Nightclubs are the world #MeToo has left behind

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Nightclubs are the world #MeToo has left behind



Why hasn’t the impact of #MeToo affected what happens in clubs? (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)Last weekend, my sister and I were relentlessly followed and harassed in a London nightclub – to the point where the only solution was to leave early.
What angered me more than the fact our otherwise fun and hilarious night out had been tainted, was this has been happening since I started clubbing when I was 17.
13 years later, I feel more confident, more assured and more powerful than I ever have, and yet I am still being made to feel like that vulnerable teenage girl by leering, intimidating men on nights out – and it is utterly infuriating.
As we emerge into a new dawn of zero-tolerance in the face of sexual harassment – why are nightclubs and bars still so far behind? Why is it that harassment under the cover of booze-soaked darkness is still accepted as a normal part of a night out?
A 2017 YouGov poll found that 72% of young people have witnessed sexual harassment in some form during a night in bars, pubs and clubs.
Worryingly, 79% of women also said they expected inappropriate comments, touching and behaviour when they went out – either to themselves or to their female friends.
Last year, a study using a specially engineered ‘smart dress’ which used heat sensors to record rough touching, revealed three women were groped 157 times in less than four hours in a nightclub in Brazil.
The guy last weekend asked for a dance and I politely told him ‘no thank you’ and that I had a boyfriend. After three more polite rebuttals he sent two friends over to ask why we had ‘rejected’ him. One of them grabbed my sister by the arm to shout his demands in her ear.
Having had many, many similar experiences in the past, I knew the best thing to diffuse the situation was to smile, dance away and try to avoid engaging with them.
But the night was ruined. I was looking over my shoulder, trying to calm my indignantly furious sister, and I could feel the man’s eyes on me everywhere I went. The final straw was when he pressed a note into my hand – scribbled onto the back of a bar menu.
Did he carry a pen with him purely for this reason?
‘You’re the woman of my dreams,’ the note read. ‘I think you’re acting very aggressively, but I still want to dance with you. Let me buy you a drink.’ Right. I’m the aggressive one.
I marched directly over to him, thrust his note back at him and told him that if he didn’t leave my sister and I alone I would speak to the bouncers and have him kicked out. He just smirked at me like he knew I didn’t have the energy to follow through with that threat.
Deflated, my sister and I left and went to get pizza – the universal remedy for an unsatisfactory night out.
It’s a tediously familiar pattern. Heading home from a club or bar, feeling oddly powerless, confused as to where it went wrong, or how you could have reacted better in that situation.

79% of women expect inappropriate comments, touching and behaviour when they go out (Picture: Ella Byworth/Metro.co.uk)In my more than a decade of clubbing experience I have been groped, harassed and followed more times than I could even begin to count. I have had my skirt lifted up to expose my underwear, I have snapped my head back to pull away from wet, lunging mouths, I have had hands up my skirt, down my bra, unzipping my dress while I’m dancing.
It can completely ruin your night. The effects are deeper than momentary embarrassment or awkwardness. It’s humiliating, yes, but more than that; it makes women fear for their safety.
What might feel like a ‘harmless’ smack on the arse could so easily become something more sinister, and women are always attuned to this possibility.
When we are groped by strange hands in the darkness it reminds us of the basest human hierarchies of power. That we, women, are physically weaker and smaller than men, and that our ability to get home safely is sometimes dependent on a man’s decision not to rape or attack us.
There are some initiatives to try to tackle this underworld epidemic.
A student in Edinburgh recently developed a unique wristband that aims to reduce harassment on nights out. The discreet black band can be linked to an app and can send distress signals to friends with a simple tap.
A double tap of the wristband lights it up, which is meant to alert bar staff to the situation – but having witnessed frazzled bar staff dealing with the midnight rush, I’m skeptical about their capacity to notice this signal.
While this is a really useful idea in theory, it still requires the onus to be on women to save themselves and each other. And while most of the women I know would be more than willing to throw themselves between any of our friends and a potential harasser – they shouldn’t have to, and it might end up putting more women in danger.
#AskforAngela is a country-wide police initiative where customers simply ask if ‘Angela’ is working to give staff a discreet signal if they feel unsafe or threatened – which could result in more direct action being taken.
What would really help is thorough training for bar staff and bouncers to recognise the signs of harassment and act accordingly. When you’re a victim of harassment it can be difficult to find your voice to speak out against what’s happening to you – particularly when that behaviour has been normalised and legitimised over decades.
We need a wholesale shift in culture.
The cover of darkness and haze of alcohol grants nightclubs a shroud of anonymity and reduced responsibility – people who would never dream of groping somebody in any other setting are granted the freedom to do so in these environments. They are havens for would-be harassers.
More: Feminism

A zero-tolerance approach to harassment, of any severity, is the only way to stop this cycle in its tracks.
If today’s 17 year olds see harassers facing consequences for their gropey behaviour it will start to shift what is accepted as normal on a night out. Just as the impact of the #MeToo movement is changing the culture of harassment and abuse of power in the workplace.
Of course, not every man in a club becomes a threatening, leery creep after two bottles of beer.
On the same night as the first man’s harassment another man asked for my number. On hearing I had a boyfriend he said, ‘that’s absolutely fine, have a great night,’ smiled and walked away.
But although his calm, respectful response was refreshing, it’s notable that it’s the mention of a ‘boyfriend’ that often gets men to back off. As though that’s a more valid reason to leave a woman alone than a simple refusal.
When a woman says ‘no’, it means ‘no’  – even if she’s single, and even if it’s 2 am and everyone’s drunk.
MORE: Women share stories of harassment in support for lesbian couple attacked on bus
MORE: 1 in 5 girls worry about sexual harassment every single day

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