Earlier this month, men at the Leeds student night "Freshers Violation", run by the promoters Tequila UK, were asked on camera by the club's promoters how they were going to "violate a fresher tonight?” By fresher they of course mean teenage girls, most of whom had just left home, many venturing into a nightclub for the first time.
One man says of a nearby girl, "I'm going to fist them in the arse. They won't even know." Another jokes that "violate is a strong word, I'm going to take advantage." Another points towards a girl buying him a drink at the bar and says, "she's going to get raped."
The video was promoted on the Tequila's YouTube channel, before being swiftly removed. It was then replaced with an edited version, and then taken down altogether, along with a number of other videos on their channel. A rather confusing apology was issued, in which Tequila claimed their video was “deplorable and completely despicable”, but also that “It’s the videographer who chose the final cut”.
So either they’re so badly managed that no one bothers checking the content of their promotional material, or they’re lying. In either case, few people were convinced by the apology: Jennie Pritchard, culture editor of the Leeds University student paper, stated that she “was really very angry about it, because they’d used such violent and explicit language as a gimmick – no matter what they say, the video actually promotes rape”.
The video is a particularly bleak example of the company’s ethos, but not at all out of place with it. It’s not like a great, progressive, fun company suddenly went rogue and made a video with a rape joke in it. Tequila UK, who are an independent promotions company unaffiliated to any alcohol brand, makes money from demeaning women. Female students are encouraged to undress, lie down on the bar and be covered in cream whilst people do shots off their bodies. Porn is shown on screens inside the club, and scantily clad women offer lap dances on beds provided by Tequila for the service. Former Leeds student Michelle Mullarkey questions why it has taken “something so extreme, something criminal, for anyone to challenge Tequila and their ethos? Tequila’s entire brand is based on the idea that objectifying and demeaning women is entertaining”.
The briefest of investigations into the company’s history turns up example after example of misogyny; such as these statuses, posted by the company on their Facebook page in May this year:
Tequila said in their apology that “for the last 20 years, we have encouraged students to enjoy a safe, positive experience in a night out in Leeds”. In contrast Jennie’s experience of Tequila is that “you go there as a girl and you’re encouraged to get up on the bar and do body shots, and they ply you with alcohol to encourage you to behave in the most debauched way you can.”
And FYI it’s not the kind of sex club where consenting adults go to touch each other. The aim of tequila is for the young female paying patrons to provide sexual gratification for male patrons. Most of the attendees at their student nights are under 21. The freshers being "violated" would have been just 18 or 19.
In order to give Tequila a chance to defend themselves beyond their official statement and apology, I contacted the company asking for an interview. After initially saying that they would try and find someone to talk to me, they went silent, ignored my next five emails, three phone calls and two answer phone messages, and eventually said that there was no-one available for me to speak to. A request for them to answer a few questions via email was similarly met with an answer that there would be “no further comment on this issue”.
On Monday, I sent out this tweet:
Along with a couple of emails to contacts I have at student papers, asking if they knew of anyone who I could talk to. The next day, I got this email from Tequila.
I replied saying that the offer of an interview was still open if they wanted to express their views. To which they sent this comment:
We provide a safe environment in which all students can enjoy themselves. We go out of our way to look after everyone that comes through our doors. Everyone is equal and we are proud of the fact that we have had no reports of sexual harassment in any of our nights over the last 21 years.
Except for the ones that you joke about on your Facebook page, obvs.
Georgia Greenfield, a student at Leeds, says she feels less than safe at Tequila. At one night she went to, there were two female strippers on a platform – this had not been marketed as a lads or strip night, but was just a normal event at the club. Another time, Georgia asked the barman about a promotion.
"I said, ‘Do I just get on the bar and then I get free Tequila?’ – thinking if I just lay down I’d get some free alcohol. He said ‘Pretty much, yeah’. So on I got. They then put whipped cream all over me and had people drink shots off of me. I managed to avoid any guys getting in there by kind of shoving them away, but the whole thing was really shocking and uncomfortable. Clearly the guys who worked there didn’t have much concern for me fully consenting to what was going to happen.”
The club hosting the Tequila night in Leeds stated has also absolved themselves of responsibility, saying in a statement. "We do not deal with promotions. The video was made by an external promotion company." They refused to comment on whether they would continue to host Tequila UK.
The worst thing is that the events at Tequila are not random blots on a club scene otherwise noted for its equality. There are hundreds of shitty nights like it across the country, where real misogyny is hidden under the jokey, “let’s all get drunk cos it’s LOLZ” marketing. There’s the venue in Glasgow which had two-way mirrors in the women’s toilets and the infamous Carnage, a company that run student nights across the country and boasts sponsorship from Loaded, Nuts and Zoo.
The sexual harassment of female students in clubs has become an epidemic. In a recent NUS survey, 68% of respondents reported having been sexually harassed in or around their university, whilst 19% had been groped at a night out in their own student union. Groping, guys grabbing your arse and touching you against your will is something that happens so frequently it barely warrants a mention. When Georgia went to a night at Tequila, “a random guy grabbed my arse and then just laughed at me when I got angry with him”. Sometimes what’s worse than being touched without your consent is the response you get if you challenge it – like you’re ridiculous, some stuck up idiot not getting the joke.
However, the situation is more complex than just condemning clubs for running these kind of student nights. The marketing and general ethos of clubs like Tequila is gross, and the culpability of the management should not be mitigated in any way. But, a situation cannot be understood in a vacuum; rather, it has to be considered in relation to the wider field of student culture. Rape jokes in a promotional video have been universally condemned as unacceptable, but the rest of the stuff – slutty dress themes, a focus on getting as drunk as possible – is part and parcel of the student experience.
Since the activism and protest that marked out the student culture of the 80s, the concept of what it actually means to be a student has changed. The whole demographic is associated with a Sub Focus and Subway anti-culture that exists in opposition to politics, style or even compassion. Of course, not all students are like this, and many are railing against this stereotype, but this cultureless and apathetic norm has allowed misogyny to breed. This isn’t to say that sexism in the club industry is entirely due to the lad culture that surrounds students; it’s part of a wider cultural misogyny, and takes place at nights not aimed at students too. But students have gone from being the politically progressive fightback, to the root cause of the problem.
Student nights need to be reclaimed from the pond scum who think the LAD Bible is funny. Otherwise, club nights will continue to use women as marketing tools, rather than protecting them. And companies like Tequila will get away with tired rape jokes and misogyny under the guise of #banter. So how about we not allow mouthbreathers who think getting a blow job is the height of human endeavour to define the entire fucking meaning of what it means to be a student.
Follow Ruth on Twitter @ruthhardy22