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This International Women’s Day (March 8th) Hollaback! Edinburgh will be having a club night at Fiddler’s Elbow (9pm-1am), titled ‘I Just Wanna Dance!’ Those of you who follow us on Facebook and Twitter will have seen our various (and hilarious) memes running up to this event, all cheekily addressing the issue of a safe space in which we can just dance, groper and grinder free.
There’s been a lot of focus on dancing on 2013′s Feminist calendar so far. The theme of One Billion Rising 2013 (February 14th) was dancing, and Hollabackers joined in with fellow anti-violence against women organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Engender to dance outside the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness of, and protest against, gender-based violence. My family hail from Zimbabwe, the birthplace of the toyi-toyi, a political freedom dance made famous in South Africa during the apartheid era. Consequently for me dancing, freedom, and protest have always been linked. Despite this, I rarely dance in public. I’m in my early twenties, and I haven’t been to a club in years.
This wasn’t always the case – 5 years ago and I was out dancing once a week, a regular on the revolving dance floors of my University town. But gradually, I just couldn’t face it anymore, because more and more of my nights out were spent dodging guys trying to grope me, or grind on me, or ‘just squeeze past oops I grabbed your boob’ me. I’ve had my drink spiked, I’ve had a random guy on the dance floor come up to me and push his hand up the front of my skirt, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve left a bar or a club because there’s a guy in there who just won’t leave me alone. I know girls who have experienced things a lot more sinister, and you probably do too. The truth is, I’ve never – not once – been in a club and not been groped in some way. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. When I was 18, I used to try and laugh it off, try and get on with my night, but always deep down there was that feeling that I knew I didn’t like what these guys were doing, but I felt powerless to stop it. The thing is, it isn’t okay. When it gets to the point that you’re leaving a club you paid to get into it because someone is making you uncomfortable, that’s not okay. When you were having a great time until that random guy put his hand in your bra: that’s not just another unavoidable or acceptable part of your night out. But when bouncers don’t recognise it, or when people generally – as I used to – just shrug it off and don’t actually take the time to think about it and talk about it, then it makes it that much harder for us to challenge harassing behaviour in clubs, and raise our own voices and ask why we can’t have the simple liberty of dancing without harassment?
I remember a guy whacking my friend’s ass as he walked past us in the queue for the bar once. She actually exclaimed it hurt that much, and she turned round with the customary ‘wtf’? He answered: ‘what, don’t you like being hit on?’ Here’s the thing. Guys smacking your bum like they own you isn’t about an introductory exchange in which you compliment a woman in the hopes that you will get to know each other and perhaps find that you both have similar romantic inclinations. Sticking your hand up a woman’s skirt, down her top, hell just groping your way around her anatomy isn’t the new hand shake and ‘how do you do?’ It’s rooted in sexism, and the power inbalance in which one party feels they can do whatever they like to another without consequence. It’s rooted in rape culture, in which women’s consent is given little value, and sexual acts are ‘done to’ her, not ‘with’ her.
I can’t change the world in one night. God, if I could I’d sleep better for it. But what I can do, as part of Hollaback! Edinburgh, is create a safe space during that night where people who’ve had enough of being grabbed, or seeing their friends get groped, can dance. And whilst they do that, pulling all the cheesy or downright fierce moves they’re capable of, they’ll also be making a stand to say: Hey, guess what? Touching someone’s ass uninvited isn’t ok. We just wanna dance!
Who knows, maybe you’ll even see me shaking some moves of my own.
For more info on Hollaback! Edinburgh’s IWD Club Night visit: http://www.facebook.com/events/542869162411938
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