written by bunny
i came to cal poly as a transfer student, already 21 and far removed from underaged party scene. for the past few years in my hometown i was able to use a fake id to hang out at bars with my older friends and coworkers on the weekends. so coming to san luis obispo i felt like i already had a handle on ‘bar culture.’
boy was i wrong. downtown san luis obispo has a very different atmosphere than my northern californian county, for better and for worse.
my first experiences downtown held a lot of anxiety for me. i didn’t know the bartenders, i didn’t know the staff and i hardly knew the people i was going out with. i specifically remember going out with a few people from my wow group and felt super uncomfortable, leading me to have a panic attack in the bathroom. i was uncomfortable because a man, that i had displayed clear disinterest in, kept entering my personal space, touching my lower back. the only reason i went out to the bars was because another woman in the group promised to cockblock, that never happened.
from that point on, i never went out with that man or a majority of those people ever again. i was lucky that i was able to remove myself from the situation but unfortunately another woman got assaulted by that same man not too long later. neither my discomfort or the assault of another woman prevented the men in our mutual circles from dissassociating with the sexual predator.
now, after having a few months to navigate and understand the culture of downtown, i don’t know if that anxiety has really gone away. one of the last few times i went out a girl threw a glass cup at me because i joined my friend in line for the bathroom. i guess that the main reason for this physical assault was because i didn’t comply with ‘bar etiquette,’ whatever the hell that means. i always let people cut me in line, its really not that big of deal but i was more than flabbergasted by this other woman’s actions. i figured that since i was drunk and alone on the Mark’s dance floor it would be okay for me to stand with my friends in the bathroom line. because safety comes from removing myself and other women from vulnerable positions.
i have gotten to know the staff and bouncers at the local bars a bit better. i even spent a while flirting with one of the male staff members outside mother’s tavern which resulted in giving him my number. a fatal mistake on my part because not more than five messages in he made a comment about “abducting me.” i left him on read, of course, and didn’t go on that date.
the SLO bar scene is a version of my own personal hell that i can’t seem to escape. i always run into any man i have had a weird interaction with… i swear to god, its every single time i go out. no matter how much i glare and distance myself from conversations with strangers i can’t seem to escape sexualization and unwanted interactions. anytime i try to pick up women at the bar, i am constantly harassed by unwarrented homophobic comments.
well to sum up my interactions with downtown culture… its that there is no culture. its a drunken free-for-all. people wait in line for over an hour for a shitty bar with creepy staff, the men here haven’t a clear idea of social cues. people care more about bar etiquette than they care about rape culture or homophobia. despite being white, i have experienced racially coded language and seen women of color experience microaggressions from students and locals alike.
i think this is a great time to take a step back and ask where san luis obispo can do better. a few local business owners have had over 30 sexual assult allegations in the past ten years. the lax atmosphere around the out-of-pocket shit that happens downtown is only a reflection of how rape culture is perpetuated both within the city and the college. obviously there is a large disconnect between the sensitivity and awareness training done at school and what is actually practiced outside of orientation. these situations and actions are a result of the lack of support and help from the community that is raising these students. students may be adults legally but there is no guidance into navigating this new home for young adults. many of these young adults are away from home for the first time and are allowed to have complete control over their sexual agency. there needs to be more emphasis on sexual education, consent and awareness in order to fix some of these behaviors and actions that continue to penetrate the downtown drinking scene.
do better, expect better from the men you allow in your life. be a better bystander. disassociate from friends who commit sexual assult, call them out on their actions. protect your friends, check in with them and stay together. hold yourself and others accountable. the only way we can make our communities better is by educating ourselves and others on the real bar etiquette. no one should feel anxious about going downtown with fellow students and community members.