The Manchester Bombing Was An Act Of Terrorizing Girlhood

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This should have been a safe space for girls

I didn’t grow up in a very religious home. Concerts are where I know to worship. Joy, to me, in its most potent form, feels like expelling lyrics loudly at a stage. It feels like the rattle of drums in my bones. At concerts, I learned to find communion with strangers. I learned to be grateful for the sorrow and scars and coming of age from which great music is born. The performers are more preachers than deities, though we meet them with godly reverence.  When we’re lucky, the artist is a young woman.

At thirteen, Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams was my theologian, and the band’s album Riot! guided me through the hell that is middle school. On Riot!, Williams asserts herself against those who have wronged her and stands up for those who have been wronged. While other girls so often felt like they were my enemies during that time, at Paramore’s Philadelphia show, a sea of adolescent women and I were enamored with Hayley, and by extension with each other. I spent the concert with an older cousin and slim stranger, a girl a few years my senior with dozens of shows under her belt. Still, despite her experience, she oozed bliss, unfazed. We, what seemed like the lone black girls, thrashed and sang with our white counterparts about conquered crushes and broken hearts, about getting even and growing up.

If that communion would have been halted by a bomb’s detonation, it would have ripped through my soul—even if I had the fortune of surviving. Which is why my heart hangs heavy for the thousands that sought sanctuary at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena show Monday night. It bleeds for the 22 who did not survive, the nearly 60 wounded, and for the parents who, like my own did over and over again, sent their well-loved daughters and their hard-earned money to a place of joy. Terror ripped through a venue dotted by whimsical pink balloons and commanded by unapologetic femininity.

On Twitter, MTV’s Taylor Trudon lamented that it was “heartbreaking to think of all the people --especially excited, empowered teen girls -- whose lives have been changed forever. Concerts are one of the few safe spaces where teen girls can feel validated [and] part of a community.”

Ariana Grande’s music and persona are especially remarkable given many of her fans have likely grown up with her. Her transition from a young actress portraying a sweet and quirky character navigating teen tribulations on Nickelodeon’s Victorious to a powerhouse vocalist exploring her sexuality on her album Dangerous Woman is one that may have mirrored those of the girls in the audience.

So often, this metamorphosis is met with insecurity, with resistance, with violence. Teen girls that inhabit changing bodies are sexualized and sexed upon without their permission. There is value in having a soundtrack to that transition, in having a star that says “it’s okay, what you’re feeling. It’s okay, how you’re changing.” There is value in sharing space with her. To have another kind of violence meet them in a space meant for them to celebrate their rights to love and to themselves is, indeed, heartbreaking.

A concert, a place meant to embody everything good about the world, instead replicated its darkest elements. The attack decimated countless families and left one unapologetic young star “broken,” apologizing for something completely out of her control, as women too often do.

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Mankaprr Conteh
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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