There’s just something about a woman screaming in your face about sexual harassment and wage discrimination that’s bound to provoke some kind of reaction. Shawna Potter hasn’t long left the stage where she led unanimous chants of “Fuck Trump!” when, during our post-performance interview, a man approaches the War on Women singer to give his personal thanks.
“I love performing in front of people who’ve never seen us play before, because you can see that lightbulb moment where our music starts to make them think differently,” says Shawna. The man had never heard of the band before that night, but War on Women specialise in challenging the status quo through their unique strand of feminism. It is a perspective that is consciously and completely confrontational about trans-inclusive feminism and LGBTQ+ rights, something which is absent not only from the mainstream but from the punk and hardcore scene as well.
Tonight’s venue is The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich, and with its vehement zero tolerance policy towards any form of “racism, homophobia, transphobia or generally being a bullying dickhead” (see website), they couldn’t have picked a better band to amplify this message.
Given the confrontational nature of the name War on Women, I half-expected to see a room full of women that I probably wouldn’t speak to, despite being able to identify on some level of sisterhood and understanding. Instead, their audience was a healthy, almost perfectly designed reflection of their shared political ethos. In addition to the kind of woman I’d imagined (who wouldn’t look out of place in 1991 at International Pop Underground’s Girl Night), there were middle-aged dad rockers, gay people, straight people, trans-people of colour… Even the heavily bearded, exclusively male support bands sported War on Women t-shirts, and at one point joined in with the main show to scream the lyrics alongside the woman of the hour, Shawna Potter.
In the ten minutes I’m granted to speak to Shawna after the show, I ask her what she thinks about the current wave of pop feminism: “I have mixed feelings. I think that Beyoncé standing in front of a big bright light at the VMAs is a great vehicle for someone in a small town finding out about feminism, but it’s been taken away from its meaning. [Feminism] has become a buzzword rather than a movement.”
War on Women’s political ethos serves, in part, to highlight what they feel people are doing wrong, whether that be Beyoncé sending out misleading messages about feminism or Donald Trump spouting his unschooled political rhetoric. And while America might be far away, Shawna proved tonight that if you scream loud enough, people will hear. As the chants of “Fuck Trump!” rumbled throughout the venue, it became clear that War on Women’s own messages were resonating with the crowd. Rest assured, I joined in wholeheartedly.
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Cover photo by Bradley James Allen