Parties, clubs and pubs are increasingly becoming areas of identity contention. The ways in which you dress, act, speak, and behave are in constant display in the areas associated with nightlife entertainment. But what exactly are the expectations when you go out clubbing? This article features several women’s opinion on this issue. The women interviewed come from a diverse multitude of cultural backgrounds and nationalities, and their identities will remain anonymous.
Different people have different ideas of what it means to go out. Even though the experience of a few people cannot be taken as a universal truth, it does provide some insight into a highly debated issue. Are clubs places to dance and have fun with friends, or to meet new people, or both?
The women interviewed mostly agreed that clubs are places to go dancing and drinking with friends. However, it is often the case that they would also dance with strangers. After all, nightclubs are a place for socialization, however limited it may be. This has been contested by arguments which assert that clubs are potential places for courtship and finding a significant other. Many would agree that clubs and pubs are places to meet new people, although this also varies, largely dependent upon the sociocultural context of said place.
In terms of the way that women are treated in clubs, those interviewed provided varying answers. Most agreed that, since clubs are places to go out and have fun with friends, they usually enjoy the environment. Nonetheless, many also agreed that, on many occasions, clubs are sexually-charged places. Some complained that they receive sexually offensive treatment on nights spent out at the clubs. Since expectations are so diverse and often contradictory, people may be in disharmony. From the women interviewed, many have suffered harassment in different forms. Anybody that has been to a local club will experience the way in which limits are sometimes blurred and conflict arises. And we are not even considering the alcohol factor.
So, different expectations lead to different behaviours. Even though most women interviewed agreed that clubs are places to have fun with friends, they would, nonetheless, accept an invitation to do the same with a stranger, if the necessary conditions were met. For instance, many stated that they would accept a drink from a person they did not know. The behaviour of accepting a drink also represents different women’s different expectations. Some argued that accepting the drink is just part of being polite, while others argued that they would only accept it if they were interested in the person.
The context of accepting a drink may also shine some light on other broader issues at stake in the nightlife business. Usually, since the environment of a club does not allow for much conversation, people trying to get to know one another may have a difficult time engaging in dialogue. Instead, they can look at one another. Looks and clothing are an important aspect in the nightlife context. First impressions are important, and in a place where you can hardly hear one another, looks play a dominant role in your presentation.
Does a person’s look influence decision-making in a club? Most of the women interviewed said that the most important factor in meeting a person at a club was the level of information that they had of said person. If they know the person from beforehand, or have interacted with them in other contexts, they are more likely to be inclined to accept an invitation to dance or a drink. However, they did acknowledge that looks are important as well, and the way in which people dress and present themselves may change their opinion. They all agreed that it depends on the context of the situation.
On the other hand, does the way we dress affect other people’s opinions of us? The women interviewed held differing ideas on the matter. Some argued the way in which they dress has a direct impact in the way they are treated. They agreed that if they dress more ‘provocatively,’ then they are bound to attract more attention since clubs are, arguably, often sexually-charged places. Others asserted that the way in which they dress does not, and furthermore, should not, have an effect on the way in which they are received. This is a highly-contested area. The way women dress should not change how they are treated. Still, we see this happening in many instances. Other factors are also at play; the context of the situation and the way in which people act are also important.
In terms of avoiding undesirable company, a few of the women interviewed argued from their experience that sometimes, a simple ‘no’ was not enough. Many also confessed that they have had a friend act as their boyfriend/girlfriend to dissipate unwanted attention. Nevertheless, this is problematic. Women should not have to appeal to another person to have their choice or opinion taken seriously. Moreover, in the case of a woman asking a male friend to pretend to be her boyfriend, we can see larger power differentials at play. Why would other people only respect a woman’s choice when another man defends her in an almost ‘heroic’ manner?
Alecia Lynn Eberhardt, a writer for the online magazine xoJane, argues in an article that having a guy pretend to be a woman’s boyfriend “completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends.” On the other hand, some hold that it is chivalrous for someone to defend a woman when another person is harassing her. However, we need to ask ourselves why that woman was being harassed in the first place to expose the greater issues at play in clubs and other places of nightlife entertainment.
So, are clubs or pubs places to meet someone new? It depends. Different expectations lead to different behaviours and to wide-ranging conceptions of what is and what isn’t acceptable.