Readers Write: Women As Club Commodities

Most people would probably agree that women, particularly young women, face certain risks in bars and nightclubs. What they can't agree on is why this happens, how big the risks are, and what the solution is. Most of our readers would probably also agree that empowering women is a good thing, but they have drastically different ideas of what empowerment means.

An article published Tuesday called "How Bars Exploit Underage Women as Commodities" drew a wide range of responses -- some quite heated -- from AlterNet readers.

Written by Liz Funk, the article asserts that some bar and nightclub tactics such as admitting underage women, offering women free drinks, and using women to attract business can put them at an increased risk for harassment or rape. Funk, who considers herself a feminist, quotes a source who says this is exploitation.

To that, some readers gave applause, calling it "empowering," while others recoiled and said it "reinforces myths" and is a "disservice to women."

Below are excerpts of their comments, with a response from the 18-year-old author herself at the end.

Some of the early responses suggested that nothing is wrong with the "special treatment" women receive in bars and clubs.

Women can enjoy their cheap drinks "without becoming victims," wrote one reader under the name ladyoracle:

Yes, the point of these promotions is to attract men to the bar because there's practically a guarantee of finding lots of drunk women there, whether they are underage or not. If that marketing works, it's because men fall for it. If women are willing to take that risk for some cheap drinks, then that's their choice.
But women can take advantage of the offers without becoming victims. And men can find other clubs with gender-neutral drink specials and covers.
In my years of clubbing (and I look like a Barbie), I've never been come onto by a guy who pressured me, or even attempted to pressure me into anything beyond perhaps a pathetic attempt because he had nothing to loose. Sometimes after being refused they call me a name, but, whatever. That's part of bar and clubbing culture. The time I was slipped the date rape drug, yeah that guy was a friend, not a stranger.
Some readers say debating the ethics of drink specials misses the point.

"That young women are getting free drinks is not the problem or what makes them "victims," wrote one reader under the name Zenobia. "It is WHY they are getting the illusory special treatment that is the problem. A rat gets free cheese from a rat trap, and yet we don't say, "But why is the rat complaining? He's getting food."

Zenobia's post continues:
The larger question, though, is why do so many women not get the TOOLS they need NOT to be victims? Why don't both girls AND boys get the tools they need to treat all their brothers and sisters with dignity and respect? ...
[F]or girls and women to choose -- as active agents not victims -- how to make smart choices and how to recognize when they are being exploited, they need to learn how to read situations and how to analyze the media sources that try to brainwash them into being products for someone else to get rich. They need access to strong, self-aware role models as they form their identities. They need to be empowered enough to realize that they do not have to follow pack-herd mentality to have worth. ...
Maybe if girls and young women were inundated with as many images of females as astronauts, professors, heads of socially responsible companies making a difference, contemplative poets, and athletes (celebrated for their ability rather than for their ability to turn shallow men's heads) as they were innundated with images of bimbos jiggling for male approval, they would think about themselves a little differently, and make more empowered choices. Likewise, maybe boys would treat young women like something other than the sex objects they see everywhere, conditioning them to think of all "girls" as hunks of meat.
Girls need to speak up and assert themselves against their own exploitation for the situation to ever change, and I applaud Liz for being one of those who has the guts to do it. That is how you say NO to being a victim and YES to being empowered.
By contrast, some readers argued that articles like this one are not empowering -- they're a part of the problem.

"I am deeply troubled by the Liz Funk article," wrote karoblink:
The message and implication of the article was [that] women who go to bars and drink alcohol are putting themselves at risk for rape, period. I am astounded that a feminist website would be so irresponsible by reinforcing these rape myths.
I am a volunteer sexual abuse crisis counselor, and I can not tell you how many times women have been assaulted and blame themselves because they were at a bar drinking and felt that they were somehow responsible. Additionally, because fear of being blamed is common, the decision for a victim to report a sexual assault becomes more difficult. Ms. Funk's article only will confirm these fears by erroneously placing the fault onto to the victim.
The "blame the victim" rhetoric is over; efforts need to be made for men (especially young boys) in creating a more positive attitude towards women. This is a very difficult task, however, reinforcing rape myths and posting them on a website for women to read sets back the sexual assault movement decades.
This article will do nothing but provide a disservice to women.
Others don't seem to see personal responsibility as a matter of blaming the victim; rather, they suggest it as a way of giving women some credit.

"Maybe as an adult human being (and 18 is adult, even if below the drinking age), the woman has some personal responsibility for the environment she places herself in? And the intelligence to understand that women are treated preferentially at these clubs for a reason?" writes Logic's Edge. "I believe a woman has more perception than a rat?"

Under the heading, "When Are They Going to Stop Protecting Us From Ourselves," alicelillie writes, "Women who want to avoid this situation can simply not go to these clubs. Women who go know what the risks are and weigh the pros and cons. They know there is a risk. There is a risk in staying home too; the roof could fall in. The individual decides."

"Having said that, anyone who perpetrates a crime is responsible for that crime," alicelillie continues. "The person against whom the crime is committed is blameless. We all have a free will. Life is risky, so you decide the risks you are willing to take, and someone who commits violence should suffer the consequences. To outlaw the women from going to the club would be wrong, and to let a criminal off the hook would also be wrong."

A few readers stepped out of the victim discussion entirely and pointed not to men, women or any individuals as responsible for these risks but to companies and corporations within a capitalist society:

"Why is it that the USA has so many sleazy businesses with so many sleazy patrons?" wrote rsaxto. "Could it be that top corporations stimulate this pattern of activity to maximize profits by creating a pattern of brainwashed corruption?"

"The effects of capitalism reach deeply into all social institutions," said a post by laoma. "These young patrons are the braindead products of a degenerating university system."

In response to the many opinions and the frenzy the article stirred among feminist bloggers, Liz Funk, the article's author, said she thinks the wide range of comments are "very indicative of what third wave feminism is":
We bring all different approaches to feminism: sex-positive, anti-exploitation, egalitarian, protectionist, gentle, angry, didactic, feverish, positive, negative, educated, and, well, not. And we all read into articles in different ways so that we feel satisfied.
While I really don't want to (and don't have the time to) get involved with some of the angry bloggers' generally-unfounded (and mostly vengeful) complaints, there are a couple things to point out:
News articles don't always reflect what their writers say. Maureen Dowd started her career covering sports and eventually went on to politics; did she have opinions about what she was writing? Who knows? But no one put words in her mouth using articles she had written in the past on nearly unrelated topics to justify their assumptions.
If I wanted to write a really strident piece about how I feel clubs exploit women and how I feel that pertains to women's sexuality, the team of editors at Women's eNews would have classified it as a commentary, and it would have looked nothing like the article eventually published on AlterNet. I'm actually a big advocate of abandoning the drinking age and I have a relatively liberal approach to sexuality. And I'm the only one who can state my opinions for me.
Also, a word about publishing: It's tough to generalize about what a writer "means" from an article that is thoroughly edited (especially at Women's eNews, where three different editors critique each article before it is published) because editors often have much more say in how an article turns out than the writer does. And writers generally have little to no say (in my case) over the title of the said article they wrote.
I think the malice in regards to this article is reflective of the sad truth of feminism that we've hashed out over and over; women -- even feminist women -- seem quick to tear other apart, especially when they feel threatened. This is by no means to say that I haven't participated in this bashing, but I think the success of the November 2006 elections said something on the value of cooperating with people you aren't crazy about rather than wasting entire days trying to tear them down.
As the struggle for women's rights and safety continues, so will our coverage of these issues. Keep the discussion alive, and keep those comments coming.


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