lifestyle

Once you start reading the story of this girl's night out, you won't be able to stop.

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By KELSEY TRIBE

My head is pounding; my throat dry; my stomach feels like a bag of hot, roiling, bubbling water; my knees are painful and swollen; my feet dotted with blisters. Eyeliner is smeared under my bloodshot eyes; my mouth tastes like shit. Along with a dissatisfaction with the human race in general, I am experiencing the side effects of the youth clubbing and hook up culture.

I went out with the intention of fully participating in this hook up culture. My friend and I, we’ll call her Em, are both young, single feminists. We have spoken often about the straitjacket of the cultural construct of passive female sexuality, a powerfully manipulative force in our society, and one that limits those actions, behaviours, and discourses that I feel are available to me if I don’t want to be ostracised by male and female peers, colleagues, bosses and figures of authority in society. So we decide to revolt, to go out and join the mass of anonymous bodies gyrating under the fluorescent lights with the intention of getting laid. Revelling in our transgressional plans, we break out of our permitted female discourse. The phrases “like a cat on heat” and “get my dick wet” are thrown around, and we feel delightfully taboo.

It was more difficult than I had anticipated. From the beginning, as I dressed in my bedroom and prepared for the night ahead, I had the wrong mindset. I felt too aware of the subtext of everything, too conscious of how constructed and fake everything involved in the night suddenly felt, now that it was here.

I wanted to look feminine, available, sexually enticing but not aggressive, never aggressive. I’ve read that men find women wearing red dresses more appealing, so I put one on. Then the feminist voice in my head pointed out that I was deliberately dressing for the male gaze. I settled on my usual black, compromising by wearing high heels and an inappropriately light cardigan for July.

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As I made my way around Manly, my stilettos forcing me to abandon my natural walk for an unnatural, suggestive strut and a blister bursting spectacularly on my right foot, that voice invades my mind again, and quite unbidden. I have practically disabled myself for someone else’s idea of beauty. If there was an emergency I would be literally helpless. “I don’t want to think about feminism tonight”, I say abruptly to Em. “Oh god, yes”, comes her reply. She wipes lipstick off her teeth, and I band-aid my foot.

To say that the night doesn’t go as planned is an understatement. At 3am we’re on Oxford Street, a smudged club stamp on the back of my hand. A friend of Em’s has escorted us there, responding to her distress call from Manly with a swiftness bordering on over-eagerness. This well ­dressed, dapper young guy wants us to go back to his place, to party. We politely decline. So he pays for a cab to Kings Cross, saying he knows someone who is friends with someone at a club, enabling us to dodge the cover charge and the ire of the “door bitches”. Dapper Friend starts buying drinks and Em starts on the stripper poles, conveniently located on a raised stage between the bar and the DJ. “How are you still single?” he screams at her over the music. To the left a young guy drunkenly hauls himself onto the platform and gyrates against a pole, a grotesque parody of the female sexual display expected and normalised here. A bouncer drags him off with alacrity- the poles are for the girls, the poles are for voyeurism, for the male gaze, and girls are lining up to engage in this behaviour under the guise of feeling empowered by turning people on.

Two guys appear suddenly by our sides, one with a little ponytail, one with extraordinarily curly hair. “What’s your name?” Pony shouts into my ear.
“Kelsey.”
“What was that?”
“Kelsey.”
“Elise, hi I’m (indistinguishable.)”

I nod and smile, raise my drink to my lips. Pony starts dancing, hips tilted towards me, arms stretched out on either side of me. I glance at Em, she’s been encircled in an identical manner. Curly is talking quickly into her ear and she turns her back against him and closes the gap between them, they squirm against each other to the tempo of Kanye West’s “Gold digger”.
“Where’d you go to school?” “Dural.”
“So you live in Cherrybrook?”

My entire lower body is aching as my shoe choice has shifted the centre of mass of my body forward, leaving my spine out of alignment since 8pm, meaning my calf muscles have been contracted and my knees under excessive force for over 7 hours now. This has been a constant reminder of how dumb my outfit is, and this poor guy is oblivious to the perverse, tense mood I’ve found myself in.

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I lean into him, “So how’d you two pick between us before you came over? Talk me through your strategy.” He frowns at me. “Were you like, Ok you take the brunette, I’ll go the blonde, or did you base your preferences on another physical feature? Did you scissor/paper/rock us? Seriously, I’m curious as to how this works.” He laughs uncomfortably and glances at his friend, who now looks to be pantomiming sex with Em as they make out. He’s got the raw end of the deal. Pony raises his hands in an exaggerated shrug. I shouldn’t be asking these questions. I laugh ­we’re all friends, I’m just being funny and he pulls me in closer by my hips and turns me to face away from him and it doesn’t take long to feel his erection rubbing on my lower back.

Kelsey and her cat
Kelsey and her cat

Curly leans over and says to Pony “Are you picking up?”. I turn around abruptly and look at them both and they stare back at me awkwardly. My voice is hoarse and broken by now, so I mouth “No.” at them. I’m not playing the game properly, and they think I’m a bitch. I couldn’t give less of a fuck. I wanted this, but only on my own terms, and my naive hope at having sex on my own terms tonight had died a death a while earlier. I was done playing nice.

Dapper Friend has disappeared upstairs in a sulk, he’s escorted us here at his own cost and we were clearly not showing sufficient gratitude. Em was staggering around the stripper pole again and Ponytail has encouragingly handed me a random drink. It’s time to leave. I shout goodbye in his ear and he turns his face to meet my mouth sloppily with his own. I walk away feeling tremors down my aching legs, tugging my friend away from a disappointed Curly. The street outside is lined with people, some sitting on the curb, some coupled up and leaving in taxis. We’re immediately approached, two guys asking where a club called “Beachhouse” is. We admit to having zero knowledge of said establishment, but they’ve seen something they like in our stilted walks on the uneven payment and alcohol­glazed expressions. One of them puts his arm around my friend and says with an impressively straight face, “Hey girl, that’s a great rig you’ve got there.”

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His advance seems in the moment to sum up the entire evening for me, the miscommunication between myself and the opposite sex. We want the same thing and ostensibly for the same reason- ­ sex, for pleasure. But I didn’t realise until tonight that what I needed was someone who was talking my language, of respect and intimacy and empowerment and individuality, even if just for one night. I laugh at the guy in front of me and at what seems to me the absurdity of his approach, and in a husky voice I mock him, “Great rig girl. Whatta ship. Look at dem sails.” He ignores me because Em is giggling and leaning herself up against him. Stoked by her reaction, he runs his hands up and down her body. His tall friend turns to me, sizing me up. “He is such a sleaze, right? I have to deal with this all the time. So disrespectful. Let’s get out of here, let’s go to Beachhouse and grab a drink.” His hand rests on my waist, stroking it lightly, and he looks deep with sincerity into my eyes.

“No thanks, but I really do hope you pick up.” He takes a step back at my reply, and raises his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Why would you think that’s what I want? Why would think that’s what I’m here for?” I tell him sadly that, like everyone around us in varying states of dishevelment, that’s what I’m here for. Encouraged, he steps close to me and asks me what’s wrong with him, nuzzling his mouth against my neck. I push him away.­ The culmination of the evening’s events has almost left me celibate, but I turn to see Em entering her number into the phone of the Good Rig Guy. For the second time that night, I take her hand and lead her away from something she will later profess to not having wanted to do. Further up the street, Dapper Friend reappears, again inviting us to party at his place, and again Em has trouble saying no. I push her ahead of me into the waiting taxi. Sitting down on those leather seats was the most intensely pleasurable act I performed that night.

Yes, we can. And that means doing what we're comfortable with.
Yes, we can. And that means doing what we’re comfortable with.
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It was disappointing and disillusioning to realise that by having an one-­off night of messy sex with a stranger with no intention of contacting them again, something that I still feel is inherently my right, I am not empowering but rather debasing myself. I felt like I spent the evening reinforcing patriarchy by being penetrated by someone who doesn’t respect me purely for the fact that I’ve let him inside me. More than this, any such encounter would in no way satisfyingly scratch the sexual itch driving the whole outing.

Em later bemoans to me how turned off she was by every guy she met, danced with, kissed. She talks about their demeaning behaviour, the taste of their breath, their groping hands. She asks me how I escaped with such a low level of physical interaction with Ponytail et al. I know what she means, it’s hard to say no, because why are you there? You showed up, you wore the uniform, you’ve entered the premises and drunk the beverages, thus you’ve committed yourself to a certain level of physical intimacy, right? Hours earlier in Manly, a man considerably older than me, and with considerably more body mass than my own, got aggressive when I shook off his advances. It was hard, I felt exceptionally rude and he looked exceptionally offended. Look at me, what I’m wearing, what I’m drinking and how I’m dancing. I was there to participate, yet I hated being viewed as a participant.

Being a young feminist is difficult, contradictory to my culture’s attitude towards how women should act, and sometimes dissatisfying, but it constantly reminds me that I’m worth more than the alternative. That I can do better. I want to engage in casual sex, but on my own terms. I couldn’t do that with the people I met out that night, if only because they had been taught to view sex and women unutterably differently than I view them. It’s important to me that my partner has the same attitude towards sex and towards the right of my gender to engage in it without impunity. Only under these circumstances will I be able to find pleasure in the act. And if I’m not finding pleasure in it, then I’m wasting my time.

21 year old Kelsey Tribe is in between degrees and recovering from an eating disorder that left her with a deep feminist streak and an impulse for organisation.

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