A music festival without cisgender men?
That was the aim of what’s being called the world’s first music festival exclusively for women and transgender and nonbinary people, which began on Friday in Gothenburg, Sweden. The event, called the Statement festival, runs through Sunday, and it has an unequivocal message:
Safe Space. No cisgender men allowed. (Cisgender people are those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Nonbinary people say their gender cannot be defined as “man” or “woman” and may fluctuate between the two.)
The idea of the festival was to make a statement after a wave of episodes of sexual harassment at other festivals in Sweden, including allegations of rape and 23 sexual assaults at the country’s biggest music festival, Bravalla, which was canceled this year because organizers could not guarantee a safe environment.
The concept sprang from a tweet by the Swedish comedian and radio host Emma Knyckare that richoceted around Sweden. “What do you think about us putting together a very cool festival where only non-men are welcome and that we host until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?” Ms. Knyckare posted on Twitter in July 2017.
Her rallying cry struck a chord with artists and festivalgoers who said that they had experienced different forms of sexual harassment at festivals and concerts and that it was time to stand up against the vile behavior.
Tami T, a 32-year-old electropop musician from Gothenburg, who is transgender, was one of the first acts booked, she said in a telephone interview on Saturday morning. “I was really happy when they asked. It was a good way to bring up the debate about what happens in other festivals,” she added.
She said that she used to go to festivals when she was 16 and 17, and that a lot of unpleasant “sexual things” happened.
Stina Velocette, 35, another musician scheduled to perform at the festival, said in a phone interview, “All of the girls that I play with have experienced different kinds of negative stuff at clubs and festivals.”
“You cannot relax; you don’t feel safe,” she added. “You have to hold your keys in your hand like a weapon. You have to hold your cellphone in your hand ready to call the police.”
She said she expected the Statement festival to feel like a “safe zone” where she wouldn’t have to worry about facing sexism because all the technicians would be women.
On Saturday at the Banana Pier, where the event was held (so named because decades ago it was where the fruit arrived by boat), guests made their way into the festival past a bar and a tattoo stand. Peels of laughter could be heard from women bouncing on an inflatable jumping castle. Clusters of festivalgoers lounged in a pink carpeted seating area at the center of the festival. Giant pillows were seen in several spots, as people sat around, laughing, drinking and listening to music emanating from one of the two stages.
Saga Becker, a 29-year-old transgender actress wearing a baseball cap and two nose rings, waxed lyrical about the atmosphere, waving an arm for emphasis.
“There are no men screaming or threatening me as a trans person,” she said. “There’s no violence here. No fights. That is so revolutionary in so many ways.”
Asked what she thought about the many heterosexual and gay cisgender men who wanted to attend but felt discriminated against, Ms. Becker, thought for a moment and said, “Actually, I don’t care at all, because I have been so afraid all of my life that I don’t care about their disappointment.”
Several men and at least one woman have complained about the exclusionary aspect of the festival to the Swedish Equality Ombudsman, prompting an investigation into whether prohibiting men violated the country’s Discrimination Act.
“We found that this was in part a new phenomenon,” said Clas Lundstedt, a spokesman for the ombudsman, referring to the fact that the festival organizers had not expressed an intention to attract a particular group but had instead chosen to exclude a particular group.
“We felt that it was in our interest and within our mandate to carry out an investigation to see if what they are doing is legal according to the Discrimination Act,” Mr. Lundstedt said in a phone interview. “When we do an investigation of this kind, we are not presuming that it is discrimination,” he added.
He said the investigation was continuing.
Addressing the complaints to the equality ombudsman and the men who feel discriminated against, Ms. Knyckare said on Saturday: “Not all men are rapists and almost all rapes are done by men. We can’t know who is a rapist. By having this festival, we don’t have to look over our shoulders.”
Women at the festival seemed to revel in the freedom of a newfound safe zone and to enjoy not having to worry about drinking too much or sending the wrong signal.
“This is not what society really looks like, but it’s fun to experience it for 12 hours,” said Louise Withalisson, a 24-year-old student who was waiting in front of a small vintage camper with colored lights that was offering to tell fortunes. She added, “I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have separatist spaces.”
Her friend Malin Marklund, a 26-year-old high school teacher, noted the “comfortable sound level,” “good feeling” and unusual sense of safety.
“I have experienced an unpleasant situation with a group of men once so as soon as I’m in a situation that reminds me of that I feel unsafe,” she said, smiling. “I haven’t felt unsafe here once, and I often do, walking around town.”
Matilda Hedelin, who said she was there to see the singer-songwriter Frida Hyvonen, chimed in. “I think a lot of women make room for men without thinking about it, stepping aside,” she said. “Here, no one does that.”
Festival organizers were vague about how they were monitoring the festival to make sure the audience they wanted was the audience they got.
“We have a different security plan that is a little different than other festivals. It’s a little tricky,” Ms. Knyckare said, adding, “I can’t say.”
But she stressed: “Everybody is taking care of each other here. There is something special that happens when there are not cis men around. I think it’s a powerful thing that can lead to something good in the end.”
The festival booked female headliners and nonbinary artists, but at least one cisgender man was in a band, organizers said.
Among the crowd was Charlie Sjogren, 32, a priest with the Swedish Church. Asked why he was at the festival, he replied: “Safety. Freedom. Unity.”
Mr. Sjogren said that he transitioned almost two years ago and that the difference in how he is treated as a male priest was stunning.
“People listen to me so much more,” he said. “When I was perceived as a female, they were judging me and offering me advice. I can see the change of power. But it is false privilege.”
Although he has been targeted and beaten up for being a transgender man, he feels safer now, he said.
“You don’t have to be on your watch, look around you. Now I’m perceived as a threat,” he said. “But I have 28 years’ experience being afraid.”