“There’s probably no better place on earth to observe gender dynamics than in a bar on a Friday night.”
The summer after I graduated from college, I worked as a bouncer at a bar just outside of campus. At the time I thought it was the ideal profession: hang out at a bar with my friends every night, sleep in every day, and have cute drunk girls constantly vie for my attention. An unexpected perk of the job was the rush that came with commanding a physical authority over an entire venue. It’s something that probably only police, security guards, or other bouncers understand, but there’s a certain high that one gets when they know they’ve been given physical authority over a group of people. Frat boy trashing the bathroom? I got to throw his ass to the curb. Two drunk guys jawing at each other and threatening to start a fight over something insignificant? My co-workers and I swooped and took care of business.
I’ve never been a violent guy by nature. So the rush for me wasn’t the physical altercations (they rarely ever got that physical). For me it was the rush of being a protector of the innocent, the sober knight entrusted by hundreds of the drunk and vulnerable. And one situation that consistently got our blood to pump was whenever a girl would come to us to complain about a guy. Particularly if she was really attractive.”That guy in the blue shirt grabbed my ass.” “Those guys over there are making rude and inappropriate comments to me.” “The guy in the white polo called me the ‘C’ word.” Without hesitation, we would storm the guy from all angles. Trial, judge and jury would all commence within the two seconds it took us to drag him out of the bar by his shirt collar and to tell him to shut the hell up. Of course these guys always complained that they never did it. Some even went so far as to claim they didn’t even know the girl. We didn’t care. Few situations were more validating as a bouncer as protecting some (drunk) damsel in distress. And our drunk damsels appeared distressed often.
It never occurred to me that summer to question whether any of those guys actually didn’t harass those girls. I had been to plenty of bars, I saw the crassness some men were capable of, and especially after a few drinks: how they could treat women like objects, how they would intimidate and sometimes violate girls sexually as part of some sick power trip. What I wasn’t aware of yet was the crassness some women were capable of, especially after a few drinks.
There’s probably no better place on earth to observe gender dynamics than in a bar on a Friday night. The girl showing her cleavage to the bartender for free drinks. Greasy, Jersey Shore-type guys cat-calling and making offensive gestures as women turn away in disgust. Innocent guy friends who step in and shield their female friends from said gestures. Groping and grinding on the dance floor while songs blare out lines like, “You’re a sexy bitch,” and “Get it up, get it up, get down.” The meat-market brings out enough gender stereotypes to give any feminist nightmares.
It’s easy to castigate the drunk and horny as slimy, selfish predators who exploit women out to simply have a good time. But there’s a piece of the gender role puzzle still missing here, and that’s men as protectors. I call it the Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome. And like most men, I’m a life-long sufferer.
When I’m out with a group of female friends and random guys approach them to flirt with them, my immediate reaction is to keep an eye on them and step in if things start to get weird. In fact, at times I’ve fantasized about protecting a female friend from some marauding male who would dare threaten her. I think most men have. And many times I have stepped in, pretending to be a female friend’s boyfriend to get a drunk guy to leave her alone, or in even fewer situations, actually confronting the guy myself and asking him to leave because he’s being inappropriate.
And I see it too when I’m the random guy chatting up the cute girl. Her guy friends nearby burn holes into me with their eyes, making sure I don’t make any wrong move. Some of them question me and grill me for a minute to make sure I’m a decent guy. Others cut to the chase and make it clear I’m not welcome.
Recently, when I learned about the feminist concept of “rape culture,” it didn’t sit right with me. OK, that’s a lie, it really pissed me off. Now, I’m not denying that there are social factors that lead to a downplay or even blame of rape victims. I agree that what it describes it’s a real phenomenon and a problem.
What I hate is the term itself: “rape culture.” It implicates every man as an accessory to some rape, somewhere, for no other reason than that he’s breathing and has a dick. If you’re male, despite your best deeds or intentions, you were born guilty. It’s offensive, and dare I say misandrist. What about all of the times I stepped in and shielded my female friends from those inappropriate advances? What about all of the girls I called at night to make sure they got home safe? What about all of those drunk frat guys I dragged out of that bar that summer, threatening to hit me and fight me, for no other reason than some girl—a perfect stranger, no less—came to me and requested I do so?
Here’s another story from college. I shared an apartment with three girls. And one night I got a phone call from one of them saying the other had been drugged with rophynol (the date rape drug) at the bar down the street. They were trying to get her home, but she couldn’t walk or talk and they needed help. I dropped everything and rushed over.
When I showed up, my first question was, “Where is he? What did he look like?” Not “How is she?” Or “Is she OK?” But “I want to fucking murder this guy. Where is he?”
Like I said, I’m a pretty non-violent guy. I’ve been in exactly two fights in my life, neither of which I started, and both of which I lost. For all of my months as a bouncer, no altercation ever escalated above grabbing some stumbling drunk frat kid trying to shove me. I had always found ways to talk my way out of confrontations throughout my life, whether through reasoning with the other party, or boldly bullshitting my way out of the situation.
But this was perhaps the only time in my life that I can recall that I was consciously out for blood. There was no rationality behind it. The guy was obviously long gone. He probably had a posse of friends with him. And he also probably had plausible deniability over the whole situation. But I had a deep instinctual urge to choke the life out of the motherfucker, and it came from a place that I’ve rarely felt.
What the gender stereotypes and theories about “rape culture” get wrong is that with the gender stereotype of men as sexual predators, comes also the stereotype of men as sexual protectors. Whether you believe this role of men as protectors is patronizing, noble, or a cultural vestige of the patriarchy, it exists. It’s our Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome. And it’s unfair to ignore the positive repercussions. Especially since most men are not rapists. But most men are on the lookout for a damsel in distress.
Years later, when I was visiting an old friend in my hometown, I approached two girls standing by the bar. They were cute and I thought one had maybe given me some eyes. I walked over to introduce myself and before I could even get my name out, the girl nearest me turned to me, shoved me, and yelled, “Get away from us, asshole!” Completely stunned, the only reply I could muster was a meek, “But I didn’t say anything.” The girl, almost shrieking now, repeated, “Get away from us!”
I felt a large hand grab my arm. I turned to see one of the doormen.
“Come on buddy, it’s time to go.”
“But I actually didn’t even say anything to those girls.”
He told me to shut up and started dragging me by the arm. We got outside. I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the situation. Karma, perhaps.
My friend followed me outside. “Mark, what did you say to those girls?”
“Nothing. I didn’t say anything. She just freaked out on me.”
He gave me a skeptical look for a second. “No seriously, what perverted thing did you say to those girls?”
We quietly walked to the next bar.