There Should Be No Room for Misogyny in a Feckin’ Pub

Image Credit: @ericbarns via GitHub

Many women across Ireland feel unsafe going on nights out - Orla Mahon asks, why aren’t we talking about it?

There's an anecdote about Fiona Apple I was reminded of recently, of her on the set of a photo shoot – where a staff member apparently overheard her whispering to herself – "There's no hope for women, there's no hope for women." I’m not saying that this is entirely my perspective on Irish nightlife, however, with our need to support late-night businesses in Ireland, it would be completely remiss not to mention one of the greatest factors that deter women from partaking in nightlife culture. The very real threats of sexual harassment and violence form the ghosts haunting our nightlife scene.

I can talk statistics – according to the CSO, the most common location for sexual harassment in Ireland is in pubs, clubs, and discos; half of those aged between 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment in the past year; 79% of women aged 18-24 in Europe have experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct on a night out – but these are all things you’ve heard before. I don’t blame you if your eyes start glazing over reading that kind of data – it’s impossible to read a list of numbers and feel the true weight behind every individual experience. Instead, I’m going to tell you about something that happened to me and a friend of mine a few weeks back.

According to the CSO, the most common location for sexual harassment in Ireland is pubs, clubs, and discos.

A group of us had decided to go to a club after having had a few drinks at my friend’s house. We were celebrating, ish – it was my first time back in Ireland in a few months. While queuing for drinks, however, a man started placing his hands all over my friend. We didn’t make a fuss, he seemed quite drunk, and my friend and I were by ourselves at that point, so my friend just gently removed his hands from her body. Unfortunately, this seemed to really set him off. We were yelled at, “You think I’m some kind of pervert or something?” for the next five minutes while his pint was being poured. His friend, standing next to me, kept telling him to shut up. When he finally (finally!) got his drink and started moving away, he shouted that we were, “just bitches anyway.” And I’m not particularly proud of it, but I don't feel terribly ashamed of my actions either – I accidentally-not-really knocked against his drink, and half of its contents spilled down his shirt. In a split second, both mine and my friend’s heads were grabbed, fingers digging into our skulls, and shoved towards the bar. Disorientated, it took me a second to realise – this wasn’t even the same man who had been harassing us – it was his friend, who I thought was on our side right up until he hit me.

This wasn't an isolated incident, not even on the same night. Only a few minutes earlier, a group of my friends had been stopped by a gentleman who desperately wanted to share with them the exact measurements of his genitals. Our arguments fell on deaf ears as we tried to explain that one, this was essentially the textbook definition of sexual harassment and two, a generally, deeply weird conversation starter. Eventually, we just had to walk away – it didn’t feel like we could do anything else. Both times, even in a packed club, nobody stepped in.

When recollecting the events of the night, I naturally went through my mental self-blame checklist, but came back pretty much empty – we hadn't been drunk, we were in a large group, we had male friends in the vicinity. My elbow retaliation may have been inadvisable, sure, but I don’t think it justified that. The only accusation I could hold against myself was – I shouldn't have gone to that club. This, I learned, was the shared consensus amongst the group. The tragedy here is that our newfound avoidance of this club has little to do with the venue itself. We were treated with kindness and respect by the staff, especially by a bouncer who insisted we walk around the venue with him until we found the guy who had hit us (unsuccessfully, but appreciated all the same). However, the staff are limited in the control they have over a crowd, especially in a larger venue. So, what can actually be done?

After the incident, I told everyone that I wasn't shaken up, just angry, but this wasn't strictly true. I kept finding myself in front of the mirror, palm spread across my head, replicating the same swinging motion the man had hit me with. I don't know what motivated this – whether it was a type of self-soothing through reenactment, or a search to find what exactly it is in me that makes me look like I deserve to be hit. I still don't know what I was looking for. I still don't know how I should feel. All I’m left with is a burning frustration. And I know I’m relatively lucky – I was physically unharmed, and emotionally, I’m pretty okay. But I know so, so many stories similar to mine where things haven’t worked out so seamlessly. I’m sure you’re familiar with plenty yourself.

I don't have any upbeat conclusion to offer. I know I'm not going to dismantle a culture of misogyny in a singular magazine article. I will say: that this is the type of thing that cannot be handled alone. My friend, afterwards, said to me – “As horrible as it sounds, I'm glad you went through that with me.” I believe the one way of finding solace from these horrible experiences is to share our stories, to recognise each other's pain. Perhaps through this process, we may slowly enact systemic change. It's not just a pipe dream, either. When looking at the work of Empower The Voice (@empowerthevoicedublin), we can see how sharing our stories can bring concrete change. Their activism has caused ripples across the Dublin nightlife scene, bringing awareness to the culture of misogyny. 2 Many Men Éire (@2manymeneire) has also brought about real change through similar methods. I do think there’s hope for women in the Dublin nightlife scene – and I think we can find it in each other.