Imagine you’re a woman. It’s a Friday night, and you and your friends decide that the bass-bumping, adrenaline-pumping, mind-numbing atmosphere of the nightclub is the perfect catharsis from a workweek riddled with stress and anxiety.
You spend an hour getting ready. You put together an outfit in which you feel beautiful and confident. Before leaving, you slide into your most comfortable pair of heels to provide for maximum dancing stamina, and sling an extra hair tie around your wrist for the inevitable moment when the steam of the dance floor turns your hair into a untamed, frizzy mess. You feel excited, energetic, and empowered.
Now imagine that you’re inside the club and you’re dancing in a circle with your friends. Suddenly you feel a pair of sweaty hands grabbing you around your waist. Some man’s crotch is pressed up against your backside, gyrating to and fro. If you’re feeling generous, you brush him off with a polite “No thanks.” If not, you give a friend the signal to pull you away from his grasp and migrate to another corner of the room.
Then imagine that this happens a few more times. Perhaps it’s the same guy now attempting to “grind up” on one of your friends. Or maybe it’s a different man, and it takes him about three or four failed attempts at pressing himself against you to get the hint. Frustrated, you and your friends decide to trek over to the bar for a brief respite.
While at the bar, a man offers to buy you a drink. You accept the offer and make small talk with him for the next few minutes. When you realize the chemistry is lacking, you grab a friend and attempt to make your way back to the dance floor, but the man pulls you back: “Where are you going?” he says. Or maybe he doesn’t pull you back, but instead follows you onto the dance floor. Or maybe he spends the next fifteen minutes visibly trash-talking you to his friends for abandoning him after he spent money on your drink.
Finally, you’ve had enough. Feeling exhausted and a bit violated, you leave the club. As you wait outside for a taxi, a group of men across the street holler obscenities at you. After all, you have been spotted exiting a club in a tight skirt and heels. You must’ve been “asking for it.”
Most of us are familiar with the term “asking for it” as a backwards justification for non-consensual sex. More often that not, “asking for it” refers to the notion that a woman’s adornment of risqué clothing somehow indicates her sexual availability. But it’s also the case that a woman’s presence in certain sexually-charged spaces—like the nightclub—can be interpreted as a willingness to engage in intercourse.
The scenario I’ve outlined above has become painfully more familiar to me throughout the mere year and a half that I’ve been able to participate in the club scene. It’s important to note that this is not the experience of every woman who attends a club on a Friday or Saturday night, and it is in no way meant to demonize club-going males. Nevertheless, it is troublingly common for women to encounter the unique breed of sexual harassment that manifests on public dance floors across the globe.
Perhaps the best explanation for this kind of harassment is that the nightclub is an inherently misogynistic social sphere saturated with inherently misogynist expectations. This of course excludes places like queer nightclubs, which consciously attempt to defy these stereotypes. At a standard club, however, women expect men to buy them drinks, while men expect women to dole out sexual favors in return. In a similar vein, women expect men to initiate the first dance, while men assume that consent isn’t necessary. These sorts of gendered expectations make for an environment that is not only blatantly anti-feminist, but also unsafe for women who must now be constantly defensive and suspicious of male behavior.
Equally as problematic is the assumption that club-goers are “asking for” the kind of sexism that currently characterizes nightclubs. For many young people, myself included, nightclubs provide opportunities for lively social interactions—good music, good conversation, and dancing with friends. Unfortunately for us, the emotional and physical risks of attending these clubs has begun to tarnish their more appealing characteristics.
What we need now, then, is a change in how these social spaces operate, and in the many assumptions that float among the sweat and smoke hovering above the dance floor. Transforming the gender dynamics of the standard nightclub is no small feat—it will require transforming the larger climate of misogyny that still pervades our sexual and social interactions—but we must be prepared to meet that challenge. After all, what happens inside the club is a direct reflection of what’s acceptable outside of it.
Aria N. Bendix ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an English concentrator in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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