No love in this club

I hate going clubbing in Glasgow.

It’s not that I don’t like the music – I do – and it’s not that I don’t “get” the vibe of nightclubs. I know exactly what the vibe should be, and I know that’s not what’s being offered – at least not to me – when I step into most clubs these days (neatly discussed over at The Quietus a while back).

Going into a club as a woman feels like taking a huge leap of faith as to whether I will exit feeling the way I should – happy and tired out and better off for going – or like I wish I’d stayed at home where at least I’d be safe and in control.

(Trigger warning for discussion of sexual harrassment, assault and rape)

The only Creep I want to listen to in the club

In nightclubs, I’ve had a man follow me about repeatedly knocking into me and finding excuses to touch me, and then when I turned around and shouted at him to stop touching me he ignored everything I said and stood there prodding the guy I was with telling him to get me in line. I’ve been sitting down to have a break and had a man come over and start gyrating on top of me. I’ve had a guy try to scant me (pull my trousers down). I’ve had men deliberately fall into me and every other woman in the club as an excuse to touch us. I’ve been grabbed around the neck and had to push a man off. I’ve had men say stupid shit to me and when I’ve given them a “look” or turned away, they’ve got their friends to start pointing and laughing at me and make me feel so uncomfortable I’ve had to move away. I’ve had a woman actually put her face between my tits and motorboat me, and then try to do it again, and when I expressed discomfort at what had happened to male friends they told me they thought I enjoyed it because of my high-pitched awkward laugh that to any woman would have been a clear “OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING” signal. I’ve gone out to the cash machine where a group of men spotted me, pointing and selecting me, then came over and pulled their trousers down showing their arses and balls and I had to go home, unable to enjoy my night out anymore because it was genuinely traumatic and I felt violated. I’ve had a man who was standing up when I sat down in a seat get up in my face telling me I was “in his seat”, and then when I saw “naw, go away”, he sat down next to me and tried to push me out of the seat with his body, all the while howling in my ear about how I was “mental” for not just giving in to him. Later, when I was trying to hide in the entrance to a closed nearby office so I could cry about the fact I’d nearly smacked that guy in the face, three men wandered by and decided that was the most appropriate time to start making rapey comments about what I “wanted” from them. I can’t go to certain clubs in Glasgow because there is a man who might be playing music, working the door, working in the club or just generally cutting about, and that man is a known rapist, who knows I know what he is. This stuff isn’t even a tenth of what I’ve come across personally.

Worse things have happened to people I know. They’ve been groped and poked in every private part of their body you can imagine, without exception. One was punched in the face in a club for telling a harasser to fuck off. Another had a glass thrown at her for refusing to dance with a man. Several have been spat on. They’ve been rounded on and had ‘bitch’ and ‘slut’ screamed at them for talking back to men. All of us has on at least one occasion, if not a lot more, been told by other people that we deserved things like this to happen to us because what else do we expect if we dare to be women and dare to go out in public and dare to wear clothes?

Glasgow’s club scene has gone from strength to strength over the past decade, and everywhere you look there are DJs, producers and artists from Glasgow doing well, with their fingers in hunners of pies. But with any scene there comes a mentality, a coolness, that says “don’t criticise this, don’t rock the boat”. I am not welcome on the Glasgow club scene, that is a simple fact. What is supposed to be for everyone, is certainly not for me. I don’t even need to say who it IS for, you all know. Sometimes even a night with the best music, a decent atmosphere, a pleasant crowd – can feel like it was set up for the service of male ego. Glasgow’s club scene has a long long way to go before it can make any claims to being welcoming, unhostile, and communal. The too-often encountered combination of heads-down swaggering technoman with West of Scotland hardman is an unpleasant sight to behold/get shoved around by on the dancefloor or on the way to the bar. They want you to know you’re in THEIR territory and boy does their body language show it.

If what women have to put up with just for the trouble of attending a club as a normal punter sounds grim, you can probably imagine what it’s like when women actually openly criticise the sexism of Glasgow nightclubs. Several times in the last couple of years a Facebook event for a club night has popped up, and Glasgow women (and allies) have taken the organisers to task for sexism ranging from objectifying leaflets (Booty Call at the Garage lol), to holding club nights in strip clubs (Mungo’s Hi Fi, Rumours, Menergy – to name a few), to posters that actually depict women being raped (Rape Techno, organised by Joe Crogan, don’t give them your money please and thank you). Cue a barrage of sexualised hate for the women and not much bothering about the male allies making the same points. Even when criticising aspects of Glasgow club nights that aren’t gendered, such as taking the Freaky Freaky vs Stay Fresh halloween party at Chambre 69 to task for choosing a guy in fucking BLACKFACE as the winner of its costume competition, the same gendered and sexualised slurs were thrown at the women who had dared to speak. I was told I needed a good raping, and that’s not the first time that’s been said when I’ve criticised a Glasgow club night. Does anyone else see some big fucking problems with this? How are women supposed to go to, let alone enjoy, nights where men like this will be there (thinking they own the place) who will openly tell us that they wish we’d be raped? And they expect us to be silent about nights taking place in strip clubs which actual rapists frequent too.

This isn’t a Glasgow-only problem, of course it’s not. This happens across the world, in every place a woman could wish to spend time in. But music is supposed to be universal. Dance music is supposed to be a communal experience where you are free of the burden of the outside world and can actually just dedicate your body and your self to enjoyment, and I’m sick of these constant signals that actually I’m not welcome to join in, that it’s not really for me, and I should only expect to be there if I’m providing a visual or sexual service for men. I don’t feel free of any burden at most clubnights I’ve been to. In fact it’s fraught with more intense dangers and annoyances, particularly when you feel you need to/want to stay in a small dingy dungeon where it can be hard to get away from someone who wants to harass you, because you and your friends have all paid for the privilege of being in there together (sometimes up to a resentful £12. I mean really Glasgow, get a handle on this trend, most of us make minimum wage or less). I want to really be free to dance in a club, but instead I’m doing this dance of avoidance around the constant threat that someone is going to ruin my night. Which in itself can ruin my night. And there are some male behaviours that no amount of avoidance techniques will protect you from.

I’ve left clubs in tears, or stayed and had my night overwhelmed with rage and disappointment, more times than I know. I can’t fully express the upset that builds within me when someone does something invasive to me at a club, and it seems to happen with more frequency and intensity in clubs than elsewhere. Being basically trapped in a room with someone who is openly trying to assert their dominance over you is a uniquely horrible feeling. It’s a deep rooted undermining of my sense of self to be so brazenly violated in these ways, big or small. It makes me feel like a child. It’s these situations where I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to hitting people, where the anger and adrenaline coursing through me is so strong I have to leave for my own safety as much as for the safety of whatever wee man needs a slap. When people do whatever they can to remove your control from you, it makes you want to lose all control. And I’m so sick of having to leave clubs I was otherwise enjoying because someone else has caused terrible feelings of upset, anger and violation in me, while they get to stay, and make the place even more their own. I’d like to say that if these men could see the consequences of their behaviour and attitudes, could see how it affects the people they bother not only in the club but in the aftermath and in how they adjust their own schedules and behaviour to avoid potentially upsetting situations in future, that they would care. But I don’t think they would. If they don’t care about the consequences that they CAN see, why would they care about the ones that they can’t? If they can see the annoyance and hurt on your face, if they can see you having to move away, why would they care about you crying in the toilet, or having to get a taxi only a few streets home to avoid creeps just like them?

The fact is that the easiest way to change the way clubs are is not through the re-education of these guys who have no interest in learning about experiences outwith their own, but through everyone else making the club a less comfortable place for those guys. You’ve got to make them uncomfortable in order to make the people who deserve to have a good time more comfortable. But I do also know that there are plenty of straight male clubgoers who don’t even think that they could possibly make a woman, or someone they’re reading as a woman, feel uncomfortable, and if they don’t see themselves as part of the problem then they don’t really see that there is a problem, and they have no desire to fix it. If you’re one of those guys, the reality is there’s a good chance you have, and the reason you’ve not noticed is precisely because the club is set up for your comfort and enjoyment, whatever goes on there feels natural to you. Just cause you don’t intend to be creepy, or invasive, or generally a pain in hole in some way, doesn’t mean you’re not. Intent is rarely the issue, consequence is.

With that in mind, here are some tips for how to be a straight man who knows how to behave himself and respect women in nightclubs:

  • Don’t touch. Just don’t do it. There’s never a reason why you would need to touch someone in a club. If it happens accidentally then sorry will suffice, no more no less. If you’re stuck in a tight crowd and need to get past, a quick tap on the shoulder is enough, if even that is necessary. Under NO circumstances should you put your hand on the small of someone’s back. It’s unbelievably creepy to be touched there by someone you don’t know. The only people I touch there are people I’m shagging, or very close female friends. When some guy puts his hand there while pushing past in a club, I shudder from head to toe. Keep your hands where I can see them, pal.
  • Don’t tell people to smile, ever, cause like, who the fuck even are you?
  • Don’t stare. Thinking about the amount of times I have felt the burning glare of some guy standing around near me in a club actually fills me with anger because it’s so much wasted concentration and time I could have spent enjoying myself that I’ve instead had to spend pointedly staring in another direction and NEVER turning my eyes to meet them incase they take that as a positive signal. Just be direct or piss aff, no one likes a lurker and you’re certainly not doing your levels of attractiveness any favours by hanging around like a jobby that won’t flush.
  • There are many reasons why someone could be sitting down in a club, so let’s list a few of the most common ones: They’re having a breather, their feet hurt, they’re waiting on a friend, they’ve lost their friends, they’re too mashup and need to collect themselves, they’re trying to send a text without slurring their words, they’re bored, they’re upset, they just want a wee seat. I can assure you with great certainty that none of the reasons a person might give for why they’re having a seat are code for “awaiting incoming boaby”. Imagine yourself in any of the situations on that list, do they not seem like exactly the situation where you really, really DON’T want to be bothered by some dude?
  • Following on from that, where are the most appropriate situations to approach someone you fancy in a club (presuming you have some basic standards of decency and non-creepiness in the approach to begin with)? Try a public area where they can get away from you if they want to. Only approach someone in a crowd if you’re willing to give up your space in that crowd and move further away if they rebuff your signals. Remember you’re the one invading their space uninvited, not the other way around. So if they’re into it, hooray for you. If they’re not, it’s your responsibility to move back out of their space and a decent person isn’t going to loiter and make things uncomfortable for someone else. It’s not that hard to pick a different spot and not get defensive. Women are constantly being told to lighten up by men who can’t take no for an answer, but actually it’s men who’ve been rejected who often take things to next level tenseness. There’s no shame in just giving up, in fact it’s a genuine showing of respect. If someone is interested in chatting to you or dancing with you, they will give you signals such as repeated (not accidental) eye contact, engaging in your conversation and not just giving short polite replies/never actually starting a sentence themselves, and most clearly, actually dancing with you.
  • If a woman tells you she’s into women, or isn’t into men, take the hint and back aff. If a woman doesn’t mention whether she’s into men or not, but makes it clear she isn’t interested in you specifically, take the hint and back aff.
  • If someone’s told you to fuck off (overtly or otherwise) and you either have or they’ve had to walk away from you, and you see them again later, don’t come back over to them and try to make a joke of it or goad them about it. “No” is a full and complete sentence so take it for an answer.
  • Don’t use drink or drugs as an excuse for “not knowing what you were doing”. We can all get into a state at times, but it’s your responsibility not to make that your “thing”. If someone ever tells you that you were so fucked one time that you were falling into women, rubbing yourself or making people feel uncomfortable in some other way, you should rightly be horrified that you got into a place where controlling yourself was no longer possible, and look into ways to stop that from happening in future. If you can’t drink or take over a certain amount without becoming “that cunt”, then you know what your limit is and if you do something inappropriate while over your limit, there’s only you to blame. Drugs are there to make your night better, not everybody else’s night worse.

And also some tips for male allies who want women to have the same kind of hassle-free enjoyment of clubs that they experience:

  • If you are able to physically intimidate other men, use this to your advantage. I really mean that. If someone won’t leave your pal alone, square up to them. It’s not the ideal situation, or gender dynamic, but sometimes it NEEDS to happen, sometimes another male getting up in their face is all a creep will respond to. You don’t need to follow through and you don’t need to scare anyone except the creep that needs scaring, but knowing I’m not going to be left alone to physically deal with someone who is bigger than me or more aggressive than me has sometimes been a great comfort in a time of need when someone has wandering hands or is shouting in my face.
  • If you’re not able to be physically intimidating, or it’s not appropriate to the situation, use your body as a shield. Inserting yourself between a creep and a pal and moving around to keep up the barrier as required is a strong signal and will help your pal feel like you’ve got their back.
  • If your pal has to say something to a creep, stand beside them and chip in if required (without talking over their point). Ganging up is good if used for the right reasons.
  • Don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting a bouncer and being forceful in your explanation of someone’s creepy behaviour if you need to.
  • If your pal wants chummed to the bar or outside, they’re asking you to help them feel safer in numbers, so do it.
  • Leave with your friend if you have to, their safety and happiness is more important than any club, DJ or amount of money paid in.
  • This doesn’t just apply to your pals but to anyone you see struggling with someone they look uncomfortable with – the main thing is to always ask them if they’re ok, if they want any help, if they want you to get in between them. If they say they’re fine then listen to that and don’t become a second harasser, but if it seems like they just don’t feel able to say otherwise, or if it looks like someone’s harassing is getting worse, keep an eye out, read the signals, and do what you have to do. It might seem like it’s taking up your time and ruining *your* night to have to keep watch for if other people are okay, but really I don’t get how anyone could genuinely enjoy themselves when they know someone is being harassed at the same time. You don’t have to be a vigilante superhero, you just have to have a level of decency and concern for other people’s welfare. If you don’t want the dancing to be a communally enjoyed experience then why aren’t you just dancing in your crusty pants in your bedroom?

And finally:

  • Don’t act like “oh it’s terrible that this happens to some women, but it would NEVER happen in one of the clubs I go to”. Don’t be one of these guys in the comments on this (problematic) article (boak boak boak). It happens everywhere and if you think you’re exempt from it cause you’re an enlightened chap who likes house and techno THINK AGAIN cause those guys can be some of the absolute worst for it.

Humans have long developed behavioural and bodily signals so that we can co-exist and communicate in situations where speaking openly and understanding each other’s meaning is not always easy. Straight men have a duty to stop brazenly pretending to be the only people on earth who are incapable of reading signals. You know exactly what we mean when we don’t engage you, when we turn our heads away or when we say “fuck off”, and yet here we are living in a society dedicated to telling women and those who are read as women that our signals don’t count, that men couldn’t possibly be expected to understand them, that actually we meant the opposite of what we expressed and that therefore we deserve to be raped, assaulted, harassed and demeaned. It’s time men started acting like adults and admitted they know, and have always known, when we’re saying “no”, however we say it.

6 responses to “No love in this club

  1. I’m already being called a liar for this, as I knew would happen. I’m not lying and neither is any other woman I’ve spoken to about their experiences, but you want to question your motivation if you’d rather jump immediately to that assumption than wonder whether there are things going on that you can’t immediately see. There are social systems in place designed to hide these things and brush them under the carpet, and by deciding it’s more likely that these are lies than experiences, you’re propping those systems up.

    I’m glad this has started to hit the target audience. Glasgow club-goers, club-workers and club-owners, have a word with yourselves and try and think of some practical solutions to making people who harass less welcome in your clubs. You could encourage women to share experiences so that your bouncers know what to look out for. At the moment women are unlikely to tell a bouncer unless something is really, really egregious because of the kind of culture we live in, so even a statement from a club to note that they do actually support female club-goers and would like to listen to them would mean a lot.

    More important than that though is how other club-goers react. If you don’t hear much, it’s because women aren’t choosing to tell you. They choose not to tell you either because they feel you specifically will try to brush away their experiences, or if not you specifically then they know the wider scene will and don’t feel like they have the confidence to even bother to bring it up to anyone. Which leads to internalising and more hurt. Internalising these experiences isn’t the fault of any woman who doesn’t feel she can report, it’s the fault of the culture and the culture must change.

  2. Tarzan Girl, thank you for your article.

    I’m male, and consider myself an ally. I’d like to speak to you further about this issue. How can I best contact you, if indeed you are happy to speak with me?

    I am involved with the glasgow music scene, and would very much like to engage with you with regard to taking steps to combat this kind of shit.

    I can stand you a coffee* in town some day as payment for your time or, if you’d prefer to remain at a remove, I’ll happily talk over skype or email instead.

    *actual beverage may vary

  3. I don’t have much experience of the Glasgow club scene, but the Edinburgh clubs can be just as bad. I was at the Hive in Edinburgh and there was a young woman who was incredibly drunk and four men were taking turns of kissing her and pushing her to the next guy to kiss her. She could barely walk and the security guys just ignored it. She was clearly in no state to consent to be slobbered on by four different men. I pulled her away from them and told her I would help her to get a taxi. My friend stood up to the guys and they were terrified and looked really ashamed of themselves, and so they should. What is worrying is that nobody else did anything and if we weren’t there, would that have continued and perhaps progressed into something worse?
    She told me that one of the boys was a friend from school. Some friend, eh.
    I was also in another bar in Edinburgh called Capitol and the bouncer told me I looked six months pregnant which really spoiled my night. Nobody needs some arsehole making comments about their appearance when they just want to have a good time. The bar staff were really great and helpful though so I could go on and have a good night.

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