Content warning: Sexual harassment, sexual assault & misogyny.
In my first year as an adult, I went clubbing a lot—maybe twice a week. It was really fun—I pashed my first boyfriend out of high school on the Oxford Arts d-floor, I bought super cheap drinks from Bar Century while dodging gropes, and felt pretty smug about being recognised as a regular by the security at GoodGod. We’d go to great events, take breaks in Hyde Park to drink very, very cheap vodka, then head back in. I felt cool, and included.
After a while though, the way I was treated by people really started to bother me. I don’t know if folks who haven’t ever been treated as a woman know this, but walking through a crowded club is like walking through a minefield. Hands out to grab you, sleazy comments, gross looks up and down your body, and sometimes, violence. Someone at World Bar grabbed my arm, and shoved their hand into my underwear, an attempt at digital rape. I ran, mortified. Back then I didn’t know that you could tell security to chuck people who were bothering you out. Though a number of times, it was the security guards who sexually harassed me.
The weekend after that happened I was at Flinders Bar, and an older man in a suit tried to pull me into his lap, saying “Well hello, what have we got here?”. Today I would probably scream in his face “YOUR WORST FUCKING NIGHTMARE ASSHOLE” (I did this last weekend: ensure spit flies from your mouth and you look as unhinged as possible), but that time I just said “Leave me alone!” and tried to get away. But he didn’t let go. Instead, he yanked on my arm so hard I fell to my knees and shook his finger in my face. “You do NOT. TALK. TO ME. LIKE THAT,” he shouted. I cried and went outside and smoked with my friends until it was a silly joke, not assault.
My experiences were part of patriarchy and of rape culture. They were part of systems of entitlement to women’s bodies that we are punished for not submitting to. I didn’t go out for a really long time after that. Clubbing became too much of an ordeal and I restricted my sick dance moves to the d-floors of my mates parties. In a lot of ways,learning that what happens to a lot of women, and trans feminine & non binary folks who are read as women, made me feel better as I’d always seen it as a part of life, or maybe blamed myself a little. Instead I learnt “FUCK YOU GET AWAY FROM ME” and “TOUCH ME WITH THAT HAND AGAIN AND I’L BREAK YOUR FINGERS.” It helped.
I went back to Oxford Arts Factory for the first time a few weeks ago. I eyed the dudes in the club suspiciously and made sure I carved out a spot on the dance floor that was uniquely mine and bordered by some of my giant size mates. Some people were gross, that was inevitable. But although my growing feminist conscience had previously rendered me unable to go out because the rage of being treated like a blow up doll really ruins your party spirit, there were some changes that felt really good.
On the dance floor I realised that another experience which had coloured my salad days of $20 entry fees and Oriloff Vodka in Hyde Park had been girl hate. Girl hate refers to the way girls are taught to tear each other down to pull yourself up. The whole 97 minutes of Mean Girls is about girl hate, and the Sweet Valley High series. You might recognise it in Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ where she hates on another woman for wearing short skirts and high heels, which obviously makes her unworthy of her partner.
Before, I would walk into a club and think “Ugh her hair is so poorly chemically straightened why can’t you just let it be natural” or “Gross body sausage dresses are so tacky” / “Someone with shoulders like that should really not wear such a small top” / “Your boobs are falling out of your shirt, it’s so sad what girls will do for attention”. I’m ashamed that I used to think that way.
Last Saturday when I went out to party, I saw girls in really tight clothes, dancing and performing to others and their friends. On instinct, my first thought was “Oh wow, what an attention seeker”. But they looked fucking great. They were thriving and there to enjoy themselves and enjoy life and I 100% support them in wearing whatever they like. I saw girls who had put hours into getting ready and instead of thinking “Wow, so desperate” I thought “DAMN GIRL IT PAID OFF YOU LOOK LIKE A QUEEN”. I realised how much girl hate had been bringing me down when I’d last gone out. Supporting women gave me so much more light than shutting them down.
So while feminism has generated in me some fantasies to break sleazy men’s fingers and make them run for their lives, it’s also helped me work on a lot of pent up hate, and turn it into love for the beautiful women around me. It feels like a relief, and it definitely makes for a better night out.