A few nights ago, I woke up at 3.30 in the morning to chants of “USA! USA! USA!,” a fight about a spilled drink, and the sound of voices that all together hummed like a swarm of tracker jackers. Wednesday night was College Night at the ever-so-famous Opera club; this being the week before the universities start up again, the club was packed with 18+ -year-olds. On the one hand, these nights are the hellacious reason why I never get a full night’s sleep Wednesday through Saturday. The fights, the shouts, the traffic, and the police lights all add up at about 3.00 in the morning and do not release me to sleep until 4.30, when the garbage truck makes its daily rumble through the ally.
On the other hand, club culture fascinates me. I am not really one to go clubbing unless it’s with my friends—I’m known for my wild and choreographed fits of fist bumps combined with bunny hops. But the clubs here in Atlanta are serious business and not the place to run your shopping cart moves or “Working on the farm” dance routine. No, the women get dressed up in outfits that must be stitched into their legs to keep them from riding up and the men never really seemed interested in dancing, only watching. The drinks are beyond expensive, the cover charge only applies to the modestly dressed women and every single man, and the music at one club competes with the music from another as if their respective DJ are kickboxing each other in the very street that divides them.
After a quick search on my library’s website, I realized that clubbing is far more complex than going out and dancing your woes away. Gender, race, sexuality, and class constructs are being built, challenged, then re-built, even as the clubbers wait in line. Men and women are expected to act a certain way, agreeing to a kind of unspoken exchange: that if a woman prepares herself in such a way that pleases the men, she gets the opportunity to have her night paid for. The men, in turn, vie for the distinction of being the least creepy guy there (an academic term, I’m sure) and entertain the women with dancing, anecdotes, treats, etc.
Several of the articles go on to discuss female subjugation and the degradation to women in this exchange; but if anything, it might be an uneven deal in favor of women. Since the early 1900s, women went to dance clubs dressed in the best their pitiful wages could afford them and sought out men to buy them food, drinks, and tickets with their still-pitiful-but-at-least-twice-as-much-wages, so that they could all participate in a popular culture.* They drew inspiration for their outfits, hairstyles and make-up, dance moves, and attitudes from a variety of sources, including the high-Victorian ladies, brothel houses, or across class lines. Over 100 years later, this is still a tradition perpetuated by this club culture. “Ladies Free of Charge,” “Ladies Nights,” and an atmosphere that encourages women to hook up with men were as typical of clubs in 1903 as in 2012, even though women now are making significantly more money (let’s compare the $.16 made in CA in 1916 to the $8.00 in 2008… you can’t even buy a caramel at the Walgreen’s with $.16). This implies that they are more capable than ever of buying their own drinks, covering their own admissions; they no longer need to rely on their partners to finance a night of booty shaking and regrettable facebook pictures.
I know this is probably a fantastically over-optimistic way of looking at a culture that puts the female body on display, reduced to a piece of curvacious meat; that encourages sexual abuse and rape (BFD, right Todd Akin?!); promotes hetero-norm social laws, slut shaming, and a generally distorted and big-bosomed image of what femininity ought to look and act like. I am still amazed that these age-old traditions persist. While we seek to close the pay-gap between men and women in the work force, social behavior still seems to be leaps and bounds behind rhetoric when it comes to gender equity. “Anything you can do, I can pay for, too” appears as an unlikely slogan for the next pussy riot.