It can be open warfare for many women who go downtown at the weekend. But things are now changing, slowly…
“Well, as you probably saw, the annual Slutwalk (Druslugangan) happened last week and looked to have been attended by a lot of people; many people I knew took part. While people can argue about whether such a big spectacle that has Friðrik Dór playing can technically be defined as a form of mass sadomasochism, for me and many other bar workers, the much more important thing has been the Slutwalk’s accompanying poster campaign in the pubs of downtown Reykjavík, telling customers to report to staff any harassment they receive, sexual or otherwise, and that we will deal with it. In our bar, for example, the poster has got a really positive response from locals and tourists, with many taking pictures to show their friends back home. One female tourist from NYC noted in particular how cool it was that bars were doing this—‘You’d NEVER get a bar in NYC doing this at all,’ she mused.”
The Perfect Storm
“And it’s a good thing that it’s getting better. For a long time, you ask most bar people or those bouncers that have a soul about harassment in 101 bars, and a cloud of doom would gather over their heads. Because of the legacy that is the general fucking chaos of downtown nightlife, at some point people would almost certainly get harassed by some arsehole with no clue of the concept of personal space, and who needed to be drunk/extremely high to actually talk to another person of the opposite sex. And despite their having the power to deal with this problem, very little was done by bars. This was often due to three things:
– Poorly trained staff who were often put in vulnerable situations with little or no protection.
– Bars managed or owned by semi-coked-up idiots and borderline alcoholics who couldn’t organise their way out of a vodka bottle.
– Door staff who didn’t give a shit and honestly thought that nothing bad was happening.
“As you can see, this is a pretty toxic mix. Many staff have often told stories about they themselves being groped and abused by customers while working. I once spoke about this with a friend who was both a bartender and doorman. For him the most depressing part of the job wasn’t the violence, but having to deal with manchildren who would lose their shit when their advances to women were (mostly politely) rebuffed. He would have to deal with verbal abuse (‘You bitch! You fucking whore!’), guys throwing drinks in women’s faces, all the way up to physical violence. One guy punched a woman full square in the face, breaking her nose. ‘Too many on this fucking island are overgrown scumbags,’ he grumbled.”
“But because of that general chaos I just spoke about, speak to any barperson and while they will openly acknowledge the hassle women get by men, they’ll always say that harassment isn´t confined to gender or sexuality. Some bars have a nightmare dealing with the “weekend divas” who come and harass the male staff and especially the DJs. They don’t just invade your personal space; they pretty much try to tear the staff’s genitals off with their pedicured talons. And then there are gay guys who openly pull, grab, and grope both men and women, and who will tell you to your face that “Oh it’s OK, because I gay!” Bullshit. We had to permanently bar one gay man from our bar for forcing a toilet door open to get at the woman inside in what was pretty much open sexual assault.
A long ways to go
“So for most bar staff, they’ve had it up to here with this crap and are now much more proactive in dealing with it. There’s still a way to go, though. Just this morning I got a text from a friend about her experience in a downtown bar the evening of the Slutwalk itself. After chatting to a friend, some guy sneaks up behind her and lifts up her clothes to reveal her bra. Cue a bollocking from her and off she goes to get the doorman to kick him out. But instead of being professional, said doorman apparently starts wading in and fighting the guy, causing several glasses to be broken and my friend unfortunately getting kicked by the creep, right in the fud (vagina, to you and me). But to add insult to injury was the fact that several people nearby (who were wearing Slutwalk t-shirts and had clearly been on the walk itself) actually made her feel bad and effectively slutshamed her for bringing the doorguys into the situation and harshing their buzz! Talking the talk, but not walking the walk it seems…”