It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and I’m seated at the bar of Revoluciòn de Cuba in Milton Keynes’ egregiously titled Theatre District. A mixologist who clearly loves his job has just made me an off-the-menu fruit mocktail, its taste dominated by the sour punch of lime. I’m chatting with friends while Caribbean beats pulse in the background. Ominously, a guy with headphones hovers over a booth, studying a long line of glowing buttons. Only one of them has relevance: VOLUME. Most of the clientele is in its 30’s and 40’s. The youngsters will be in later. It may not be obvious, but this bar—and the thousands like it—is one of the front lines in the 6,000-year-old war on patriarchal conventions on how people can dress and behave in public.

Unlike conventional wars, the forces arrayed against each other here are not visible to the naked eye. The defending patriarchy boasts an impressive coalition: alcohol, loudness, expensiveness and age-old social pressures to conform, particularly with regard to female clothing and behaviour. Ranked against this is the single yet indomitable spirit of freedom. Every night this irresistible force collides with the immovable object of patriarchy. The result is pretty much what you’d expect—a sore head.

The premise of patriarchy

The club seems innocuous enough. A waiter hurries past with a tray of shots. The guy at the booth nudges up the volume. The mixologist invites my friend behind the bar to mix her own cocktail. He recommends Havana rum over the usual Bacardi, a personal touch that masks the ruthless efficiency of the underlying patriarchal war machine.

The premise of patriarchy is dead simple. In an environment with limited resources, the most violently disciplined tribe survives. To be that tribe, we have been psychologically conditioned over generations to extol masculine values like strength, courage, discipline and intellect. Conversely, we have been programmed to denigrate feminine values like emotions, individuality and sexuality—anything that diminishes our capacity for state-sanctioned violence. Consequently, we repress these aspects of ourselves.

Hence the ritual playing out this Friday night at Revoluciòn de Cuba. Alcohol numbs the pain of this unconscious conflict.

Over time, however, we have evolved. We have become too sensitive to bury our femininity without significant psychological damage. This creates a constant conflict between our desire to express ourselves and our fear of violating thousands of years of survival-based conditioning. Hence the ritual playing out this Friday night at Revoluciòn de Cuba. Alcohol numbs the pain of this unconscious conflict. The noise—it’s after 9 now, and the level has gone up—stops us from thinking about it. With £10 cocktails, disposable income is soon disposed of. With contactless credit cards, indisposable income easily follows. This helps to keep the young in particular in a cycle of long working hours which in turn increases their craving for alcohol and noise. Patriarchy grinds on like a phalanx of T-34 tanks across the Kursk salient.

Little faith

In our group, talk turns to the latest women’s fashion and the sexualisation of teenage girls. The faces of mothers are etched in worry as they ponder their daughters’ futures. Schlorp. Another cocktail finished. They too are using alcohol to dull the edges of their fears. It’s what the boys want, film and TV, social media, peer pressure. It’s porn. Really? Have we so little faith in our teenage girls that we think they are being collectively sucked into behaving in ways they don’t want to? Or do they hanker for a world where individuality and sexuality can be expressed both openly and safely—a world beyond patriarchy?

It’s 9:30 now. The music has gone up again, forcing me out. As I exit, a gaggle of semi-dressed women enters the club, giggling happily among themselves. Patriarchy has got a fight on its hands.

Image: IMG5256 by David Boyle on Flickr. Cropped to 16:9.