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The Exploitation of Women in London’s Elite Nightclubs

Staff writer Salma Durrans on how London’s top nightclubs are objectifying women to gain popularity with male clients

Some of London’s most elite nightclubs offer guests unlimited drinks for the night for a mere £10 entry fee or sometimes even for free but it comes with a catch: you have to be a woman. More specifically, you need to be approached by a “promoter” of one of these clubs on a social media platform. These women have to be “attractive” to the men that promote these clubs in order to be approached in the first place.

That’s not all; there is a strict dress code that demands the women wear a dress and heels or, as one of the club promoters put it, “dress to impress.” But impress who exactly? The men in charge of paying for the drinks that are constantly flowing through our table? Or the greasy, middle aged men who show up to the club with the intention of finding a young girl to have “fun” with? If it weren’t for these men, women would not be granted free entrance and free drinks in these “elite” clubs. Do women choose to align themselves with these powerful men, and does that become the reason why this cycle of our objectification is perpetuated?

I entertained the idea of going to one of these clubs because who would turn down free drinks? At first, I was hesitant, thinking to myself “why am I allowing myself to be told what to wear and how to look by men?”. Surely this can’t be a good idea. Eventually, I gave in and decided to experience what going to these clubs would feel like and found that, even though most of the men at these clubs don’t actively try anything inappropriate, you know you are able to be there because someone likes the way you look and you know that it’s women like you who drive in the revenue. So, does this mean that we are part of the same problem we are trying to fix? Can we advocate for women’s free choice and call ourselves feminists if we willingly take part in these misogynistic practices? It’s a tough question to answer because we live in a world in which we are judged for our choices and decisions, especially if you’re a woman who enters these clubs knowing the reason why you are able to be there in the first place.

The moment in which I realised this was more than just getting girls free drinks and older men to fawn over them was when a promoter touched me inappropriately. I can’t help but wonder, is this what we should expect when entering these clubs? Are we giving the wrong idea when we agree to getting “free” drinks all night? Where do we draw the line? The sharp rise of spiking in London’s nightclubs last year shows how often the line is blurred between being objectified passively, attending these clubs and being able to get free drinks because of the way we look, versus actively, getting spiked in order to get something from us. It’s a slippery slope from one to the next. This is the problem these nightclubs pose: are we allowing the men a “free pass” just because we take advantage of complimentary drinks?

Most of the men I’ve talked to about this concluded that this experience was to be expected and nothing out of the ordinary. For them, it would come as more of a surprise if nothing had happened. The problem with us expecting this kind of behaviour from men is that, at the same time, we are encouraging it. It is considered something “normal”, something that happens all the time, so why should we be so surprised?

We need to be concerned with the way in which societal expectations of men’s actions affect women’s decisions. Seeing almost naked women on stages, dancing for the drooling, wide-eyed men on the dance floor made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. To avoid this disturbing thought, instead of leaving, I drank the “free” Vodka and cranberry juice that kept appearing on top of the ice tray that was placed on the small tables around us.

Shouting over the loud music, my friends and I lamented how uncomfortable we really felt in a place like this and whether we should just call it a night. At that moment, however, a song we liked started playing, and the next thing we know we already had one too many drinks to even remember how we felt being there. The question is, should we have expected something by choosing to stay? If something did happen to us, would we have been to blame by being there in the first place? How do we get to the point in which society stops conforming and start improving our expectations of each other? 

When thinking about these questions, they seem almost impossible to answer. But I did reach the undeniable conclusion that if something did happen to one of us in these misogynistic clubs, we would be told that “we shouldn’t have been there in the first place” and that “this comes to no surprise.” I can’t help but think this would be true, but how do we make it so this isn’t the case? Unfortunately, that is a question I do not have the answer to. Spending time at these clubs was an eye opening experience that has made me more aware of the toxic culture of objectifying women that can often lead to much more dire consequences.

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