The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world


Nightclubs are here to stay, it's just the misogyny that should go

After the discovery of a two-way mirror allowing men to perve on women in a Glaswegian nightclub bathroom, Frances Brill argues that it is wrongheaded to focus on steering young people from clubbing to less alcohol-fuelled pursuits like theatre, since this does nothing to end the culture of exploitation and victimisation that remains in the clubs themselves.

Cities: Glasgow

Topics: Crime and security, Gender, Arts and culture

A student at Cambridge University explains why we still need feminism. Photo © CUSU Women's Campaign, used with permission
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A Glaswegian nightclub was recently criticised for having a two-way mirror in its women's bathrooms, after photos emerged on Facebook showing high-paying male guests in private function rooms watching women fixing their hair and make up through the mirror without their knowledge or consent. Again women were being subjected unknowingly to actions clearly classed as sexual harassment, meaning that the joys of being a woman relishing a fabulous evening with friends are once again blighted by fear.

The club responded to the accusations by saying: "[the] two-way mirror is a design feature created as a bit of fun, an interactive feature which we hoped would act as a talking point for people visiting The Shimmy". Though given it enables gawking and predatory behaviour, maybe the issue at hand is the quality of conversation advocated by our cities' entertainment venues.

Blaming the victims

The cities of the 21st century pride themselves on their ability to entertain people 24-7, but it appears that in recent months the nighttime pursuits Britain's cities have to offer have taken a turn for the bleak.

Nightclubs and midnight partying have taken the forefront of entertainment pursuits, outshining alternatives. The binge drinking culture that has developed in the UK receives endless criticism from the media and in the past year has entered the rape debate, with politicians claiming that excessive drinking by young women somehow excuses the actions of others. Todd Akin, running for the US Senate in 2012, made himself famous with his proposal that "legitimate rape" victims rarely get pregnant, with the implication that some rapes are not legitimate crimes. Devastatingly it would appear that some Britons are of a similar opinion, with the Office of National Statistics publishing data that one in twelve Britons feel that sexual assault and rape victims who were under the influence or flirting heavily were responsible for the actions of their attackers.

This attitude was eloquently articulated by one student during the "I need feminism" campaign (in which students on campuses worldwide are photographed with whiteboards stating why they need gender equality action) thus: "When a guy's drunk, he loses responsibility for his actions; when a girl's drunk, she gains responsibility for everyone else's." Of course, this is not confined to rape, but applies to all circumstances where society has grown accepting of discrimination based on gender, which in nightclubs includes cat calling, unwanted groping on a dance floor, or peeping through a hidden mirror.

Discourage exploitation, not clubbing itself

Some health experts suggest a need for intervention in the nightclub scene to prevent binge drinking in social settings after a shocking 29% of young people reported feeling less safe in sexual situations in nightclubs after drinking. Others have suggested a revival of alternative evening pursuits to address British binging.

However it is not the remit of public policy to dictate popular culture or from what means individuals may gain legal enjoyment. Promoting the idea that clubs are not the only way to enjoy an evening is likely to be challenging: removing the stigma attached with not following the crowds will not be easy. Yes, advocating theatre trips or other forms of non-alcohol-related entertainment could reduce the number of clubgoer victims but it will not address the problem at hand. Attending a hundred Shakepearian productions will not prevent the exploitation of those that still go to clubs and their choice should not mean they should be subjected to the double standards of the intoxicated occupants of a dance floor.

As it stands nightclubs are set to remain the evening activity of choice for many; there is little point fighting the opinion of the masses. Instead there should be a curbing of potential gender discrimination in such situations. There was clear exploitation at the Glaswegian club. The obligation of nightclubs should be to provide a safe environment for all. Whilst not going so far as to call for internal policing of wandering hands, it seems more than reasonable to assume that clubs should not promote inequality themselves by installing things like two-way mirrors. Clubs should not facilitiate potential vulturine behaviour through their own initiatives.


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