I’m not the most active fan of Country music. I grew up listening to country radio stations driving around with my father while he irrigated fields, worked on farm equipment and harvested crops. I stopped listening around high school when I got really into being against everything my parents liked and everything the small town I lived in was about. Recently I’ve “gone back to my roots” in a sense, choosing to write my feminist studies honors thesis on women in rural areas, choosing to focus on farming and farm workers in my photo class, and I’ve found myself listening to a lot more country music, by need and by choice.

I went to the annual Country Thunder music festival in Florence, Arizona last weekend with my best friend from high school in part because I wanted to, in part because I wanted to do a little “field” research for my thesis, and in part because I knew regardless of whether I had fun, I would have entertaining stories for years to come. Headliners for the festival included Eric Church, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum, and over 25,000 drunk rednecks converged at Hope Ranch to drink, celebrate America, support the troops, and listen to some of the biggest names in country music.

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Pictured above: Two festival-goers stand on top of a truck and hold flags – the American flag with 13 stars on the left, a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on the right – while Aaron Lewis performs his single Country Boy

On the daily I heard a variation of the phrase “that’s so gay” almost every 20 minutes. I noticed more and more how women are usually portrayed in country music as an accessory, an object. Everyone took pride in the troops and their country, many proudly waving flags touting their support or involvement in the army or marines, and openly praising song lyrics like “I love my country, I love my guns, I love my family/I love the way it is now, and anybody that tries to change it/Has to come through me, that should be all our attitudes/’cause this is America”
photo (1) Pictured above: festival-goers hold a variety of pro-America or pro-troops flags during a photo-op at Country Thunder

But overall I noticed that these people go about their daily lives and they legitimately don’t think they’re hurting anyone. They can’t see how their homophobic, sexist, and racist remarks are harmful, because those people aren’t around them. During a conversation with a man at a campsite, he said “Your boyfriend, or girlfriend if that’s what you’re into, that’s cool too,” and I was shocked that phrase was coming from the same mouth that 20 minutes earlier was yelling at his friend “dude you’re so gay!” I didn’t really understand how this person could say he’s ok with me maybe being a lesbian, but use such excluding and harmful language?

How do we tackle talking to people who are doing things that are harmful to others, when they don’t entirely see that they’re harming someone without physically touching them? Especially when it’s in a place where those groups aren’t really visible?

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