Young Women's Alliance News and Events

by Martha Saunders

I’ve spent a couple of excellent nights over the last week in Belgian gay clubs. Trying to put a finger on exactly what it was that I really loved about the experience and exactly what set it apart from the clubs I’m used to was initially difficult. The music was unexceptional, the club was dark, overcrowded and far too stuffy. The real difference? Nobody tried to touch me up.

There is a pervasive dirtiness to UK clubs. Commentators on rape culture have called out club nights which seem to condone sexual violence and date rape or overtly sexualise girls such as the Tequila “Fresher’s Violation” events, but these are merely symptoms of a much more entrenched cultural problem. Clubs are at best permeated by an utter disregard for personal space and common courtesy, and at worst barely concealed and sometimes frightening sexual aggression. I’ve never found going out clubbing to be a relaxed experience, but a minefield of invasive gropes, degrading comments, and a general feeling that I am there as nothing more than a piece of meat, part of the evening’s entertainment. During one particularly gruesome night out I began to count the amount of unsolicited gropes I received in a club. It happened 27 times. The message is clear. Girls in clubs aren’t there to enjoy themselves; we’re there to be enjoyed.

Leaving the gay club, I marveled at the simple joy of an evening where I had been able to just listen to the music and dance with my friends. That shouldn’t be an exceptional and rare pleasure, and it’s sickening that it’s necessary to escape abroad, or to a club where you can guarantee nobody is sexually attracted to women, in order to have fun without feeling dirty and degraded. The culture this represents is one which dictates that just because a man is attracted to you, he has the right to touch and ogle you at will.

This idea that the attractiveness of a girl equals a free pass to curtail basic human decency extends to many other situations from catcalls in the street to date rape and sexual violence. They all come from the same mentality.

The worst part of this is the way girls themselves as well as men have been conditioned to see it as normal behaviour. Men will encourage their friends, seeing it as a completely acceptable way to get what they want. Girls, in the meanwhile, are taught to take their attention as flattering. If they respond negatively, they’re criticized as frigid or overreactionary. This idea that we should feel somehow complimented is the worst misconception. There’s nothing about being groped in a club that makes you feel good. At worst it leads to a slow erosion of self esteem and self worth, as you feel your body become less and less under your own control and more an object for the enjoyment of sweaty, desperate boys in overcrowded bars.

The only way to handle this is no huge protest movement, no law or movement, but by more and more people addressing it themselves. By men stopping the laddish encouragement of their mates, and instead discouraging them with a gentle “Hey, that’s not cool.” By girls who are on the receiving end to stop passively accepting their harassment and responding with nothing more complex than a withering look, a slap of the hand, telling them exactly where to get off. It’s simple to resolve, but nobody’s doing it, because we’ve all accepted that it’s okay.

It’s not okay to be felt up 27 times on a night out. All I want is to be able to dance. Is that so much to ask?