Booty Call: a feminist review

Published

Mhairi Mcalpine

This post originally appeared here on Second Council House of Virgo on 14/04/2012

I ended up at The Garage’s “Booty Call” last night, following an outpouring of fem-rage across twitter and facebook at the advertising campaign shown on the left. A woman out in Glasgow one night had spotted the flyer and become upset at the objectification of the women in the advertising campaign, the linking of a clubnight with the sex industry and the implication that the sex industry was “sexy”, rather than for sad losers who either cant get a shag without paying someone, or who choose to pay someone to fuck them because they like the control and dominance that gives them over women’s sexuality.

She alerted other feminists to this imagery, and we started giving feedback to the Garage, via their facebook wall. The initial response from the Garage was dismissive, deleting all criticism and banning several commenters. We then moved to twitter, using the hashtag #smashbootycall. If one lesson was learned from the Hetherington occupation, it was that if they try to silence you, don’t go away quietly – escalate like crazy. And so we did.

“You’re serious, aren’t you” said one. I just smiled. The other woman in the group flat out refused recounting a number of stories of being harrassed and touched up in nightclubs, including one incident where a man had put his hand right up her skirt and another where a bouncer had come to the defense of a man that she had challenged after he had touched her up. “You will get sexually assaulted in there, you know that don’t you” she said. I acknowledge the risk, but hell its not exactly something that would be unusual is it, being wantonly in possession of a vagina and all. Eventually I persuaded someone else to come along with me, and off we set.

A thankfully short queue, saw us in to the club quite quickly. My bag was searched, while my male companion was body searched. All the men were body searched, but I didn’t see any body searches of women, but the bag search was done by a female bouncer, so presumably such may occur on occasions.Getting there at 11.59, I got in free, halving the entrance free with my trusty companion. Yup – they’re still doing the “girls” get in free shite.

I’ve never been to the Garage before, so we had a wander round. There was a middle bar, with karaoke, a downstairs dancefloor and the main upstairs cavernous dancehall with a spectators balcony. The first impressions I got was how male the gender balance was. Despite women getting in free before 12, approximately two thirds of the clubgoers were male, which quite surprised me. The other thing which struck me, being of the vertically challenged variety, was how tall the women were. Dotted among the men were these 6ft amazonian women, which I had to crane my neck to see. I remarked on this in wonder to my companion, who pointed out that it was their shoes….and indeed when I looked down massive platformed high heels seemed to be the footwear of choice for almost every woman in the club. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can take more than three steps in such footwear, it is truely a skill which has been mastered (and they did look quite amazing) , but at the same time they also looked like the kind of thing that you could break your neck in – especially if you needed to move away from something/someone quickly.

The middle bar was quite fun. A female DJ was running karaoke, and while the participants were almost universally terrible, it was none the less a good atmosphere and the dreadful attempts at singing only added to the lighthearted ambiance. I didn’t stay long there, but it did strike me that not only were most of the performers male, but that men took up considerably physical space, occupying the main area, while the women clustered at the edges.

We went upstairs to main dancehall, and within five minutes saw the first bit of harassment. A woman sitting in a booth, giving off clear but silent “don’t touch me” messages was getting her thigh felt by the man sitting next to her. He was paying her no attention, talking to another man, while running his hand up and down her thigh. Every time she edged away a little, he edged a little closer and her discomfort at the situation was plain to see. As in the middle bar, not only were there considerably more men than women, but again men took up far more space than the women, in sprawling groups with expansive movements, while female groups stuck in far tighter huddles. The other thing which struck me was how “white” the clientele was. At that point, I hadn’t seen anyone non-white in the entire club.

We went to dance. The space that the men took up was obvious on the dancefloor. Despite the lethal footwear of the women, it was men who trod on my feet, who crashed into me, whose dance movements resulted in me getting whacked in the face once and narrowly avoided getting whacked about four more times. After a short time another couple started dancing next to us. While they were dancing the man kept insisting on touching the woman, who repeatedly kept pushing off his hands and insisting that she didn’t want touched, including a very clear “No” that could be heard above the music. Eventually she left the dancefloor with her male companion in tow, fairly obviously feeling pressurised and uncomfortable with his actions.

After a while we moved to the downstairs dancefloor – and hell – this was pretty good. Far more space, a female DJ and more mixed crowd, both in terms of gender and ethnicity, gave it a much more inclusive atmosphere. For all the heightened sexual vibe present upstairs, downstairs was a far more healthy sex-positive space. The unwanted touching and male space invasion observed upstairs was absent and while there were couples snogging in quite a number of the booths, and around the edges of the dancefloor there wasn’t the invasive male presence that seemed to dominate upstairs. Not only that, but my pal got hit on by another bloke, which quite surprised us given that the Garage is primarily a straight club with a strong heterosexual norm. The whole atmosphere was just so much more relaxed, sensual and inclusive than the white het-male dominated space we had just left.

Booty call was being heavily promoted throughout the club, with quite a number of posters up on the walls and in the women’s toilets. To the Garage’s credit, they had changed almost all of the advertising to the new theme, except on a video being played in a number of locations through the club, advertising its nights, which still used the sex-industry inspired advertising when promoting Booty Call. This video is well worth comment. The ratio of males to females observed in the club was completely reversed in the video with far more women featured than men. Not only that, but the women in the video were presented in a heavily objectified manner, flirting with the camera, suggestively sucking straws and pouting, while the men were presented in active roles, including being featured taking pictures and imitating filming.

There was a visible security presence throughout the club, with bouncers positioned at the edges of dancefloors and on the balcony above the main hall. While this demonstrates a commitment to ensuring their clients safety, I saw no female bouncers which would have given me more reassurance that there was an approachable presence to report sexual harrassment and unwanted touching to, and that it would be taken seriously by someone who understood women’s concerns and most probably had experienced such themselves.

We went back upstairs to the main hall to dance again. On the dancefloor next to us, a woman had been hoisted onto the shoulders of one of her friends. While she was up there, a nearby man made a great performance of trying to lift her skirt and look up it, to the approval and encouragement of his laddish mates. So far no personal harassment, but true to form about half an hour before closing, a rather drunken male sidled up beside me, lurking at my back. I was aware of his presence, and quite uncomfortable with it, but it wasn’t until he started touching my arm that I actively moved away. He moved closer and then started rubbing my thigh, and trying to reach around. I moved away further and he lurked at my back for a good few minutes before shuffling off.

While my friend was right – despite being a sober, modestly dressed forty year old, outwith the usual target demographic of sexual predators – I did experience sexual assault, its by no means the worst club-night I have been to. Why then the Garage chose to advertise it as a rapey, creepy environment I have no idea. Despite the “girls” get in free promotion, suggesting that they wanted to encourage more women to come to their club-night, the gender imbalance suggested that it hadn’t worked in the slightest. A number of commentators on the Garage facebook wall, pointed out that clubs were, among other things, a venue for pulling and the sex-industry inspired imagery was designed to invoke this. The gender imbalance meant that if that was their aim, a number of men would go home sadly disappointed and although the odds were better for the women, the sex-industry friendly promotional materials would tend to encourage the creeps that liked that kind of thing – the ones that you avoid like the plague.

To give the Garage credit, they did eventually change the advertising, demonstrate a level of safety awareness through the use of bouncers on the dance-floor and the downstairs dancehall was a genuinely welcoming environment at the same time a greater awareness of women’s concerns and experiences would make the club a more gender balanced environment, eradicate some of the rape culture tolerance witnessed and make it a generally better night out.