Women, ‘Toxic Masculinity,’ and Gay Bars

Welcome. And feel free to not be groped against your will.

Jeremy Helligar
6 min readSep 3, 2018


Centuries before #MeToo, Pietro da Cartona depicted “toxic masculinity” in “The Rape of the Sabine Women”

What a difference two years can make. In May of 2014, I wrote the HuffPost essay “5 Simple Rules for Straight Women in Gay Bars.” I still stand by those guidelines, but thanks to an enlightening conversation in a straight-ish pub, I’m now relieved that, like gay men in big cities, women can retreat to safer spaces — ours.

Who said you can’t learn crucial life lessons over beers on a Friday night?

My class on straight women, gay men, and “toxic masculinity” commenced on April Fool’s Day 2016, while I was out in Sydney with my friend Jose and three of his female colleagues. (I generally don’t care much for social media-era buzzwords and phrases — like “literally,” “transparency,” “tone deaf,” “on brand,” “It is what it is,” “You do you,” and “fire” for amazing — but “toxic masculinity” is just so, um, on point.) It was about a year and a half before #MeToo and Time’s Up revealed to the world what too often happens between straight men and women behind closed doors.

I got an inside look at what often goes down right out in the open, courtesy of my female company. What started out as an ordinary evening at Darlo Bar unexpectedly morphed into Sexual Harassment 101.

New guy, new dynamic

Our party of five gained another member when a good-looking guy who’d later introduce himself as Liam crashed it and zoomed in on one of the women in our group, clearly unaware she wasn’t single. He made perfunctory small talk with the rest of us, but it was obvious where his interests lay. Soon she had his undivided attention. For Liam, everyone else at the large table ceased to exist.

The newcomer got one of the other ladies in our group thinking and then talking about straight boys in bars. (My memory has misplaced her name, so let’s call her Christine.) She complained about men who approach uninterested women and can’t read “Go away” cues — or just choose to ignore them.

Distracted by a simultaneous one-on-one conversation with Jose about the bouncer I’d been crushing on for months, I came in mid-monologue. I assumed Christine was talking about Liam, who hardly seemed like a pushy…



Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj