As It Happens

Red Hot Chili Piper: A kilt is not an invitation for groping and upskirt photos

Scottish piper Willie Armstrong has a question for his female fans who think it's OK to peek, grope and snap photos under his kilt during performances: "How would you like it?"

'Why is it funny if that happens to a man, and it's absolutely appalling if it happens to women?'

When it comes to jokes about what a piper wears under his kilt, piper Willie Armstrong has heard them all — and he's done with pretending it's funny. (Red Hot Chili Pipers)

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Scottish piper Willie Armstrong has a question for his female fans who think it's OK to peek, grope and snap photos under his kilt during performances: "How would you like it?"

"How would you like it if some man had a camera phone on a selfie stick and he was continually taking photographs underneath your skirt or dress? I guarantee they wouldn't be very happy," Armstrong told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"I understand there's a uniqueness about what we do … I get that. But it still doesn't make it acceptable. It doesn't make it funny."

Armstrong, who plays bagpipe in the Scottish rock band The Red Hot Chili Pipers, says he experiences harassment and assault on "a weekly basis," and he's tired of the double-standard society has about his experiences.

Armstrong said many people treat it like it's a joke. But he is very adamant that touching him under his kilt without his consent is sexual assault, plain and simple. 

And the photos people take, he says, are a clear violation of Scotland's 2009 law against "upskirting," the practice of snapping surreptitious photos under someone's dress or skirt.

"And so I always thought, hold on just now, why is it funny if that happens to a man, and it's absolutely appalling if it happens to women?" he said.

"It's not because I'm a male chauvinist. The reason I'm doing this is if I bring this to everybody's attention, then surely that should benefit both sexes, because it's not acceptable if it happens to a man and it's certainly not acceptable if it happens to a woman."

Booze-soaked corporate events 

Over the course of his career, Armstrong says he's been touched, photographed and peppered with inappropriate questions about what he's wearing under his kilt.

He says he's even had women "come on stage and crawl on their backs" to get a better look up his kilt. 

Performing at a real music venue with security staff offers some protection, he said. But corporate gigs are a free-for-all. 

"If I walk into a room, I can tell you right there if it's going to be bad or good by the amount of drink that's flowing or the amount of females in the audience and the amount of inhibitions that are loosened. And I just think, oh, here we go," he said.

And when that dreaded moment finally comes, it's on him to figure out how to deal with it in the moment.

"If somebody then has put their hand upside your thigh, then you're faced with a moral dilemma," he said.

"What do I do? Stop playing the pipes and ruin the musical performance for the rest of the audience who seem to be enjoying it, so I can deal with this woman who thinks it's funny that she's got a hand up the back of my kilt or the front of my kilt?"

The Red Hot Chili Pipers are a Celtic rock band from Scotland. (Red Hot Chili Pipers)

Armstrong has had to make some changes to how he performs to protect himself, he said, including sporting a pair of bicycle shorts under his kilt. He's even considering leaving the kilt at home for good. 

The band used to wander down the aisles playing their instruments as part of their performances, he said, but he's had to give that up. 

"I guarantee at least twice a night, if you're doing that, you'd get a hand up the back of your kilt while you're trying to play your instrument," he said.

"Nobody — and I mean nobody — would think there's anything wrong with that at all because it's basically a woman on a man, and that's funny, so why would you really get that upset about it?"

Started when he was a boy 

Armstrong has been playing the bagpipe since he was 12, and says the bad behaviour started pretty much right away.

"I know the culture has changed since the 1970s. It's changed remarkably and I think for the better. But even then, if I was playing in a pipe band in an entertainment venue, then you would have women put their hand up your kilt," he said.

"If you think about that, how appalling that is, you're crossing so many barriers there. There's a 12-year-old boy playing his instrument and you think it's OK."

He remembers bringing his concerns to his parents at the time.

"My mom and dad would just say, 'OK, you know, that's just one of these things, son. If you wear a kilt, you just have to suck it up, and that's what happens.'"

It's a lesson he now rejects wholeheartedly.

"Looking back on it, I can see how off-the-scale inappropriate that would be," he said. 

Still, Armstrong acknowledges there are ways in which his experience differs from that of women who face similar types of assault, harassment and upskirting while going about their day-to-day.

"The thing that I have to make clear, I've never, ever been frightened or intimidated when that's happened to me. And I can see clearly why if it happened to a woman, she would be frightened and intimidated. It's a terrible thing to happen," he said.

"But for me, I just get weary of it."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord.

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