Women expose themselves when calling out sexual aggression

KNOW campaign1

A new study into unwanted sexual attention in bars and clubs has found that men use two key aggression tactics.

Researchers in Liverpool and Birmingham found increasing numbers of women are prepared to call out unacceptable behaviour whilst enjoying a night out. But they warn that when women do pull men up, they can become more vulnerable to further attack.

Women are most often confronted with one of two approaches by predatory male; the ‘pick-up routine’ and ‘showing off for the lads’.

‘The pick-up routine’ predominantly leads to ‘diplomatic’ rejection responses from the woman, which are carefully constructed to avoid an aggressive reaction. In contrast, ‘showing off for the lads’, in which males aim to undermine and engage in abusive interactions with women to impress their male friends, was more likely to receive a ‘feisty’ rebuttal from the targeted woman.

Feisty femininity

The researchers say that such a response – which they dub ‘feisty femininity’ – is complex and can result in backlash. And they are calling on businesses within the Night Time Economy to take more responsibility to protect women from harm.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and the universities of Birmingham and Liverpool published their findings in Feminist Criminology.

Dr Stuart Taylor, a senior lecturer in the School of Justice Studies at LJMU and co-author of the study, said the study was new evidence of how women negotiate and proactively contest hurtful experiences and said their findings showed how the leisure industry played "an active role in perpetuating sexual violence."

He said: "Within mainstream NTE venues there are clear gendered and sexualised expectations in terms of dress and behaviour. This plays a crucial role in creating the synthetic hypersexual ‘anything goes’ party atmosphere where that it is essential to the NTE’s consumer appeal – as it represents an experience that young people cannot miss out on, representing a crucial medium through which to develop social identity and a sense of hedonistic freedom.”

Venues must act

Dr Clare Gunby, of the University of Birmingham who led the research, said: “Young people, globally, are starting to demand accountability for sexist structures and norms and venues must do too.

“Venues must makes it clear that unwanted sexual aggression will not be tolerated. The lack of formal sanction for such behaviours could arguably play a role in their maintenance, prompting women to fill this gap by taking it upon themselves to monitor friends and strangers.”

The researchers also identified three risk management strategies employed by women: ‘emotion management’, ie. giving a diplomatic explanation as to why they attention is unwanted;  ‘men as protector’, when a woman goes out with male friends or their boyfriend to reduce the likelihood of unwanted attention;  ‘from individualism to camaraderie among the girls’, meaning cutting the evening short, going to another venue, laughing off unwanted attention or stepping in to stop men from exploiting drunken friends and strangers.

Liverpool campaign

In December 2019, Liverpool John Moores University joined forces with Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Police, Liverpool University and voluntary sector partners to launch KNOW campaign which aims to reduce sexual assaults in the city.

KNOW helps train bar and club staff to prevent sexual assaults and support victims. Posters being displayed in venues across the city and social media activity are the main channels being used to raise awareness of the campaign.

LJMU and JMSU launched a joint campaign - Respect, Always! - last year, some of which related to these issues. You can find more out on our website


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