My experiences of commercial clubbing and hyper-femininity

// 7 April 2012

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I’ve come to find that the culture of mainstream clubbing (by mainstream I refer to clubs that plays mainly chart music and RnB with a bit of club classics, serving the purpose of heavy drinking and one night stands, on girls’ and lads’ nights out) propels hypersexual, super-glossy images of women. Forgive me if this is nothing new to you.

I do not want to, or mean to, undermine individuals’ decisions on how to spend their Saturday night after a weeklong slog. But you can tell a lot about the current state of a society from what goes on in its clubs and by which clubs are popular. My experiences are mainly from clubbing in London and the south of England.

I go to a mainstream, straight club for a girls’ night out once or twice a year and the rest of the time to club nights that are centred on certain types of electronic music, where I wear my Dr. Martins, never need or want to dress up, very rarely get groped, start a fight, or have a half-naked woman gyrating in my face. However, both types of clubbing fulfil certain desires: to dance, get wasted and stay out all night.

Before going out on a typical girls’ night out, generally the ritual is to buy a new outfit and spend about two hours getting ready, creating a hyper-feminine, photo-shoot look, showing as much skin as possible. (The TV show Take Me Out presents a heightened version of this ritual.)

Why do hordes of women make up their bodies like this every weekend? When I chatted briefly to some of my co-clubbers they said: “I do not feel confident without it” and “it makes me feel sexy” or “I don’t really think about it.” Is there an expectation that you won’t pull if you don’t dress like an airbrushed picture of Cheryl Cole?

I understand that heterosexual feminine and masculine gender binaries exist in the commercial clubbing scene and that people go out to have a one-night stand. I’ve had a phase of it in my life. But from my experience, the pressure is on women, who are come-on-to with their bodies openly discussed and touched. Often, if you do not conform to the sleazy conversations, or if you challenge being groped, you are faced with anger or accused of being a prude. Once in Shoreditch I almost came to blows with a guy who told me I should take his mate’s arse grabbing as a compliment. The men who do this seem to think they have ownership over the bodies on display to them.

A converted 'stall' at Proud in Camden, with a pole in the centre

Recently I was at Proud in Camden for a friend’s birthday. The club is set out in old stables and some of these ‘booths’ have poles in them. I was getting a drink when a group of five female dancers wearing underwear got up on the bar and danced provocatively, pouring champagne down the throat of anyone who wanted it, while men drooled and took pictures of their bums and cleavages. It was as if we were in a lap-dancing club with lads around me hooting. This didn’t faze anyone around me but, feeling uncomfortable, I left.

Proud’s website describes it as a gig/bar venue. Do they do that on purpose to uphold some kind of ‘classy’ reputation? It’s like they know it’s not PC but they do it anyway because it’s going to pull in a huge amount of lads. In a place that has sold itself as retaining “many of the beautiful and genuine features, including the original stables that once housed the horses that were injured pulling canal barges”. It seems absurd that they would then place poles in the middle of the drinking areas.

When did this Nuts magazine aesthetic become so normalised in pop clubs? I’ve also heard of the Nuts mag club nights where women get up onstage and are judged on how much of their clothing they can take off. I pass at least three lap dancing clubs on my four mile cycle home. Isn’t it enough that there are lap dancing clubs all over London (and the rest of the UK)? And a Playboy club to cater for men who want a stripper?

I go on these nights to dance, chat, and have fun, but I would like to do it with a bit of freedom – without the pressure of the male gaze or the worry of being groped.

Do commercial clubs like Proud feel it is ok to casually slip in some table dancing because Nuts mags are placed at eye level in newsagents? Do they feel it is ok because lap dancing clubs advertise freely in the street? Do they feel it is ok because the women who table dance choose to do it?

I am aware that this is a basic overview of this subject, which I am currently delving deeper in to. Also I have not given much of a voice to the people that I have talked about. Perhaps more to come in later posts…

First photo by Fabio Venni, second photo by Steffi Njoh Monny, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

IronFly // Posted 7 April 2012 at 12:04 pm

Interesting post, look forward to reading more.

I also felt uncomfortable in the commercial clubbing/dance scene and always preferred going to rock and metal gigs (I like both types of music) where the atmosphere felt a lot friendlier, less aggressive, less like a meat market.

Vicky Kapoor // Posted 7 April 2012 at 1:17 pm

When I was younger I used to love going out to clubs where I could wear what I wanted, drink what I wanted and rock out to the music I loved. On the odd occasion where I would go to a mainstream club (Leicester Square et. al.) it was a wholly alienating experience, like entering a sordid pit of mysogyny where I existed for the pleasure of others rather than myself. Recently I spent the weekend in Nottingham and got to see the town centre in the early hours of Sunday morning, which was every cliche running of “broken Britain”.

I can’t help but feel that the way people dress and behave on a night out in a mainstream bar or club is a kind of pantomime: people acting out roles defined by the media and one’s peers for the entertainment of others. Perhaps it’s a symptom of living in a country where sex education is lacking, where we definitions of “sexy” are narrow/impossible to achieve and where celebrities are idolised for being “sexy” but regular people are slut-shamed. Maybe the behavior seen at mainstream clubs is a form of rebellion against this oppression? But maybe people don’t even think about it like this and just see it as a bit of fun? All I know is that the people who benefit from it the most are those who make money out of it.

Yes. // Posted 7 April 2012 at 1:24 pm

This is exactly why I hate straight mainstream clubs, I get my ass touched by random men about 5 times a night sometimes in one of those places, and it completely ruins my mood for the rest of the night. This kind of crap never happens to me at gay bars!

And as for rock/metal gigs, I’ve had my ass touched at those too, which is even more annoying when you’re in a massive crowd & don’t know who did it & who to shout at.

It really upsets me that this groping phenomenon & how it’s possible for so many people to find it okay is not discussed more!

Michelle Ashton // Posted 7 April 2012 at 2:39 pm

I’ve had similar experiences in mainstream clubs and occasionally in rock clubs, but not nearly as often. It’s a shame really because it means I just don’t go to them any more.

I’ll be looking forward to reading your future posts as this is a subject that needs to be discussed more.

joanne matthews // Posted 7 April 2012 at 6:17 pm

Interesting comments.

Vicky Kapoor – you mention bad sex-education. I agree there, people grow up with a one type of ‘sexy’ from a young age which saturates the media. Women are taught from a young age that they need to look flawless and are sold insecurities by cosmetic compaines.

I recently went to Bournmouth with a group fo girls and a group of men talked to a couple of us comparing the size of our breasts. Many of the girls were comfortable with this chat, it was normal. I was shocked.

Is it as if they feel they have some kind of ownership on these women’s bodies? And I can see the connection to products using women’s bodies to advertise and sell.

SexierThanThou // Posted 7 April 2012 at 9:52 pm

Never really had a problem myself. I kinda like the uber-competitive sexual jungle. I find a certain carnal thrill in all the showcasing.

rosi01 // Posted 21 April 2012 at 6:46 pm

I’m living in Montreal, and there’s a club here which literally has the policy “no fat girls” (it’s called Muzique). There was an evening out organised by a university society I’m a member of, and when people raised concerns about this policy we were assured “don’t worry, they will relax the policy for our group”. Were we meant to feel comforted by this?

During the promotional video (on the club’s webite), there is footage of girls kissing eachother, pouring alcohol provocatively into eachother’s mouths, dancing in underwear, you get the picture. I want to enjoy these clubs…for the music, but feel so alienated by this sort of stuff.

Katie // Posted 21 April 2012 at 6:56 pm

I’m 28 and have been clubbing since I was 16. I love going out to dance, but for the last five years or so have refused to go to any ‘mainstream’ club nights. I hate the fact that I can only go to alternative clubs if I want a night free of sexual harrassment (I find the more alternative a club, the less hassle I get) and that I feel like I have to write off half my music taste. Some of my friends can take being groped in their stride, but for me it ruins my whole night.

Rose H. // Posted 30 July 2012 at 8:21 am

I think it’s the first time I see a picture of mine used in a post and I did not know about that, what a nice surprise ! Many thanks for the credit.

Obviously I’m even more satisfied to figure on a blog about feminism.

I really liked going through the article.

Even if I’m very sex-positive, I found that place weird and ‘doubtful’, mostly because I fear men’s behaviour, who tend to think, as you pointed it out, that they can have some kind of control over our bodies.

It happens anywhere, don’t even need poles for that. I myself argued with a guy in a LGBT nightclub in Paris that I loved, who was dancing very close to me. I asked him to stop, then he replied that he was gay, dancing wasn’t such a big deal.

Then I realised that many men just can’t understand the fact that women are not just beautiful things you can toss and turn. Well, we are beautiful (obviously!) but that doesn’t give them the right to dispose of our own bodies, no matter what.

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