Ellie Macmillan-Fox is a 3rd Year History and International Relations student. She grew up taking feminist inspiration from the likes of Caitlin Moran and has a keen interest in women’s participation in domestic and global politics. As a History student, she has studied the evolution of women’s movements during the 19th and 20th Centuries. She’s also an environmentalist and film buff.
Picture this: It’s Saturday night and you’re going out for a night on the town with some of your friends. You get to a club and after grabbing a drink you make your way to the dance floor. Whilst you’re singing and dancing along to whatever pop song is playing, you feel someone getting close behind you. The next thing you know they’re groping and grinding up against you.
Maybe this picture sounds perfectly normal to you and you can see nothing wrong with it. But what if you attempt to move further away and the person follows you? What if you turn around and say, “I’m not interested, sorry” and they take offence and ask you why? What if they keep persisting and the only thing that gets them to back off is telling them you’re in a relationship?
The fact is, this way of approaching people of your desired sex may be alright with some, but it’s not alright with everyone. For people in a relationship, with a different sexual orientation or people who simply want to enjoy a night out with their friends; this aggressive form of pursuit can be extremely irritating and uncomfortable. It isn’t always a man approaching a woman, but this article will focus on that scenario, since it is one that can result in the woman feeling intimidated and perhaps even put her off going to clubs and bars.
This is something women experience on a day-to-day basis. It’s a situation I’ve become all too familiar with since I started going out, in London in particular. Yet it isn’t really spoken about outside women’s immediate social circles. It’s all but taken as a given that on a night out there’s always going to be one handsy guy that approaches you and won’t leave you alone. Granted clubs and bars are commonly seen as almost a mating ground, with men and women ‘on the pull’, who (not completely unlike two birds flapping their feathers in a David Attenborough documentary) briefly eye each other up before making out in the middle of the dance floor. But should this mean that all social rules about male-female interaction go out the window? In the era of #MeToo, why is this (let’s face it) harassment going unchecked?
A quick search of the internet reveals that whilst there is a lot of advice for how men can ‘pick up’ women in clubs and bars, there is surprisingly little about what isn’t acceptable. I did come across a video on YouTube titled ‘Top 3 Mistakes Men Make When Approaching Women’. In the video, which is aimed at promoting a book on romantic advice for men, several women are interviewed about their experience of the ‘mistakes’ men have made trying to ‘pick them up’. Although we aren’t told how the women were selected or what was edited out of the interviews, the answers given are revealing. Several complained about being treated as sexual objects, with men catcalling them or staring at their breasts. Others spoke of unwelcome touching and rude or insulting comments. But interestingly, perhaps the most common response was men acting cocky and entitled, as well as behaving angrily and aggressively when rejected. This may not be a scientific study, but it does suggest that this kind of behaviour is very common and can be extremely off-putting for women. Maybe instead of asking how men can improve their ‘game’, more people should be asking what is and is not acceptable.
One question that came up in the video is why women don’t tend to approach men as much as men approach women. A few of the women express the view that they should be the ones to approach more often, I agree with this to an extent. Men shouldn’t have to shoulder the whole burden and be the only ones that face the possibility of rejection. Also, potentially women may approach less aggressively. However, we should ask ourselves why it is that women don’t feel they can approach men? I think it comes down to socialisation. Women can be made to feel as though if they were the one to approach a potential partner, they would be perceived as too assertive and masculine, so would face a larger chance of rejection. Whereas men who come up to women are often seen as confident and desirable. Maybe this is not always the case, but in general these gender behavioural expectations will inhibit a reversal of roles from becoming the norm.
So, what can be done about this? Well we could unlearn these gender associations, but these things take time and are unlikely to happen overnight. So, in the meantime, we need to start questioning both male and female behaviour in these, ahem, ‘courting rituals’. This doesn’t mean that men can’t ever talk to women in clubs and bars, but there is a significant difference between men striking up a natural conversation, and men immediately and relentlessly initiating non-consensual touching. Women need to overcome insecurities about speaking up on this issue and ask why social standards of intersexual behaviour aren’t being imposed in this arena.