||"It's brilliant man, I love
it. If there's a fight in the men's toilets I'll
run in with the lads, you know, straight in. There's
times I'll go home and I'll think, 'Tina, you're
44, you're a nanna for goodness' sake'."
Tina is one of a growing breed. She's a female bouncer - one of a group whose
numbers have risen so sharply that now nearly
one in nine of Britain's nightclub door staff
is a woman. She and her colleagues are the subject
of a three-year research project, Women On the
Door, funded by the Economic
and Social Research Council.
It was prompted by the increased
employment of female bouncers as a direct
response to the burgeoning night-time economy.
This phenomenon, the subject of ongoing research
by the Open University's faculty of Social Sciences,
has seen evening-led businesses - from legitimate
clubs and bars to illicit trades such as drug
dealing and prostitution - give towns and cities
a wholly different night-time image from that
which they promote during the day.
The rise of the night-time economy
has been rapid. As an example, in 1997 the licensing
capacity in Nottingham city centre was 61,000
outlets. Now it's well over 100,000, and such
leaps are replicated all over the UK. Manchester's
licensing capacity has grown so much that it now
stands at over a quarter-of-a-million.
"As the economy has flourished,
so has the number of private security staff,"
says Dr Louise Westmarland, a lecturer in Criminology
and Social Policy from The Open University, and
one of the social scientists on the Women On the
Door project. Stricter regulations, she says,
mean that gone are the days when doormen were
employed in even the best clubs on a reputation
for machismo and a propensity for violence. Not
only does the Security Industry Authority now
run "customer care" courses for door
staff, but since the 2003 Licensing Act no club,
pub or bar in Britain can get a licence unless
at least one of its employees has attended one,
and earned an SIA badge to prove it.
"Nowadays it's much more
difficult for someone to become a bouncer if,
say, they have a criminal record," says Westmarland,
who carried out the research with Professor Dick
Hobbs from the London School of Economics and
Dr Kate O'Brien from the University of Kent. "The
kudos of having a bouncer with, for instance,
a reputation for having killed someone, is being
All of which has opened the door
for women to enter the profession. But they are
also there to meet needs - specifically, to deal
woman to woman with increasing numbers of females
who drink heavily and to search the growing numbers
who enter clubs carrying drugs or weapons. In
addition, the 2003 Licensing Act has given the
authorities discretionary power to withhold a
venue's licence if it does not employ female door
Female bouncers come from very
varied backgrounds. The 50 women door staff interviewed
by researchers in five cities had diverse previous
work experience including as a kissogram, a dancer,
a tax officer, a DIY store assistant, a lifeguard,
a bus driver, a call centre worker and a recruitment
consultant. "It's an attractive job for a
lot of women," says O'Brien, who undertook
the SIA training course as part of the research.
"It pays well, the hours fit in around childcare
and school runs, they meet people - and many love
the buzz of a nightclub."
Some already had employment histories
of controlling an environment - one was a former
prison officer, another an ex-RAF police officer
and a third a matron at a girls' private school.
And there were a significant number who, like
many of their male colleagues, had grown up in
an environment where being a party or a witness
to violence was common.
"My mam's family are quite rough," says
Mandy, 32. "You know how kids are, you go
out and you have a fight and you get bashed so
you come back in. I used to get bashed and sent
back out until I won."
This group, who because of their
life experiences in violent communities were classified
by the researchers as "the connected",
stressed how their cultural heritage had equipped
them with the emotional and physical skills to
deal with violence and fit into the hyper-masculine
culture of door work.
The women say many of the club
customers do not differentiate between male and
female bouncers. "A lot of people are under
the impression that a guy is not going to turn
around and hit a woman," says Gail. "But
that's not the case. If you get in the way of
half the guys here they'll just smack you back
out of the way. The guys don't care whether they're
hitting a guy or a girl at the end of the day."
The same woman reported being
deliberately hit by a male colleague because she
tried to stop him fighting with a customer he
didn't like. She recalled that he had accidentally
punched her in the head, knocking her out, but
when she came round and again tried to intervene,
she says: "He said, 'Well, I didn't mean
to hit you that time but you're in my way this
time', and smacked me in the back of the head
again, so that was me out cold again."
This does not mean that the female
bouncers necessarily view violence positively.
"At the end of the day you're not there to
fight," says one. "A good doorman isn't
one who fights his way out of everything, but
who can talk the situation down without it turning
The female employees see themselves
as fitting into a traditionally masculine world.
"A significant number of the women we spoke
to referred to themselves as 'doormen',"
says Westmarland. "They placed a high value
on being accepted by their male colleagues as
'one of the lads'."
But the research concludes that
women bouncers occupy "an exceedingly ambivalent
position". Their very employment on the door
may appear to challenge an established order,
yet the expectation - from their male colleagues
- that they will sort out fights in the ladies',
or check handbags, or try to defuse what Westmarland
describes as "girl trouble" reinforces
traditional feminine roles.
One reason for the rise in female
bouncers is a deliberate attempt by the club industry
to promote a softer, more customer-friendly image.
What the social scientists' research suggests,
though, is that female staff are just as likely
to become involved in violence as male staff.
"Women are perceived to
have emotional qualities thought necessary for
defusing situations without resorting to violence,"
says Westmarland. "But we found they had
to react to a situation so quickly there was often
no time for their male colleagues to say, 'You're
the calming influence, you go'. And the women
are more than prepared to wade in - those we spoke
to had been in as many fights as the men they