Way back in the mists of first year, I went out on a sports social and ended up in Salvation dancing with a girl I’d been flirting with for much of the evening. We moved away from the group and after a little dancing I lent in and kissed her, whereupon she was immediately dragged away by a friend. I was absolutely mortified: had I completely misjudged the
situation? Did she have a boyfriend? Had she seen her friend as the only safe way out of the situation? Still slightly shaken, I headed out on the same social again the next week only to be confronted almost immediately by that same girl: ‘thank god!’ she exclaimed, ‘sorry about last week, I thought I’d lost you!’
Before someone accuses me of ‘hating them blurred lines’, I should say that I don’t personally frequent ‘the prowl’, but for those who do the archetypal nightclub can be a profoundly confusing beast. With men expected to make the running the majority of the time (Dutch courage jacked to the 9s by one too many jagerbombs), it can be extremely hard to judge the fine distinction between confident spontaneity and sordid sleaze.
If you’re too cautious, too shy (or too respectful..?), then nothing is going to happen, and as the fear of rejection drains away some men resolve to simply ‘play the numbers’. We’ve all seen them: Salvo ground floor’s horniest and loneliest men who valiantly struggle on through snub after snub, living and dying by the moniker ‘there’s plenty more fish in the sea’ whilst offending whole dance circles of women along the way. It’s easy to shrug and call then ‘dicks’ and perverts’, but they’re just taking perfectly normal club behaviour and reproducing it on a larger scale.
The sad fact is that for a couple who don’t know each other to get together at a club, the guy usually has to do something that has the potential to be inappropriate. Yes there are ‘signals’, but they’re extremely easy to misinterpret and through the drunken haze of one too many triples you’re still playing a percentage game.
So, overall the ‘boy dances up to girl’ construct is bad for everyone: it’s intimidating, if not downright dangerous for girls – many of whom have to fend off would-be Casanovas several times a night – and extremely confusing for guys while putting a heavy premium on drunken, extroverted self-confidence. Its ‘toxic masculinity’ 101.
What’s more it plays into every traditionalist stereotype that modern gender politics has tried to destroy. Anyone who’s read Jane Austen probably knows roughly what I’m talking about: ‘Oh Mr. Bloggs!’ the lady is invited to simper, preferably with a modest blush, ‘you forget yourself entirely!’ ‘Your beauty makes me forget myself!’ declares our hero, or some bollocks to that effect, ‘I am driven by indeterminate passion etc. etc.’ It is good form for the man to excuse his poor social grace, but his act of apparent social rebellion is part of the expected performance. Eventually, after some modest consideration involving family members, the lady either submits or declines. Thank god we’ve confined this nonsense to the English classroom.
But have we? More than perhaps anywhere else, it is in the supposed bastion of ‘modern’ liberated sexuality – the nightclub – that this narrative plays out week after week. Boy approaches girl and dances with/on her, substitute passion for drunken lust, family members for giggling friends in the girl’s bathroom, and after a brief interval she either accepts or rejects. The terminology has changed but the process itself is scarily similar; it is perhaps when we strip away all the little civilisations of sober courtship that we display ourselves at our most unpleasantly traditional.
The whole thing plays into gender stereotypes that go back centuries: for men, confidence, control and lack of subtlety; for women, passivity, complexity and looks. Like Cosmopolitan magazine, it somehow manages to be sexist towards everyone. ‘The prowl’, ‘the hunt’: all this stuff comes from the idea of a man and his prize, of him persuading, wooing or cajoling the woman into submission. She in turn is expected to be reactive, almost passive: it is in this rather odd twist that the sexually liberated woman is expected to still be ‘ladylike’.
Obviously these are massive generalisations – some women are as predatory as their most ferocious male counterparts – and things are slowly changing; the recent stigmatisation of ‘slut-shaming’ has been a breath of fresh air. But for true equality to be achieved men and women have to be able to display interest in each other on a completely even footing; a process which is set back decades by the nightclub’s cardboard cut-out gender roles. Men should tone it down a notch, while women need to share the risk of rejection in order to gain more control of the situation.
So lads, consider whether going ‘out on the prowl’ is actually daring and modern, or if you’re just conforming to millennia of stereotypical behaviour, while ladies should contemplate whether sedately awaiting your tequila-fuelled knight in armour is really the best path to a fulfilling night out.
These archaic strictures of courtship reached their apogee in the Victorian era of the 19th century, so it’s suitably bizarre that it’s in the nightclub – a den of stimulant-fuelled deviancy which would have Queen Victoria turning in her grave – that they’re most strictly observed.
So thanks Queen Vic for obnoxious clubbers, timorous clubbesses, and for Big Kev’s outrageous lad pack.
We are not amused. Time to move on.