[EDIT, 14/05/2013: I’ve just read this post – I Hate Nightclubs (They Feel Like Street Harassment To Music) – by Trudy on her Gradient Lair blog. If you’ve only got the time and/or inclination to read just one post, read Trudy’s instead of mine.]
I went out on Friday night. I got drunk. I went to a nightclub. I danced. These are all unusual things for me to do. But I enjoy them. And I enjoyed my night out.
While I was in the nightclub, I observed the following:
- people sexually harassing other people;
- a fight;
- towards the end of the night, many people loitering on the fringes of the dancefloor, looking sad and haunted;
- at the end of the night, outside of the nightclub, another fight.
What do all of these things have in common? In every case, the subjects of the behaviour were men:
- men sexually harassing women
- men fighting with other men
- men loitering on the fringes of the dancefloor, looking sad and haunted
- different men fighting with other different men
My dear fellow men – are we happy? We don’t look happy – we look angry and sad and rebuffed and bloodied and haunted. And – for the really unlucky ones amongst us – we look all of these things while sitting in the back of a Police van.
This is patriarchy and the cult of masculinity. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to be different, to be better. And if we made that choice to be different and better, I think we’d be happier. And – here’s the real bombshell – if you don’t shove a glass into the face of that guy who just looked at you funny, it doesn’t mean that you are any less of a man.
More importantly, though, is that our behaviour would not then have a negative impact on other people, and particularly on women. Invading someone else’s personal space and violating their bodily integrity – do we really think that this is okay? If another man does that to us, how do we respond? He may well have that glass shoved in his face. But men’s sexual harassment of women, it seems, is perfectly acceptable to us. This might be because we feel that our needs are more important than their needs, because we feel entitled to leer and touch and grope. And because this is seen as such ‘normal’ behaviour, I think that in a lot of cases there is no longer any consideration of women’s needs – this is what men want to do, and we’re damn well gonna do it. Finally, some men appear to have convinced themselves that this ritual is something that women generally find desirable and flattering – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. All of this is then reinforced by our male friends, all of whom appear to think the same way.
What needs are we having met when we sexually harass women? Power, control, being a man, feeling like a man, being considered to be a ‘real man’ – that kind of thing. And that brings me back to patriarchy, the cult of masculinity, and the choices we make about the way we behave. We don’t have to behave like this – it’s not natural or genetic or biological. Attempting to dominate women is learned behaviour, and because it’s learned behaviour it’s something that we can change.
If we understand that we don’t need to define ourselves by our ability to have loads of sex with many different women, we might then realise that we don’t need to sexually harass women in nightclubs. It might also mean that fewer of us stand around on the fringes of dancefloors looking sad and haunted, feeling like sub-standard men. And women might feel safer, and not constantly on alert for the next assault.
Choosing not to sexually harass women (or stepping back from the potential fisticuffs) doesn’t make you less of a man – it just helps you along the road to becoming a decent human being.