Friday 11 July 2014

'It takes a certain ballsiness to go to a bar alone if you’re a woman'

At least it does according to this blog post which was published a year ago. Yes, that's right - in 2013. Until I began writing this post I had no idea that a person (male or female) going for a drink by themselves was such a big deal. But there are hundreds of websites, blogs and forum posts, where people ask for and give advice on the topic. But what is even more surprising to me is that the old-fashioned concept that 'women shouldn't go to pubs or bars by themselves and if they do it means they are only there for one reason*' is still being voiced today by women.

I started drinking pints of beer in pubs when I was 15. From the age when I was legally allowed to buy myself an alcoholic drink in pubs I've felt perfectly within my rights to go and have a drink by myself occasionally. Of course I've experienced the shocked glances of old-fashioned men many times. But it's never stopped me from taking part in what I consider to be a completely normal activity. However, if women insist on exercising their right to go for a drink by themselves, there's one recurring problem they'll probably have to face.

At the time this Boak and Bailey post was published I’d been thinking about a recent experience I'd had while drinking alone and was intending to write a post of my own. That was two months ago and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since. The main reason I’ve not sat down to write this until now is that the #notallmen, #yesallwomen debate has been occupying my mind instead. Yes, ultimately, it's the same discussion, but it pushed this post further down my list of priorities. 

So what happened to me back in April? Well, being at a loose end on the evening of April 17th I decided to drop into BrewDog Shepherds Bush for the Kernel tap takeover. I went alone and hadn’t arranged to meet anyone there. I thought I would arrive early, grab some food, try a few different beers and head home before it even got busy. I’d taken some work with me in case I got bored of people-watching. 

Less than five minutes after I sat down at a table by the door, a guy leaned over the back of the opposite side of my booth and said, ‘Hey! I LOVE YOUR TATTOOS! They're awesome.’ I said thank you and smiled politely whilst doing nothing to invite him to hang around. So he stood there swaying slightly, staring intently at me while I continued reading something on my phone. As he wandered away to bother someone at another table, I realised he was, to put it generously, a bit tipsy. I watched him with my peripheral vision for the next ten minutes or so as he roamed around the bar approaching different tables and receiving varying reactions. Now, clearly, some people will not feel threatened by having a drunken stranger who wants to engage with them arrive at their table. I’m sure that some people will even feel that it counts as a kind of free entertainment.

For my part I strongly dislike being around people who are drunk and unpredictable, more so when I am out on my own. It makes me feel on edge and I can’t relax – pretty much the opposite of the experience I want when I go for a beer. So while this guy did the rounds of other patrons I sat there awaiting his inevitable return.  Eventually he leaned over into my booth again and said, ‘Hey! Where’s your boyfriend? Is he here now?’ 

Ok, so obviously what I wanted to say in response to this was: ‘what has my boyfriend got to do with anything? I’ve just come out by myself for a couple of beers and I don’t want to be pestered by an annoying drunk.’ However, what I didn’t want to do was i) engage in any further discussion, ii) get involved in an argument, or iii) be seen as some kind of challenge to be won over. I just wanted to shut down the conversation as quickly and definitively as possible. The best way I could see to do that was to say: ‘He’s not here at the moment, but he’s on his way.’ (Add polite smile.  Return to what I was doing. Do not engage.) He wanders away again and the next thing I see him doing is asking a table of young men ‘do you want to see a magic trick?’ while picking up a metal bar stool and holding it over his head. I think at that point one of the staff came over to speak to him. I was busy avoiding eye contact. Finally Drunk Guy collects his bicycle from somewhere inside the bar and wheels it out. He stops at the door to tell me, ‘If he doesn’t turn up, I’ll take you out, alright?’

After he left and I was able to relax the place started to fill up. Two older men came and asked if they could sit at my table while they had a quick couple of drinks. One of them was Irish and in mourning for the loss of the O’Neill’s across the road. He managed to force down his Kernel beers but all he really wanted was a pint of Guinness. He asked his friend if he thought that this bar would be open long; if people really wanted this kind of thing here.

Shortly after they left a young man came and asked to sit at my table and did not attempt to strike up any kind of conversation beyond a (mutual) request to ‘please mind my jacket while I go to the toilet?’ Later on some friends of his turned up and asked to sit at the table. I got into a discussion with one of the women about gin tasting events and what kind of beers a non-beer drinker might try from the Kernel tap takeover beer list.

You see? Talking to strangers in pubs is completely fine. Being bothered by drunks who ask where my boyfriend is not fine.  Pretty simple really. No need for any of this: ‘oh, you can’t even approach a stranger and talk to them these days or you get accused of harassment! Oh, let's all just NEVER talk to anyone we don't know while we're out just in case we 'offend' them!’ nonsense. Some of the people who come out with this stuff have got to be trolling and the rest must just be poorly socialised and/or disturbingly bad at reading obvious social cues.

Of course making a polite approach to a stranger in a pub is fine! Just respect that person's right to NOT interact with you if they don’t feel like it. The End.

When Boak and Bailey asked for opinions on Twitter about how women felt about visiting pubs alone I was saddened (but not really surprised) by some of the responses. The idea that in 2014 a woman would still feel too nervous to enter a pub by herself makes me sad and angry, but mostly it just makes me want to do it all the more.

*shockingly that reason is not 'to drink beer'

(Post is by Emma - some readers wanted us to clarify who is writing which blog posts)


Lizard Seer said...

I was probably guilty of starting this debate back in April with this blog post. It was just an observation and I never expected what followed to happen. Needless to say, I haven't seen much increase in the female drinking population in that place. If a woman comes in on her own, as before, 80% of the time it's to ask about vacancies and hand in a CV.

It's a shame, because I'd prefer some proper female conversation (and no, I don't hit on women in pubs, or anywhere come to that), as male conversation tends to be overly competitive and, eventually, rather crude.

Rowan said...

It is really simple, and I don't understand why some get stroppy and offended when a person says that being harassed by a knobhead is annoying.

I'm in the same boat as you - I've always felt comfortable going into a pub alone and having a drink, but some women I know don't. I think it's probably at least partially because some unfortunate blokes do think it's ok to zero in on unaccompanied women and ask them where their boyfriend is. Such strange behaviour!

Cooking Lager said...

You basic problem, treacle, is the patriarchal nature of both society and the pub environment which originated when the Abrahamic religions developed and supplanted the matriarchal nature based religions of the pre-agricultural era.

What is needed is action to create either matriarchal environments or none gender specific ones for getting pissed in, like.

So long as the beer is cheap, I'll drink anywhere, so thing on. I'd drink in the matriarchal arms if the bitter was cheaper than the Smiths.

If you build it, they will come.

tania_nexust said...

Well, I'm about to head out for a solitary pub crawl - I not expecting to have to put up with any intrusive or bothersome behaviour, but I'm quite open to sharing a table with strangers or engaging in some 'normal' conversation with them. But I know when I started to visit pubs on my own at Uni it was considered "abnormal". Pfft to that!

Phil said...

It always boggles me just how simple the solution is. Rule 1: If she's not interested, leave her alone. Rule 2: Yes, you can tell whether she's interested or not, don't be stupid about it. (OK, rule 2 isn't exactly a rule, but you know what I mean.)

When this issue was being discussed on a different (very different) blog, some of the regular - male - commenters got very huffy at the idea of confining their attentions to people who actually wanted them; the consensus seemed to be that a woman might think she wasn't interested, but she might realise what delightful company you were once you'd imposed it on her. (No, I don't really understand it either.)

A lot of men will agree that harassment is horrible and drunken lechers are out of order, but find it very hard to accept any restriction on their behaviour - because of course they know that they're the good guys, so anything they want to do can't be a problem. (I'm a man, btw. I'm also very very shy, so don't find it hard not to impose on people!)

Unknown said...

Being harassed by drunks whether male or female is a pain in the arse, you never know what they will do next.

Emma said...

Themed pubs are not something I would be interested in - as you say there is no such thing as something that all women like, same as there is no such thing that all men like. Also, that does nothing to solve the problem of some men making women feel uncomfortable in certain pubs or bars. If anything, it implies that pubs should be gender-based. And that is wrong on so many levels.


Emma said...

Seems like Blogger no longer provides the option of replying to individual comments? How odd. Anyway...

I completely agree that pubs should be non-gendered. And essentially, if everyone in a pub would behave in a fundamentally considerate fashion toward others (regardless of gender) then we wouldn't even need to have this discussion.

Phil: I think you make a very important point. Certain men will suggest that when women complain about getting bothered in pubs they are making a fuss about nothing or exaggerating the effect it has on them. Some men will even go on to suggest that women should be flattered by/grateful for the attention (see also, street harassment). I'm sure many men think they are just having some harmless fun. Too often women have to pretend this is ok because they are fearful of reprisals if they don't play along and conform with their expected role. It's an unpleasant (and unfair) situation to find yourself in when all you wanted was to have a quiet drink.