This article is cross-posted at A Bookish Beemer, Brittany-Ann’s personal blog.
Among friends, I talk a lot about a particular bar that I frequent. After hearing my descriptions of this bar and my experiences in it, everyone has expressed interest in checking it out. After reading the comments on this post (specifically the comments by AB about bar culture), I began wondering just what it is that I like so much about it.
If you’d asked me before today, I would say that I like it because I feel comfortable there, that several family members frequent it as well, that most attendees know me or my family, and because I feel safe going there alone. I feel confident going there knowing that there is a low possibility of a Bad Thing happening to me, and should it happen, that there will be people there that will take care of me.
Now, I can go a little more in-depth about the reasons I like this bar, and hopefully this post will help to shed light on why so many women feel uncomfortable in bars, and how we might go about changing expectations and behaviors that make these places hostile atmospheres.
You see, the median age of the Regular at this bar is twenty years my senior. Many are married with children. Because of this, I know that I can relax and chat with regulars because I know that they’re not there to meet and pick up singles–they’re there for the same reasons I am–to relax and chat with other regulars. Even those regulars who are single, or younger than average, are likewise there to relax and chat.
In short, this bar is not a sexually charged atmosphere where all feel an obligation to perform for the opposite sex. This is not a place where you feel obligated to dress up and put forward your “best foot.” This is not a place where you go to look for someone to take home for the night, or you feel pressured to behave as if you are.
This is not to say that regulars don’t flirt or date each other–they do, but this reflects flirting and dating within a social circle, or activities that do not center around meeting singles to flirt and pick up, rather than the kind of flirting and pick ups that happen (or that we’re told happens) in bars.
This bar has cultivated a very family-like relationship with its customers–I’ve often described it as my “Cheers” bar. Everyone knows everyone–or, rather, everyone either knows you, a family member, your best friend, or your partner. I still have a hard time sorting out how I “know” some regulars outside of the bar–was it this guy who played softball with my father when I was a wee lass, or did he go to high school with him? Hmm… The walls are cluttered with photos of its regulars and their families, of celebrity autographs, etc.
This makes its customers feel as if they have an investment or part-ownership of this bar and thus, protective of it. Not a single regular will treat its employees or the property with disrespect. Fights won’t be tolerated. You’ll often see regulars bring in their families or close friends, usually for big sporting events or the cook-outs. As a result, the patrons become less and less strangers, and more like acquaintances or friends. The bar becomes less like a bar, with all its cultural connotations, and more like the home of a friend.
This bar has avoided cultivating a get-trashed-and-hook-up-here atmosphere, relieving the pressure of expected gender and sexual performance that contributes to rape culture. The closeness of the patrons, the patrons to the employees, etc strips away the anonymity that predators need to operate. This bar doesn’t need to offer drink specials, because it has cultivated a clientele that will keep coming back–and whom will bring the next generations, as well as their social circle–avoiding the subtle encouragement of other bars to binge drink.
Today, if you asked me why I like this bar, I will tell you that I don’t feel anonymous and therefore vulnerable. I don’t feel the temptation to binge-drink to “get my money’s worth.” I don’t feel an obligation to dress up. I don’t feel pressure to act the “sexy woman” and flirt with other patrons. I don’t see a patron buying me a drink as a sexual overture, as an unreturnable gesture that obligates me to play the “sexy woman” for their personal enjoyment that leads to my having to turn down more overt overtures. I don’t see the bar as a me vs. everyone else battlefield, where I must fight to simply sit in peace and enjoy my beverage of choice.