How Not To Treat Women In Nightclubs

Among dance music circles, the question of why females are still so underrepresented in the DJ/producer realm never seems to get old or any closer to being answered. It comes hand in hand with smirking observations when underground dance music events often end up primarily attended by males. But while laughing over “sausage fests” and hand wringing as to why more women aren’t vinyl heads, few have stopped to consider the environments in which most dance music is consumed. We tend to think of underground dance music nights and the clubs they happen in as fairly egalitarian spaces where everyone is welcome to get into the grooves. You would need to wear sunglasses at night, however, to miss how inaccurate that can be, particularly for female club-goers. A place where people let go of their inhibitions doesn’t necessarily breed the best decision making, and friendliness so easily crosses the line into creepiness.

We’ve all heard first- and third-hand stories about women enduring this kind of intoxicated harassment; some have dealt with it personally. As such, there’s every reason to point out some of the untoward and often embarrassing actions some men get away with regularly in night clubs, making the spaces less welcoming. So with the help of friends and peers, I’ve assembled a quick guide of How Not To Treat Women In Nightclubs, something every gent should remind themselves of from time to time. Many are good rules of thumb in general and apply more broadly, but for the sake of my lady friends, this one is dedicated to them. All the illustrations are by the immensely talented and generous Ben Sigas.

Avoid “dance rape” moves which entrap your unwitting dance partner
Although the phrase “dance rape” is perhaps a bit alarmist, this all too common series of “dance moves” is a perfect example of how guys barrel through personal space boundaries without consideration for how it comes off. Using an arm or foot to pin a woman against some structure in the club is not only frightening, it’s rarely taken as just another friendly maneuver without consequences (sometimes a knee to the balls is warranted). Men try to wield control over women in untold numbers of ways; this sorry attempt to get women’s attention is perhaps the most basic and unreasonable of them all in a club setting.

Don’t use a crowded dance floor to cop a feel
We’ve all been there: you’re getting into the music when you hand brushes against someone or theirs brushes against you. Usually this is a no-harm-no-foul situation, dismissed with a knowing grin between people who are feeling the music. In a crowded setting, however, it can easily become the pretext for contact that’s hardly incidental. Barely a step above pulling on a girl’s pigtails, groping is perhaps the most cowardly and juvenile of all the offenses on the list. That doesn’t make it any less unwelcome. Keep your hands to yourselves, guys.

Don’t assume all women are straight. Don’t get weird when you find out otherwise
Although many men are aware of the limits of their attractiveness, when fed enough intoxicants some tend to view themselves as irresistible. Meeting a lesbian completely immune to their charm, then, can be quite a shock to the system, perhaps prompting a disagreeable or even violent reaction to the news. Just as offensive, however, is the man who demands to see women kiss to prove it and gratify his personal fantasies. As if objectifying women isn’t bad enough, trying to turn the club into the place where cheap porn-informed scenarios play out while you whip out your camera phone is just sleazy.

Don’t try to pay a woman to dance or get with your friend
Several women told me that at some point they’d been offered money to dance with some sad sack by his buddies. Of course this so called act of compassion — “please, just dance with my friend for $20 so he doesn’t feel like a loser” — is almost laughably crude. It’s also sadly revealing of how some men believe the average woman will toss away her dignity for a tenner or two. The only plausible explanation I’ve come up with for this happening is that a lot of guys would definitely dance with a woman for a few bucks. A dollar doesn’t make everyone holler, honey boo boo.

Don’t grab a woman’s phone to give her your number
Despite feeling compelled to write this piece, I know not all clubs are awful places where women are preyed on. A lot times people quickly hit it off in clubs, in no small part due to chemically generated goodwill. In these situations boundaries seem more fluid and personal space appears less of a concern, all until you reach for a woman’s phone. This would be a rather simple solution for a number of communication problems if it didn’t fail so miserably at communicating. Most guys wouldn’t dare grab a new acquaintance’s phone if it was another man holding it. A woman may seem less threatening, but no less likely to be pissed at that power grab.

Avoid booking all female lineups
When asked about the gender-related clubbing pet peeves, Marea Vierge-Noire gave this exemplary response which must be presented in full: “Don’t book women onto all female lineups. Separating women from men on lineups is rarely a celebration of women’s contributions to dance music. More often, it sends the message that we should be separated to even the playing field, as if there were a disadvantage to account for. This isn’t the Olympics. We’re not being compared to men in the shot-put category. Don’t book women because they’re women and they’re adequate for the job. Book women because they’re right for your show. Book women because they’re better than the guy you were thinking about booking and don’t book them if they aren’t.”

Don’t touch the mixer or her while she’s DJing
In smaller, more local settings where audiences and DJs know each other well, “booth” policy tends to be a bit relaxed. Usually having friends close at hand is a boon, but a contingent of men feel compelled to insert themselves into their female friend’s DJ set once inside. The art of mixing doesn’t look easy without a lot of work, so getting hugged mid-cue is probably not the one. Still worse is the pal who “just wants to help” by giving the EQs a tweak — because you almost had it perfect. It would be rude to force yourself on anyone’s DJ set, but it sets an especially bad example to literally nitpick a woman’s performance.

Take a hint — she’s just not that into you
Look, I don’t know how to break it to you any other way. She’s given you the cold shoulder, refused your drinks, dodged you in crowds and flat out walked away. Just because she wants to dance doesn’t mean she wants to dance with you. I’m well aware you’ve had a few drinks and have the hots for a woman who is clearly not interested. Take the hint: this is your opportunity to walk away from this situation with a little dignity and your genitals un-bruised. You can try your hand again another time, with another woman, but this time it’s over. And recognizing this will save you a lot of trouble and embarrassment. Taxi!


One thing I should have included in the original version of this feature was a simple but very important piece of advice: If you see a woman being harassed, say something to the club’s staff or step in yourself to stop it.

I couldn’t have written this without the help of Marea Vierge-Noire, Elly Schook, Mica Alaniz, Denise Dalphond, Maggie Litgen, Kelly Delaney, and Yazi The DJ. Thanks, ladies.

littlewhiteearbuds  on November 10, 2012 at 3:05 PM

You’re right. You’re totally within your right to completely misunderstand everything that’s been written here and to mischaracterize it as such. I just won’t sit by as you try to paint me as a rape apologist who doesn’t understand what his own words mean.

Andrei D  on November 10, 2012 at 3:09 PM

Im sorry, is this the same person who stated earlier that “language is wonderfully fluid, and insisting that words can only be used one way does not seem helpful”? Or the person who spoke positively about the ability to see things from multiple perspectives?

Andrei D  on November 10, 2012 at 3:11 PM

‘Understanding’ a piece of writing is not the same thing as ‘understanding it from the author’s perspective’.

Andrei D  on November 10, 2012 at 3:24 PM

BTW, I’m not painting you as a rape apologist and I dont doubt your good intentions. I doubt anyone else would either.

protocollie  on November 10, 2012 at 4:36 PM

i do think the ‘don’t tweak the EQ’ is a bit of a stretch, as I really sincerely think this isn’t so much a product of sexism as it is just a general issue of respect amongst DJs (which really is a problem in and of itself, dealing with huge ego in the DJ booth can ruin a night!)

That said, overall a very good field guide which unfortunately probably won’t be read by the people who need it most, and I really wanted to toss out a bonus high five to the artist, the little comics are great.

baobinga  on November 10, 2012 at 10:20 PM

wow there are some po faced reactions to this piece. it’s not supposed to be the defining discussion of sexual politics in a temporary autonomous zone with references to advanced contemporary theory; it’s basically saying ‘don’t be a dick on the dancefloor, and be aware that it’s more common than you think’.

there are no rape jokes in the article; the fact that it wasn’t discussed at a level of academic seriousness doesn’t mean it is belittling sexual harrassment; and as the author says, if you think the points could be made better, have a crack yourself.

calling out ‘acknowledge you privilege!’ and ‘beware of triggering’ is not a particularly helpful way of engaging with this piece either.

Janice Ian  on November 11, 2012 at 12:03 AM

AMEN @ baobinga

scum  on November 11, 2012 at 10:03 AM

LWE, talking about “dance rape” IS A RAPE JOKE. End of.

scum  on November 11, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Also, referring to John Cleese in this context is laughable, considering the amount of misogynistic material he’s come out with recently regarding his ex-wife. Not quite sure how he’s relevant here.

diffuse371  on November 11, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Whilst i am in agreement that the word rape is extremely sensitive, with a body of meaning that touches on spaces that many of us are lucky enough not to have witnessed. I feel that the authors analogy here is a fair one. Many instances of rape are loaded with a similar set of circumstances as the incident portrayed above, with the perpetrator acting on a feeling that the victim wants it, and ignoring any messages that they are violating the personal space of the victim.

I hope this article initiates some more open dialogue about experience of abusive culture in spaces that we need to be assured of our safety in. It’s so sad that people should have to go to a place to be free and enjoy themselves and have their personal safety and freedom violated so repeatedly and in such a sensitive area, whilst so many look on unquestioningly.

scum  on November 11, 2012 at 12:59 PM

nope, it’s not a “fair analogy”, it trivialises rape. being danced into a corner, as unpleasant as it is, is nothing like rape.

the clue’s in the part of your sentence where you admit you haven’t experienced anything like this. that’s your cue to shut up.

diffuse371  on November 11, 2012 at 1:32 PM

I have been forced into sex against my will. But in all honesty I don’t feel like I need to fall back on that to justify my opinion or to defend myself against your unjustified hostility towards me.

Adam  on November 11, 2012 at 2:53 PM

Interesting article and glad I read it, I suppose most of the time when I go out for a proper dance session I’m completely in my own world and I suppose I’m lucky enough to have had some wonderful experiences dancing with women occasionally but it’s always ancillary to the fact that I’m there to listen to the music and it has been more that we are both dancing in proximity as opposed to at each other.

Anyways, I’ve not seen a lot of the above examples occur but it’s probably because I haven’t been looking either. Anyone invading another person’s personal space is a big nono and I’d like to think that I would strive to stop it if I saw it.

Perhaps I should be less self-involved.

Mikey  on November 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM

people have told you they’ve been upset by this and all you’ve done is tell them that’s not ok. Why the difficulty empathising?

Marco  on November 12, 2012 at 4:57 PM

How about people do not treat other people, regardless of gender like this in nightclubs. Every single case listed here, I have seen done to men as well. And the all female lineup part is laughable – because the only people I know booking those events, are female DJ’s, in female DJ collectives. I don’t know a single male promoter who would do that as a gimmick.

real_drum  on November 13, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Hei, is this article written for people who live in 1840?

Danny  on November 13, 2012 at 12:48 PM

I just can’t wait for what’s next in this series of mind expanding articles.

I mean, how you gunna top this?

Comrad  on November 19, 2012 at 6:29 PM

Shit, posted the first comment, then went off and did my thing for a bit. Come back to the thread and all hell’s broke loose. Lets keep the talk on the beats from now on. Guardian has lots of space for online warfare.

jaybyrd  on November 19, 2012 at 9:43 PM

The most important thing to take from this article, and the comments, at least to me, is a serious subject is being discussed. Steve, you did your job.

Partofthepuzzle  on November 19, 2012 at 9:43 PM

Good for addressing the subject but honestly, some of the things you listed are so far out of bounds that anyone behaving that way at the events that I promote or that my friends promote, would be *permanently* banned.

The primary requirement to have a great experience is that EVERYONE must feel safe at our events. That’s our prime directive and it guides our decision making. We’re well aware that special considerations are needed in this area with regards to making sure that women not only feel safe from grossly crude behavior, but that they also feel comfortable and cared for in terms of the attitude and subtle harassment that far too often, ruin their experience.

For us, that involves keeping an eye out for guys that are “stalking” women on the dance floor, e.g. following them around after getting repeated hints or even verbal messages that the woman doesn’t want to dance with them; guys dancing very tight or touching them when there’s no indication that it’s welcome, etc.

In these cases, one of the promoters will usually take the time to check in with the woman to see what she has to say about it and let her know that we’re available to help he deal with the guy(s). We also let them know that our events are places where women can politely set clear boundaries on their own, if they choose and they have support whenever they need it.

The next step is for male *and* female staff to take the guy aside and talk to them. These takes a very good communication skills: the guys are usually very defensive. But the good news is that in most cases, they get the message and we never have trouble with them again. Repeat offenders are banned.

The result is that the word has gotten out that our women can be themselves at our events and not have to worry about getting creeped out by obnoxious guys and they can feel free and express themselves. And that’s a big plus for women AND men.

clubAmerica  on November 27, 2012 at 5:08 PM

As an American female, I have felt the safest in the techno parties in NYC. On the rare occasion that I have been to a more mainstream place or bar (also a place with more women than a techno club), I am pretty grossed out from seeing all sorts of behavior described in this article. To me, the techno club is the most non-sexual place ever despite being a sausage-fest and I love it. At least in NYC, I get the feeling that people go out to hear music and hang out with people they know rather than meet new people. This experience had been pretty consistent until I went to Fabric where I saw way more predatory behavior than I am accustomed to seeing.

SohoDutch  on November 28, 2012 at 4:49 PM

Good Article, as a guy and a DJ – when at a club we definitely have to make sure our behavior (especially when liquor infused) is not offensive to women. Us guys can be A$$holes… We need more women coming out to Clubs not less…. Guys Read this article and spread the word.. And don’t invite out your/our douche-bag friends….

Jimbob McSlaughterhouse  on December 31, 2012 at 8:23 AM

Good piece, its fucking sick the way some men think they can treat women in nightclubs. Its not 1973, and it was fucking ugly & pathetic then.

Witness to some of this..  on January 11, 2013 at 7:02 AM

I think this article is pretty spot on. I have been horrified to see some things that guys do to get womens attention or try to make a move when the female is clearly not interested… I have actually had to step in to help before because I wouldn’t like to be that female in that situation.

The only point I will raise is that there are women who do tease and lead men on and then wonder why they get harrassed. I’m not saying that this is the reason for all of the unwanted attention that women get in clubs, but I have seen it happen more than I’d like to.

On a few of occasions in a couple of different clubs, one of which was Fabric, I wittnessed girls coming on to different men to get them to buy them drinks and then just walking off once they have got their drinks as if they had never seen or spoken to that guy before.

I actually used to know a girl who did that. She was proud that she could go out with little or no money and get men to buy her drinks. I was disgusted.

Like I said, this isn’t the case all the time, I just wanted to point out that sometimes men aren’t always to blame.

D.  on August 10, 2013 at 9:09 PM

Thanks for this – smartly illustrated, and comically true. It’s too bad that some comments here show just how much this article needs to be posted. Nice work. Drew me to your page as a new visitor.

dave  on April 6, 2014 at 9:53 AM

in a club there is the two minute rule, see a girl you like, wait two minutes to see if she is with another girl friend, with a boy friend, or with a mix group. If she is with a girl friend go chat up.
If you can not pull, don’t be a masturbator do some chemical castration pills to reduce libido.


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