I distinctly recall one particular evening when clubbing in Reading at a night dubiously named “Lux” (the club of course, in practice, being anything but luxurious or one lumen per square metre). One complete stranger thought it would be appropriate to have a quick feel under my black lace dress without as much as a hello. In my “jaeger-bombs-make-me-sassy” state, I responded by giving him a firm push away. He chose to respond by going for another feel, this time round the front of my dress. Whilst part of me found his persistence in the face of undoubtable failure funny, the vast majority of my thinking was far from happy. The trouble is, what makes this night stick out in my memory is the extreme flow of vomit that characterised my journey home; not the groping. That part has been a feature of almost every club night I’ve ever been out on.
When I’ve confronted my friends about this, in vain attempts to gain a brazen chorus for my complaining, I’ve usually been met with a half-hearted shrug and a remark about how this is, “normal in clubs.” I try and point out that this is precisely what bothers me, but by this point the conversation has usually shifted to a more humorous feature of the night out. To be fair, I can’t quite blame them for not wanting to discuss issues with sexual objectification after buying drinks that come in a bucket. I’m hardly expecting Che Guevara levels of inspirational political reaction but, you know, some, “yeah that sucks” wouldn’t go amiss.
But does this this even count as a problem? Isn’t it all just a bit of fun? Well, perhaps it is for the guy (and yes, I am generalising, but not a single study has found women to be in the majority of offenders) although even this part somewhat eludes me; call me crazy, but I’d pick dancing or chatting with an attractive person over a fleeting feel that is likely to alienate them. Hell, maybe even finding out their name first. My own mother has encouraged me to try and take instances of light sexual harassment as, “a compliment” but, sorry mum, I just don’t find the appeal in being perceived as a sexy block of meat.
Some people tend to blame an other-worldly state of drunkenness for their actions however studies have shown no correlation between intoxication and sexual harassment (check out K. Graham’s study on the matter). Maybe I’m overreacting because of facets of my life where sexual objectification genuinely has been a spanner in the works (music industry, I’m looking at you), but it’s just not something I can brush off.
However, doom and gloom and rants aside, it does seem to making a glacial change for the better. This is under the amount of fire “lad culture” has been under lately. Whilst being a “lad” is far from synonymous with being a sexist, aspects of lad culture certainly seem to push the line. For example, two of my friends at Freshers’ Week were praised for going around asking girls to kiss them on the cheek, only to turn their head and kiss them on the lips before they could move away. This is obviously a far more light-hearted way of toying with the idea of consent than some of the horror stories you hear, and I choose it because it’s more of a grey area than some of the obvious stuff you can shake your head and tut at with regards to sexual objectification, and is subsequently more common. Should even a kiss require consent? Is it really just fun? Or perhaps just “banter”; the umbrella term that can be used to cover anything from joking to light bullying to racism and homophobia.
It even seems that on a more national front, students are beginning to focus on nightclub culture more. Putting on my “serious journalist” hat, a study by the NUS found that “verbal misogyny, sexual harassment, and violence are normalised in student nights out”. Whilst this is hardly groundbreaking or even vaguely shocking stuff from the NUS, the fact that the topic is being approached on such a “high-profile” level is a move for the positive. On a more grassroots level, our own Student Union President added his voice to the discussion on wider “lad culture” in the last issue of bathimpact. Being a “lad” may finally be making a move away from an infallible justification for most actions.
So, with all this discussion, what should actually be done? I would say, you know, “don’t grope people please without their permission please”, but honestly some perverted neolithic men will always try to cop a feel, so more realistically, I would perhaps suggest making a slightly bigger deal about club groping, either when it happens to you or to someone else. No, it’s not the biggest issue in the world, but I reckon at least one drunken sod might think twice before doing it again if someone actually brings it up with him. More widely, the University of London Students’ Union have signed a pledge to tackle sexual harassment. Whilst a similar pledge won’t magically make the problem disappear, it sets an important cultural precedent; that this is not okay.