Setting the Bar: How to Stay Safe on a Night Out

It’s Friday night, it’s been a long stressful week full of lectures, exams, papers, extracurriculars – basically everything but sleep – and you and your friends decide to go out. We’ve all been there. The most studious of students need to unwind, and the bar seems like the perfect place to go to kill the few remaining brain cells left after your busy week. I’ve compiled what I hope will be a helpful guide based on my own personal experiences and the experiences of my friends of what you can expect on your night out.

You will get hit on.

If you wear anything at all that even hints at the shape of your body underneath it, you will get hit on. If you dance to your favorite song, you will get hit on. If you order a drink, you will get hit on. If you walk any distance along the street, you will get hit on. If you talk about nothing except the plight that killer whales face in captivity, you will get hit on. You may think I’m joking about that last one, but I know several men who are now very well educated on orca behavior thanks to my nights out on the town.

Of course there will be guys out there who go to the bar to chill out just like you did, and some will have girls with them when they get there, but, in my experience anyway, bars are a sort of hunting ground where lonely [horny] males prowl in search of girls who will spend the night (or some subsequent night) with them. Simply being in the same building and being a female immediately makes you a target for their ploys.

The good news is if you are lonely (and/or horny), you won’t be later on tonight. The bad news is if you are perfectly content with your present company, if you have a significant other who for whatever reason did not join you on your night out, or even if you simply just aren’t interested in whatever fella strikes up a conversation with you, you will still be hit on. But why not turn lemons into lemonade and use his rapt attention to educate him about your favorite social movement? (Note: feminism doesn’t seem to be a topic that goes over well with the bar crowd, but don’t let that stop you from fighting the good fight.)

Making conversation = flirting back

You can respond with the most neutral of neutral subjects, and still if you carry on a conversation with a guy at a bar, he will not only be surprised but also outraged at the end of the night if you do not want to continue the conversation at his place.

Think I’m exaggerating? Every time I go to a bar I stick to three topics: 1.) Killer whales do not belong in captivity, 2.) My job at the Zoo is awesome, look here’s a picture of a giraffe I fed, 3.) I’m in love with Adam Levine, as in Adam Levine from Maroon 5, as in not you. None of the topics could, in any reasonable mind, be construed as flirtatious, but it is amazing how the drunken (and horny) mind works.

Now I’m not saying you should avoid conversations with people you meet at bars. Sometimes it’s nice to talk and it can be fun to get to know someone new. However, just keep in mind that if you engage in any kind of conversation with a guy, he will perceive it as flirting, and he will get offended when you don’t want to go home with him. The only way to avoid this misunderstanding, I’ve found, is to announce at the beginning of the conversation, “Hey, just so you know, I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.” Might as well address it right up front, but you will probably lose your conversation partner.

You will get catcalled

I know; it’s a disappointing truth. I wish I could say we lived in a more progressive society in which women walking along the street could do so without being verbally harassed, but as long as the patriarchy is in power (or perhaps as long as there are males inhabiting the earth), it’s going to happen. If you decide to layer on a sweater over your top so this won’t happen, I’m sorry to tell you your cardigan is of little help here, except maybe keeping your shoulders warm. I’ve gone out in a variety of outfits, none of which I would consider risqué, and have been catcalled each and every time.

I wish I had better advice on how to deal with this, but all I can say is keep walking and don’t acknowledge them. If they are driving by and yell something out the window, you can risk yelling something back, but then you also risk them turning around and getting out of the car this time, so I would advise against that. Just keep walking, stay with your friends, and do your best to tune them out.

What’s a girl to do?

It sucks. Girls who go to bars have to face an entirely different set of challenges and dangers that guys not only don’t have to deal with but actually typically create. But you’ve earned your night out, and darn it you’re going to enjoy it. Here are some tips to help keep you safe.

1.) Be polite. Being polite does NOT mean you have to give him your number, accept his offer to buy you a drink, dance with him, etc. Politely say no thank you, you’re not interested, you promised your friend you’d save her seat, you have a boyfriend, or whatever clever and polite excuse you can come up with. What you don’t want to do is offend him. Guys lose their judgment when they start drinking just like girls do, and an offended guy can become an angry guy, and an angry guy can become an aggressive guy. However, in the event that the guy becomes physically aggressive (i.e. touching you when you tell him not to, getting especially insistent or pushy, etc.), a good “fuck off” is most certainly called for and sometimes necessary. Keep yourself within eyesight of people such as the bartender or bouncer so that if he tries starting trouble, you have people nearby who can help you.  

2.) Stay with at least one member of your group of friends at all times, especially if you are getting hit on. Make a plan to stick together no matter what before you leave your dorm/apartment/box on the street/place of residence. Going out can be great bonding time for you, and you can have each other’s backs. An easy way to get out of a conversation that is making you uncomfortable is to say that your friend has to go to the bathroom and you do too. The bathroom is a safe, man-free space where you can collect yourself, tell your friend if you are uncomfortable with a situation, and easily sneak out of the bar amidst the dark crowd of people filtering in and out of the building.

3.) Even if you do not need to use it as an excuse to get away from someone, always go to the bathroom in pairs. There is safety in numbers, and if you aren’t worried about yourself, you don’t want to leave your girl susceptible to lounge lizards while you break your seal, do you? Guys already have the stereotype engrained in them that girls do this, so it shouldn’t be embarrassing to verify this [very safe] cliché. If you think you are too good for this rule, just remember that Hermione Granger once went to the bathroom alone and she got cornered by a troll. And if you think that after you’ve had a few drinks you can wit your way out of a nasty situation better than Hermione Granger could, you’re drunk.

4.) Periodically check to make sure you still have all of your valuables, especially before leaving a building. It’s easy to misplace or drop something important when you’re doing Fireball shots, and you will hate yourself tomorrow if you wake up and realize you lost your driver’s license. Check for your cell phone, credit card, driver’s license, house key, chap stick, and whatever other valuables you hold near and dear to your heart that you decided to bring along with you to the bar. Run through the list with your friend too. Sisters gotta have each other’s backs.

5.) If you are not interested in a guy, do not lead him on. Yes, you may get a free drink in the meantime for doing so, and as tempting as that is (especially when you’re broke but not yet as drunk as you want to be), it sends the wrong message. Somewhere between their first armpit hair and their first day of college, the magic pubescent guy fairy goes to every male and fills his head with the wild misconception that if he buys a girl a drink, he is entitled to sleep with her later. If you consider yourself worth a few poorly mixed drinks at a grungy bar, feel free to sleep with him. However, if you realize that even the least expensive prostitutes charge more for a night than the price of a drink, have some self-control and politely decline the alcohol. The same tip goes for giving out phone numbers. I know it’s hard to be reasonable after a few drinks, but giving a guy your phone number implies that you would be interested in communicating with said guy in the future. If that idea doesn’t sound appealing to you, keep your digits to yourself. You may let him down in the moment, but think how much worse it will feel for him to have his hopes up and get crushed the next day when he is sober. Also, here’s a helpful hint I have learned: sobering up doesn’t make the typical bar banterer much more eloquent, intelligent, or less of a dick. If you don’t like talking to him drunk, you almost definitely will not like talking to him sober.

Don’t let this article scare you – going out is fun and can make for great stories the next day. The stories tend to be a lot better, though, when everyone stays safe. The statistic is still out there that one in five girls experience sexual assault, and you do not want to be one of those numbers. Have fun but be safe. My final tip for you is to drink LOTS of water and take two aspirin before you go to sleep. Trust me, you will thank yourself in the morning. Otherwise, cheers to the freakin’ weekend.

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