Club Crawlers from Montreal to Kampala
“Be sure to buy skirts below your ankles and keep the neckline on your blouse high and as unflattering as possible,” or, “I know you love to dance, but avoid going out when it’s dark and don’t talk to anyone you don’t know,” were the lines of advice that dragged me through the aisles of oversized trousers in Montreal and persuaded me to abandon my favourite items of clothing while packing for Kampala. The anticipation of a 3 month long trip across the world opened the door to a riverbank of precautions from friends and family that while honourably intentioned, were uninformed, unknowingly biased words of advice that seem to be commonly associated with the North American mental image of a young “muzungu” woman like myself enjoying herself in Uganda.
While it is difficult to look someone in the eye who says these things out of “love” and tell them that their words are offensive rather than helpful, because believe it or not high necklines are not the solution to abusive misogyny, these presumptions underline the problematic narrative that men sexually objectifying women in Montreal is stomached with tighter dresses and shorter hemlines, whereas men sexually objectifying women in Kampala requires an unflattering wardrobe and earlier curfew.
One of the privileges of travelling to another country is the opportunity to see your own through a new and polished lens. As a young woman who loves to dance, discover new music, new venues, and meet new people, I was eager to do the same in Kampala.
Just as any other country, the number one threat I face when going out to a nightclub, or let’s face it going out to get groceries, are dangerous and ill-intentioned men. After being here for one month, I cannot say that I have witnessed any threats that are specific to my Kampala environment, and any men that bother me at nightclubs are far more tame compared to the men in Montreal. Here, they generally ask before engaging in any kind of flirtatious interaction, they rarely grab you in inappropriate ways as I have so often experienced in Montreal without my consent being expressed. Moreover, when you google “nightclubs in Kampala” the web is riddled with articles that warn people of exactly the same issues that are ongoing in North America, yet if you change “Kampala” to “Montreal” I guarantee that your search results be replaced with something along the lines of “night of your dreams,” instead of, “never leave your drink alone.”
This is not to say that you should leave your drink alone, or that Kampala nightlife is safe for women. In my short time here I have dealt with men who feel entitled enough to harass me, and experienced my drink being tampered with without my knowing. Yet I feel it important to note that these are all encounters I have previously gone through and witnessed in Montreal if not once then numerous times, and that we can safely assume put women at risk worldwide.
My point here is not that the misogynistic threats that women face on a night out in Kampala are not a big deal, they are incredibly dangerous and should at all costs be severely punished and approached with awareness and caution. My point is that while perpetuating club culture in the global south as a life threatening endeavour to foreigners from the global north, while glossing over those same threats in nightclub advertisement in their country of origin, consequentially romanticizes a club culture that is as equally dangerous. Furthermore, this false advertisement perpetuates an outdated image of the global south as something unpredictably chaotic and unequivocally dangerous and the global north as a place where dreams come true.
WOUGNET Gender and ICT Policy Intern
Student, McGill University Canada