I am now 22 years old and I can drink legally but, for much of my Cornell career, I was underage. I came into college with the I.D. of a friend of a friend who looked kind of like me and whose name was “Yelena.” That got taken at a liquor store and then I used a string of fakes before I turned 21. Being underage in Collegetown is more of an obstacle than a barrier. The bar scene here is always changing but there will forever be three or four places that 18 and 19 and 20 year olds can get into if they know the right tricks.
Some of these bars don’t care at all. My Korean friend from freshman year got in with a white girl’s I.D. Some of the other bars don’t look at your I.D. at all and just see if it scans. For most of the “underage friendly” spots, your chances of getting in depend greatly on who the bouncer is, what time it is and how busy the place is. One Collegetown bar in particular has this one bouncer who lets in all the underage girls — but not for nothing.
I met this man my freshman year, when my roommate and I would go out drinking almost every night of the week. He would always let us in if he was working, greet us by name (except he thought my name was Yelena), and give us a hug. This bouncer knows everyone, especially the girls. And he knows the I.D.s are fake. He must! Halfway through my sophomore year when I was no longer Yelena from Massachusetts but rather Cara from Connecticut, he still let me in. But every “you’re good” or stamp on your hand came with an uncomfortable touch on your back or a hug that lasted little too long.
He walks all through the bar, putting his arms around girls, grabbing waists and asses and kissing cheeks. We all accepted this as the norm. This was the toll we had to pay. We had a reliable bar to get into if we could suffer through the creepy bouncer, and we did. He handed out his number with the instructions to “text him if you had trouble getting in,” knowing full well that if you did, you would have to feel his hot breath on your neck as he told you how good you looked. But all your friends are inside and you’re already dressed up and it is cold out and your girls are pressuring you to just do it. There was no one to complain to because even if he was inappropriate, we were still underage.
Last month, my older sister came to visit and I decided to take her to this bar where I had spent many a weeknight taking shots out of little plastic cups. Sure enough, he was standing outside the bar, checking I.D.s and exhibiting the same predatory behavior he has for at least the 4 years I’ve been here, probably longer. Seeing this play out, as someone removed from the situation, was sickening. I understood the desire to get in the bar and get it over with I also appreciate the vulnerability that younger girls feel in this situation. The choice to be groped and get to be social or stay home is unfair and sexist.
Drinking is a part of the college experience and telling girls to just wait until they are 21 is like preaching abstinence: it doesn’t work. This is a distinctly gendered issue. Boys would sometimes get in and sometimes they wouldn’t, depending on how good their I.D.s were; that’s it. Even at Cornell, social pressures and an arbitrary drinking age force girls to commodify their own sexuality and we allow this to happen.
I understand the hypocrisy of me talking about this now. I’ve reaped the benefits of this crooked system and yet now I am sounding the alarm. My reticence to write about this issue has stemmed from the thought that maybe this is just a part of life, a rite of passage that I would be robbing future girls of. But then I remembered that although this is normal, it is not OK.
If you want to say that underage girls shouldn’t go to bars, then fine. What I am arguing is that women should not be harassed for taking part in something that almost all college kids do. Telling women they have to be harassed to enjoy the same things as their male classmates is not only a dangerous precedent to set, but sounds eerily similar to telling a girl she is asking for it because of her short skirt.
I don’t really go to this bar anymore. I’ve swapped Long Islands and karaoke for White Russians and reality TV. Still, I believe this is a topic that needs to be addressed. The most obvious solution is to lower the drinking age so that vulnerability of college freshmen and sophomores is not exploited as a way for male bouncers to cop a feel. Otherwise, Collegetown businesses should be more cognisant of the way their employees treat their clients — not that I believe that management does not know exactly what is going on. We need more female staff in nightlife and we need to punish people who treat women as sexual commodities, whether the women should be allowed into the bar or not.
Willow Hubsher is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is Not a Sex Column appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.