Gender, Violence and Partying
“You gotta fight for your right to paaaaaarty” is a line I often sang at the top of my lungs as a teenager partying in Reykjavík. The Beastie Boys were cool. Partying was cool. I was drunk on youth and recklessness, thirsty for adventure. And copious amounts of alcohol, of course. The fact that it was a bit dangerous only added to the appeal of partying hard.
People drank too much and passed out on sofas while others drew moustaches on their faces in permanent marker and took pictures. People made out for hours with people who they normally wouldn’t have had the courage to approach. Meanwhile, people cheated and were cheated on. They got into trouble with their parents or worse, the police. Rumours were born, romances sparked, friendships started or went up in flames, hearts were broken, and wallets and bladders were emptied respectively in bars and in public, and it often led to painstaking regret the following day.
Still it was all good fun until one night when the trouble got out of hand. A young man I knew subjected me to the kind of violence that makes girls guard their drinks, question their skirt lengths and wonder if they flirt too openly. The danger had become all too real. Partying became a different game for me, as it has for many others who have experienced violence in connection to nightlife.
The Invisible Group: Young, White, Hetero-sexual Males
Given that roughly 70% of all reported violent crimes in Reykjavík are committed on Saturdays and Sundays, in direct correlation with nightlife and partying in the capital, I find it astounding how silent we are about how festivities often turn to horror. In fact, partying has been found to precede both 62% of recorded instances of rape and sexual violence, according to according to data from Neyðarmóttakan, the emergency clinic for victims of rape and sexual violence.
Perhaps none of this is news to you. We all know that partying has the potential to spiral out of control and that some people simply can’t handle their drink (or other substances) and behave in unacceptable ways. What we’re less inclined to discuss, and what should perhaps be our main topic of conversation is, who perpetrates this violence?
At the recent Nordiskt Forum, a conference on gender equality in Malmö, Sweden, educator, filmmaker, and author Jackson Katz explained how society often overlooks the dominant group of white heterosexual males. When we hear the word “race,” he noted, we tend to think of ethnic minorities in our society, such as Africans or Asians. When we hear “gender,” we tend to think of women and when we hear “sexuality,” we tend to think of homosexuals. Thus, the dominant group is invisible, “as if they don’t have a race, a gender or a sexuality,” Jackson said.
In Iceland, this group is predominantly responsible for violent crime. In 2004, men committed 92% of all violent crimes in downtown Reykjavík, according to data published by the police. These men were typically 18–23 years old and mainly attacked other 18–23 year old men. Furthermore, according to statistics collected by Neyðarmóttakan during a five-year period (2003-2007), 92% of the perpetrators were again male, while 97% of the victims were female.
Despite this, newspaper headlines very seldom include the perpetrator. We’re used to reading “Woman raped in the city centre,” instead of “Man rapes woman in city centre.” Again, the dominant group is invisible, escaping analysis. Jackson Katz pointed out that a typical reaction to the horrible tragedies of school shootings and rampage killings in America is to question, “what’s going on with kids nowadays?” when in fact, these crimes are almost without exception carried out by young men. “If it were the other way around and all the perpetrators were girls, we would be asking “what’s going on with girls?” he added, noting that the fight against violence will hardly get anywhere if society refuses to look at or even name the actual perpetrators behind it: the invisible, dominant group.
We need to ask the uncomfortable question: Why does partying bring out violent behaviour in young men? Why does it create in them a need to assault one another and rape their female acquaintances? If we don’t pose these questions, we perpetuate the misconception that violence in correlation with the nightlife is a battle too difficult to fight or that an intangible, non-descript group of people are simply bad seeds for reasons unknown. But that would be denial. It’s all there, black on white in official data: The average person who carries out assault or rape in Iceland is a roughly 20-year-old white, Icelandic, heterosexual male.
Taking Responsibility: Fighting For Your Right To Paaaaaarty
So what are we going to do with this information? Are we going to reach out to young men? Are we going to take responsibility, as a society, for harmful stereotypes that teach us that “boys don’t cry,” and gives them their first inkling of male superiority when they’re told “don’t be such a girl” if they’re hurting? Are we going to question whether the iron grip of stereotypical masculinity that prevents healthy emotional expression might be the very reason why young men lash out when the grip has been softened by alcohol or other substances?
Jackson didn’t wait for someone else to answer these questions. He presented the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) model, “hoping to put the focus on men to discontinue trends of violent masculinity through creating a model that would invite men into the critical dialogue.” His model includes workshops designed to provide spaces for boys to discuss with each other the concept of masculinity and its definition, as well as its relation to gender abuse and violence.
Ground-breaking work by people like Jackson is shaping and challenging how we look at gender and violence. We can all be a part of the solution, by daring to ask, name and question the harmful influences that shape our lives, including our nightlife. In case any of you readers think that raising these issues is somehow “anti-male,” Jackson has this to say: “Looking critically at what boys and men are doing—including harming themselves and others—is not in any way ‘anti-male.’ In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s simply being honest about what’s going on in boys’ and men’s lives. Women have been at the forefront of trying to get men to start talking about these subjects, but it’s not only girls and women who stand to benefit if men’s lives are transformed; statistically speaking, the major victims of male violence are other males.”
Let’s face it. We all want to live a life free from violence. We want to be able to party without being raped, assaulted or killed. In order to get there, we need to start talking about harmful myths surrounding gender. We owe it to ourselves. Because partying should be fun, exciting, and thrilling even. It starts with you. You gotta fight for your right to paaaaaarty—by opening your mind.
Þórdís Elva is a freelance writer, artist and activist for gender equality, living in Reykjavík.
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