yeah, hard to find that gallery,” I say sarcastically. Then I continue: “Listen dude, if you want to take a picture of someone, just ask! People are nice. If they’re okay with having their picture taken they’ll say so. If they’re not, they’ll just say no.”
He’s still struggling to find that darn photo gallery when he asks: “Do you work here?” He doesn’t say it suspiciously, but it’s enough to worry me. I don’t want him doubting me and the legitimacy of what I’m saying.
“Yeah,” I say.
“No, I’m with the anti-sexual harassment group. We have a booth over by the vendors. #OurMusicMyBody.”
I had seen them the previous day and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I pulled that out of my ass. I continued: “Yeah dude, you can’t just take pictures of people without their consent. It’s against the festival’s anti-harassment policy.” I did not know if this was true or not, but later confirmed it is.
He finally pulled up the pictures and I watched as he deleted several grainy ass photos. He also deleted a photo of White Lung on stage and I was like: “Dude, you can take pictures of the bands. That’s okay. They’re performing.”
I don’t look through the gallery to make sure he deleted every picture, but I probably should’ve. He’s probably taken photos all day. Instead I trusted him when he said that was it. I stuck out my hand for a shake.
“Thank you dude,” I said with a smile. “What’s your name?”
And I turned and walked away, hyped on adrenaline.
This is an anecdote about proper bystander behavior. You’ll recall a recent example of bystanders – two men – chasing Brock Turner down an alley after they caught him sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Now you may think these two things – taking pictures of someone unknowingly and raping someone – are completely different, but they spring from the same poisoned well of consuming aspects of another person without their consent. That’s never okay.
Proper bystander behavior is if you see something, say something or do something. Even if it’s just telling a friend. You should never do something you don’t feel comfortable with. But you should take some action if you see something that’s not okay. If Mike had been with friends, or he’d been taller or more imposing, certainly if he appeared drunk, I probably wouldn’t have gone up to him. But I still would’ve told that woman, and I probably would’ve gone to the #OurMusicMyBody booth and told them about the guy I saw taking pictures. They would’ve known what to do or tell someone else who does.
The short of it is: We are not individuals in a vacuum, we all need to be there for one another. Less than 24 hours after confronting this dude, I was standing front row at the Sleater-Kinney show and Corin Tucker pretty much said the same thing, so you know, just f*cking do it!
Also DON’T TAKE PICTURES OF PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW WITHOUT ASKING THEM FIRST! This is the lesson that I learned from this experience.