What My Male Friend Taught Me About ‘Nightlife Sexism’
On a Saturday night, getting into a trendy New York club isn’t exactly difficult, but it is fraught with stressors: if you’re a woman, you need to look a certain way. A short, tight skirt is basically a necessity, and you won’t get in if you’re not wearing heels: that’s a given.
As a man, you also have your own set of dress expectations; I knew someone who was barred entry to a rooftop bar for wearing boots. But mostly, as a man, you’re expected to shell out big bucks. There are certain gendered politics associated with nightlife in big cities, and a hell of a lot of it is sexist.
This past Saturday night, for my friend’s birthday, we picked out a place in Midtown, a bar on top of a trendy hotel, with killer views of the city skyline — just a few rooftops away from the Empire State Building.
By this time, I knew the drill. Women can call promoters who will walk them in, sit them down at a table gratis, and let them drink their booze for free, because bringing in girls means that the men will come, and the men are expected to have deep pockets.
On this specific occasion, I found a promoter on Instagram, where they like to advertise their services. I was organizing this event on behalf of my friend, and so we all sat together in the afternoon, hammering out the arrangements. I texted the promoter, telling him all the necessary details: where we wanted to go, how many people there were in the group (3 girls, 1 guy), etc. But I also included another necessary detail: my Instagram handle.
I’ve learned this from experience, from contacting possibly a dozen promoters in my life, both in New York and elsewhere (most notably in Las Vegas). They always ask you for your Instagram handle. If they’re that polite.
So this time, I included it in my introductory text, because by now I know the drill. When my friend’s boyfriend, the “1 guy” in our group, saw the text, he asked me why I included that essential bit of information.
I told him, “Promoters always ask for your Instagram so they can see if you’re hot.”
Incensed, he said, “That’s disgusting.”
Fully in agreement, I nevertheless shrugged my shoulders as if it were no big deal. “That’s the way it is,” I told him.
And that is the way it is. I’ve had several experiences where some girls in my group were denied entrance to a trendy bar or club because they wore flats, or because they weren’t a size 4 and below. In this world of manufactured fun, “hotness” is a commodity, even a currency. I showed my Instagram to prove my worth to a man who held the power to control how much fun I had that night, and more important, how much I spent.
In this world of trendy nightlife, you trade your appearance for a comfortable table, no lines, and free booze all night long. Of course, he may hang around and feel like he’s entitled to talk to you, flirt with you, touch you, and even get angry if you rebuff him. It’s like an acceptable form of nightlife prostitution. And I play into it because it means I can save a cool $100, and he can get a big fat promotion check from the boss.
On this particular evening, my promoter plans fell through. Plucked from the line too early, I didn’t get the chance to connect with my “escort.” He got angry, and bailed. So my friends and I had to pay a cover, and weren’t happy about it. We spent top dollar for drinks at the bar, and didn’t have anywhere to sit.
At the time, spending money at the bar like a chump, I felt like a failure for not conforming perfectly to the standards that place me at the mercy of a stranger, to evaluate and reward simply for being young, female, and attractive. I felt like a failure because the system that had served so well in the past had failed me. And because we had to pay, you know, for the things we actually wanted.
But looking back now, I realize how ridiculous I was. Truly, even though my friends and I actually had to pay for admission and alcohol, we probably had more fun roaming around the bar than having to be tied to a table. We could spurn the awkward advances of the less respectful male crowd without having to feel like we somehow owed them something. We were free of the system, free of the sexism, and probably had a better time for it, despite the high price tag.
I realized that by saying this system was “no big deal,” I’m part of the problem. Because I benefit from a system that judges my worth by my dress size and the amount of skin I show, I’m complicit. It’s easy to conform to the status quo; it’s a lot harder to give up benefits if you realize how degrading they actually are.
But the thing that drove this point home the most was my friend’s reaction. As a guy, he’s on the opposite end of this whole system: he’s the one who’s expected to cough up cash and he should be incensed about that. Instead, he spent his energy lamenting a system that reduces women to arm candy, and places a monetary value on their bodycon-dressed bodies. He was angrier for me than I was, and that proved to me that I couldn’t ignore anymore what this system truly means.