This title may seem a painfully obvious statement to most of you reading it, but to those of you for whom it is not – good, keep on reading: this article is for you. By this, I am referring to those of you who assume that a girl’s presence in a bar is an inherent indication of her availability, or maybe her style of dancing is a clear sign that she’s up for it, or maybe just the skirt she is wearing has some encrypted code which, unbeknownst even to her, is just begging you to come and hover in her personal space. This article is written following events in a nightclub just two weeks ago which highlighted to us just how pervasive this issue is and continues to be – that is right, the age-old issue of creepy men in bars and nightclubs who refuse to leave you alone, or simply respect your right to exist comfortably. You are probably thinking you have heard this before and you are right, you have (especially in this last year in the wake of #MeToo, #Time’sUp and the recent Kavanaugh trials), but you are going to hear it again because, apparently, the message still is not getting through.
As St. Andrews students, one can easily begin to tire of the limited options for a night out. Thus, after a great time at Varsity, four of us gals decided to enjoy a night out, that did not include the Union or the Vic, in Edinburgh. This mission brought us to the Banshee Labyrinth, a club off the Royal Mile built in the historic slums of Edinburgh. Aside from having free entry, it featured the cheesiest of tunes and great vibes, both too often lacking in 601.
We were having a great time before a man (at least 35 years old) approached us and persistently followed us around the dance floor. Having left the room in an effort to shake our stalker, we returned to discover he had thankfully left. We resumed dancing but, ten minutes into our newly recovered freedom from harassment, a new contender stepped into the ring – this time with a group of his mates. More brazen than our last creep, this man felt entitled to come up behind us and touch one of us. After our asking him what the fuck he was doing, one of his friends emerged to apprehend him. Shrugging, he said, “Ah sorry he’s a bit drunk”, whilst smiling at his friend as if, to him, this whole situation seemed quite amusing.
The events detailed above are absolutely familiar to every single girl reading this. This is not to say that girls cannot behave this way, nor that girls are the only victims of this sort of behaviour – but this form of invasive, pathetic and honestly obnoxious harassment is something which is experienced by the majority of girls on the majority of nights out and it is disproportionately enacted by men.
Our singular yet most significant crime on this night was that we happened to exist in the same space as them – apparently, this presence is enough to warrant unwanted verbal and physical contact with absolute strangers.
This assumption of entitlement – to our attention, our space, our time- is at the core of so many of the stories you are now seeing plastered across your social media feed. The recent spate of objections following the Kavanaugh hearings exemplify this, in the numerous tweets from male Twitter users, lamenting their fear of being unable “to even touch a woman” without being accused of sexual assault. In this case, then the arrogance of assuming physical touch as the baseline of your interactions with women is your first mistake.
This is not a problem that exists only in Edinburgh or even in big cities. This is a systemic issue in our society and exists in St. Andrews too. If you yourself are drunk, even if you forget your phone and matric card, you cannot forget to respect the boundaries of other people – because alcohol is not responsible for harassment, the harasser is. No one is entitled to a woman’s body except for the woman herself. If your friend is drunk, it is your duty as a fucking decent human to watch them and not let them ruin the night of someone else. If you or your friends are being harassed, use your voice. Society teaches women to be accommodating and quiet, but the most powerful tool we have is our voices. Talk to a bouncer, friend, or bartender and get the person harassing you taken out so that neither you nor anyone else will have to tolerate such violations.
This does not have to be the way things are. Girls just want to have fun – so let them.