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Inequality On The Dance Floor

Inequality On The Dance Floor

October 17, 2011

Learning to accept the inequality between men and women in India can be a real challenge.

I’ve been living in India for six months now and – although I accept it as a cultural difference – I’m still not on board with the distinct sets of rules and standards that exist for men and women.  Some things seem like quite a big deal to me.  For example, it blows my mind that women who are experiencing their menstrual period are not allowed to worship in a temple or the fact that I always have to list my father’s name (or if I was married, his name) when I am completing official documents (which annoys the hell out of me!).  Then there are some things that are small and silly but still seem unfair to me like when I pass by the small food and chai stalls and only ever see men gobbling down some mid-afternoon or late night chow or enjoying some tea while chatting with mates.  Or the fact that in 10 years since it opened, I am the first woman EVER to buy a bottle of vodka from the small wine shop near my flat even though it is packed with men virtually the entire time it's open.  I have a hard time believing that women don’t like tea or eating a snack out with friends too.  I understand why society deemed it only acceptable for men to do this back in the olden days but this is 2011.  Why is it still the norm that only men can worship as a group 365 days a year or go out with their friends in public?

When it comes to heading out for a night on the town, there are definitely two sets of rules between the sexes.  Anyone who has ever been out dancing at a club in India can attest to the fact that it’s pretty much a huge sausage fest!  There are men, men, men everywhere! Granted my experience is somewhat limited but I don’t think I’m too wrong in my generalization!  I have only been to Pasha and Aqua at the Park Hotel in Chennai, a couple of clubs in Goa and a dozen or more spots in Bangalore … but DAMN!  Where are the women?  Don’t get me wrong, there are a few.  But - again - I have a hard time believing that more women don’t like music, socializing in public and dancing.

At Tito’s in Goa, I was literally the only woman on a dance floor with 25 or 30 guys.  I was having a blast sweating and dancing my ass off with my mates (male business colleagues) but I definitely gave off the wrong signal to a few of the guys near us because I was staring at them a bit too long.  In fact, I was literally in a trance a couple of times and just couldn’t look away!  These guys were dancing together the same way I had only ever seen men and women dance together.  And trust me when I say I’m an expert on seeing guys dance together because most of my friends are gay guys and I have been to more gay bars in the past decade than straight clubs.  And even there I have never seen men dancing together the way I have in India.  But with the lack of women around, my guess is that Indian men have needed to adapt over the years.

I vividly remember this one group of guys at Tito’s who were “having it” and dancing with all their heart.  Picture that scene from the end of the movie Grease when Danny and Sandy are together finally and dancing on that silver thing that moves back and forth.  Danny shakes and shimmies with his shoulders so that he is almost of on top of Sandy.  Sandy shakes and shimmies with her shoulders, while arching her back and bending backwards.  Then they swap.  Well, well, well…these guys were recreating that scene almost to perfection and I was torn between thinking they looked cute for having so much fun or thinking that they looked dorky as hell dancing like idiots.  I decided that they were really more ‘cute’ than anything but it was still a real first for me to see straight men dance together in this way.  This was surely something that would never happen in Europe or the U.S. with straight guys – hell, even my gay mates would never dance like THAT in public.  But this is India and there is a simple innocence and playfulness to the boys and men here when they dance together that makes me smile.    But….there’s too many of them on the dance floor and it’s just not balanced in my opinion.

Recently I spoke to several club and resto-bar owners to ask for their take on the sausage fest situation and there was a unanimous consensus that this was a major problem.  The biggest challenge they face today is how to change things so that there are more women in the bars to equal out the numbers.  But this will never happen if the women don’t go out. In Bangalore, resto-bars like Love Shack and my favourite upscale clubs like F Bar & Kitchen and Skyye are doing what they can to resolve the issue by often allowing single women through the door for free (when I say single I do not mean unmarried, just not accompanied by men).  Couples pay a cover charge of Rs. 2,500 – 3,000 per couple (USD $51-61).  Lastly, right or wrong, single men or groups of guys who are not regulars or VIPs are sometimes not permitted to enter the club at all in a direct effort by owners and managers to end the sausage fest.  This is reverse inequality that I don’t see happen for groups of expat guys as often as I have for Indians so it has to be pretty frustrating for the Indian guys who are decked out and dressed to perfection and are 100% willing to pay a cover charge. As someone who hates inequality, I understand their frustration completely.  That would really piss me off if it happened to me.

Yet to be completely 100% honest, on a somewhat selfish level I appreciate that this rule is in place – only because the clubs and bars are still dominated by men to such an extent that woman can often feel like a mouse in snake pit. Especially given how aggressive and unjustifiably confident some Indian men can be when approaching women.  So I’m cool with club owners trying to find ways to alleviate this problem.  Not because I think the guys shouldn’t be able to go wherever they wish to enjoy their Saturday night because I do, trust me I do.  But what other option do club owners have?  As far as I see it, they could implement a ladies’ night and incentivise women with gift bags and free cocktails all night – which most spots in Bangalore do already but they can’t make every night ladies’ night, can they? Plus, they are letting girls in for free most of the time anyway so beyond that it’s tough to really think of new promotions and marketing ideas to boost the numbers.

In California where I grew up and Spain where I had lived the past decade, there are always more women on the dance floors than men.  And generally speaking, the rules of equality are the same for boys and girls from the time we are kids.  So the inequality that I perceive here in India is something new for me that I am trying to better understand.

Obviously Indian women don’t socialize in public as much as men do, which creates the sausage fest.  But why is the gap to equality still so wide and why are the numbers still so skewed in India in 2011? Is it because:

  • Women really don’t want to socialize in public and they truly have more fun at private house parties?
  • Some Indian men are the problem.  Women aren't always safe because of the constant threat that they will be groped, harassed or even raped if they aren't careful and walk around unprotected, making it impossible for groups of girls to head out alone.
  • Indian women have simply not asserted themselves and their equal rights enough yet?
  • Family members put their foot down out of tradition and forbid or highly discourage this type of socializing?  ((By the way, I know that “family putting a foot down” happens with men as well because I have a buddy who’s not yet married in his 30s – a professional cricket player who’s played in the IPL no less – and he has an 11:30pm curfew at home and his parents give him a hard time if he goes out mid-week!))

Whatever the reason, I personally find it all quite interesting.  I wonder IF things will start to change at a faster rate?  I know that the club and resto-bar owners would definitely love having more ladies around. And - again - I have a hard time believing that the social butterfly and dancing queen in every Indian woman wouldn’t enjoy blowing off a little steam and heading out on the town every now and again just for fun! So perhaps it’s just a matter of time now…

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  • Anand Radhakrishnan
    Anand Radhakrishnan
    20.10.11 09:06 PM

    very well written, damn if only we could have more dashing women out there on the dance floor, we could be saved the "sausage massacre"....lot better in mumbai i'd say. Anand

  • tys
    18.10.11 01:28 PM
    house party!!!!! that's the answer

    safe, wild and no chance of the moral or government policing to spoil the fun..

    i think the women tend to stay away becoz there are no areas that safe guard until they feel safe, they will hesitate to take a chance..but iam sure girls have fun ... like the famous anthropologist and archaeologist Jeff Goldblum stammered : Fun always find a way...well, not exactly verbatim but u get the idea
  • Sid
    18.10.11 02:10 AM
    Also i agree with vijay in that girls do like this, but in a much secure surrounding. In India girls cannot openly express their true feelings or do what they want because they will be judged by everyone and considered "loose". In India, what people think about you matters a lot, you simply can't say 'F*** it' and go about your business, there are a lot of repercussions.
  • Sid
    18.10.11 02:05 AM
    Angela: The counter culture revolution of 60s and 70s which changed a lot of things in the west never happened in India. Things in India have only started to change recently in last 10-15 years, but there are still very different rules for men and women and i don't see it changing anytime soon. Indian society has different expectations for men and women and those women who challenge this expectations are considered "Bad". All parents want their daughters to do is marry a good boy and have a family. I grew up in small town India and things are really worse there. For instance there is a huge generation gap between me and my parents and i don't tell them everything i do or whatever i believe because a lot of that will simply offend them. As shravan said all these things are not surprising to us at all. India will change but slowly.
  • vijay
    17.10.11 10:45 PM
    Nice observations. Keep it up !

    "I have a hard time believing that more women don’t like music, socializing in public and dancing."

    Yes Girls do like all of this (+ shopping, lunch, dinner together), but ONLY at a much comfortable and secure venue (like a private home party, office party, of marriage ceremony), where they can let themselves free and still NOT attract wrong kind of guys. They of course want to meet guys, but not some random guy but friend of a friend. This actually makes total sense.

    The other factor is reputation (which girl do take very seriously, just ask them), please do understand that bars and dance clubs are still considered as hang out of rich (but not necessarily smart) spoiled, addicted men, by most of middle class Indians and most importantly drinking (unless it is tea) is still considered by many as bad & act of desperation (not to mention risk of getting addicted). You may not agree with this because you see lot of people doing social drinking but that is just small percentage and India even small percentage makes a large absolute no. of people.

    To sum up, girls do enjoy themselves but only at certain venues. They know (or assume) that visiting bars and clubs is going to give them a bad reputation, so it is NOT worth the trouble.
  • Shravan Bhat
    Shravan Bhat
    17.10.11 05:49 AM
    Hi Angela,

    It seems you have discovered what a lot of us did a while ago: clubbing in India is generally terrible unless you go to really expensive places with a group of friends in which the girl:guy ratio is 1:1.

    It is really terrible but this will never change as long as women are treated as 2nd class citizens in many aspects of Indian life. It is merely a symptom of a much larger injustice.

    Here in England, groups of single lads and girls head out independently and meet/dance together at clubs. In India, you will very rarely see a group of young ladies venture out for a night on the town, unaccompanied. Indian society simple hasn't progressed that far.

    All I can say is: stick to house parties. There are more girls because they know the crowd, have drivers to take them home and generally feel safer.

    Nice article though - really enjoyed it.


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