If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble?

Melody McDermott was brutally attacked on a tram in Manchester because she is a goth. She’s now recovering from a broken eye socket.

Four years ago, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster was walking through a Lancashire park at night with her boyfriend when they were beset upon by a group of teenage boys. The teens assaulted Robert Maltby first, then turned on Sophie when she tried to protect him. Robert recovered, but Sophie died of her injuries.

This was no isolated incident. Goths throughout the UK and America face bullying and assault on a regular basis, mostly because of their appearance. In greater Manchester, it happened again last month.

Melody McDermott was riding a tram with a male friend on Oct. 5 when a group of males began shouting at her. Without warning, they pushed her to the ground and one or more began stomping on her face. She was left with a broken eye socket, but is recovering. Her friend suffered a black eye.

After Lancaster’s death, many in the goth community rallied in favor of calling such attacks hate crimes — until then, a “hate crime” only included an attack based on race or sexual orientation. According to Wikipedia, In May 2009 the Justice Minister Jack Straw said while he could not change the law, he could amend the sentencing guidelines to require judges to treat an attack on a member of a subculture as an aggravating factor.

Although the Columbine High School shootings mistakenly convinced many that goths are aggressive, most are actually so pacifistic that they will not fight back when assaulted. Their combination of unusual appearance and unwillingness to hurt people unfortunately makes them vulnerable.

Since the attack on Melody, goths from all over the world have come forward to talk about members of the subculture as recurring targets for violence. “When is this hate and bullying going to end?” asked one woman. “My 9 year old gets picked on just ’cause she had brain cancer and me and her dad are goth.”

“This shows how important it is to class sub-culture to the list of hate crimes,” said another. “If they had beaten her for being gay/black/muslim they would get jail time for sure, but because she’s just a girl in black clothing, they will get off with a fine/community service. I am so sick of this.”

Unfortunately, such attacks leave others frightened: “Every time there’s a hate crime, I’m a bit more scared to go out. It’s shocking just how far some people will go. I’m scared to walk alone and I’m 20.”

But others championed Melody and wished her strength: “I hope Melody comes through this even stronger than before, and that she realises that they only hate because they don’t have the guts to express themselves like she has.”

What’s the solution here? Can we teach people not to bully and assault others just because they’re different? Should goths “tone it down” to make themselves less vulnerable?


18 responses to “If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble?

  1. In short by dressing Goth we are suggesting that there is something wrong with how anybody not dressed as a Goth looks. People react to this very subtle insult on their appearance on a very basic level, I believe that most do not even realise this, however the reaction is very often disproportionally aggressive towards the Goth. I am sure most of us have been asked on many occasions why we want to make ourselves “ugly” and the questioner has no idea what they have just done.

    I do not propose that we stop making this choice, in our western society we have the right to make this choice and I certainly am not going to stop, but we do need to challenge the belief that it is okay to beat up / kill someone because we do not like way they look. What the S.O.P.H.I.E campaign is trying to do is teach tolerance in schools and get the law changed so that if someone is beaten up for the way they look they are prosecuted for it being a hate crime which carries very heavy sentences, heavier than for grievous bodily harm (GBH) which is what you would be prosecuted under today.

    This immediately makes it a “hot potato” politically as our (I live the UK) prisons are already filled to bursting and it would mean a change in how we prosecute other GBH crimes such as football hooliganism as it means opposing fans beating each other up would become a hate crime under British law, it is my understanding that this was the reasoning of the Home Secretary at the time it was proposed that this should become a hate crime to reject it and prevent attacks on people for the way they are dressed being addressed as a hate crime.

  2. I don’t agree that by dressing Goth we are suggesting that there is something wrong with how anybody else looks. My clothes are not a commentary on other peoples fashion sense. It is an expression of me not them.

  3. Hi Eric, my husband would completely agree with you and I do understand that you are dressing in an aesthetic which you personally find pleasing, however it is an aesthetic that the majority of society does not find pleasing and therefore the majority of society see it as a subtle insult, it is they not you that have made the decision about this and it is upon this decision that they act. For some reason there is a section of our western society that think it is ok to react with extreme violence to what they believe to be an insult.

    • My mother faces a similar dilemma as she is a lesbian. Should she hang out her rainbow flag? Should she scrape off the bumper sticker from her car? Should she dare to hold hands with her partner? She could make life easier for herself if she didn’t but she would be lying to the world and making herself less happy for the sake of their bigotry. I would not have her do that and I will not hide myself either. It’s a risk I understand but life is full of those.

  4. The only way they win is by frightening us into hiding. If they hurt me, they hurt me as a goth. If I die from it, I am a ‘goth who died’ and they haven’t rid the world of one of us; if I survive, I still go on as a goth and their objective is failed again. BUT if I hide, if I disguise myself and go in the closet, they have won. They have truly taken one more goth off the streets. I won’t let them win.

    • Thanks, Althea. Do you think that’s their goal — to take goths off the streets? I wonder if it’s really that premeditated.

      • Hmm, that’s hard to answer. I don’t think they really think it through in that way, with a plan and a goal; but perhaps it’s a subconscious motive. Obviously just seeing a goth in public sets them off enough to do terrible violence. I have to assume they’d rather never see goths. Or that they enjoy finding victims for their aggression – either way, knowing they intimidated someone into changing his or her whole life would be a powerful feeling.

    • I agree Alethea, no hiding. Except from the sun. 🙂

  5. the problem with people today is it’s easier to hate something than to understand it. I have been called everything under the sun and have been attacked a few times when i was younger and on many occasion been told to get a hair cut, grow up, change clothes etc.

    But as always i say NO will i change NO CHANCE i am 100% happy with my self the music i listen to, the way i dress, my attitude towards life etc YES

    If people don’t like the way i dress, my music tastes etc hard luck because this makes me happy.

    These days it’s all about the trend / the scene / fashion and everything else if your not a chav / blonde orange tanned women or you don’t follow the in thing your instantly regarded as worthless.

    If you don’t have a I-Phone your worth less which is really sad.

    The only way to stop your self from any sort of attack is follow what’s in the mainstream, copy everyone else, listen to what’s in the charts, dress how everyone is dressing.

    But then what about the people who want to do what they want, listen to what they want, dress how they want, eat what they want are they not allowed, is it wrong

    This is the problems everyone has to deal with and it’s not just goths.

  6. Personally, I don’t mind what other people want to wear, that is their own personal choice and being a Goth is mine. Why should Goths be made to feel they are wrong to exercise personal choice in what they choose to wear, listen to, or believe? I find it hard to believe, that other subcultures, see what we wear as an insult to them in any way. We may think this is the case, but frankly I would be impressed if they had the capacity to think of anything that subtle. If we allow other’s to intimidate us, then we give them power they have no right to over us. I have absolutely no intention of changing the way I am, not for them, or anyone else. They are not the only one’s with rights. If we don’t defend our rights, then Sophie Lancaster died in vain and that’s not an option.

  7. ok people need to chill out really goth is just a term nothing more. “goths” are still people humans not aliens. i’m known as a punk at my school i use to be label goth and kids at my school almost beat me up because i go to a jock school. they cant express themselves like we can.

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  12. Wow… things like this happening really do scare me. But when I dress Goth, I am wearing clothes that make me feel comfortable and happy; if I were to lock that away it would feel like losing a part of myself. I don’t think that dressing Goth is asking for trouble, but I do think it is asking for a misunderstanding to happen. I don’t think we should stop dressing like we do, but maybe we should start trying to me more open and forward about our subculture to more obviously defy the stereotypes of satanism and depression, etc…. but then again, there will always be hate out there.

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