Tiger Tiger wants to change its stripes

JOHN HARVEY

After a social media storm erupted last week over the relaunch of controversial Claremont nightclub Tiger Tiger, with allegations that the venue had become a “cesspool” of sexist and racist attitudes, club management in a shock announcement yesterday said the club would close and be rebranded to reflect “all-inclusive” values.

Tiger Tiger has been closed the past fortnight for a general upgrade, but the announcement last week that it would be reopening on Thursday June 2 met with a backlash on Facebook and Twitter, as users referred to past incidents at the club.

These included a cleaner allegedly being beaten by three East London men (although the charges were later dropped) and a patron urinating on a taxi driver parked under the club’s balcony.

However, in a statement released yesterday, club management said it now wished to take action following a comprehensive consultation process.

“This process has included engagements with fans, detractors and other key stakeholder groups. We are grateful to those that have commented during this process. It has been an enlightening experience, and we feel that it has given us the clarity needed to achieve our new vision,” the statement said.

“The Tiger Tiger brand in Cape Town has not always represented the values and ideals that we believe in, partly because we have not expressed these values sufficiently in our activities and communications, partly because we allowed behaviour that we should have been aware of and partly due to circumstances beyond our control.

“To be clear, any form of racism or sexism that has existed, is totally unacceptable and regrettable. The stamping out of anything that in any way contributes, endorses or encourages such behaviour will be of the highest priority.”

Management said that as a result, Tiger Tiger in Claremont would not relaunch on Tuesday as planned. Instead plans would be finalised for a new club to be launched at a later date.

“We can only commit to the values above if our entire team understands what they mean, and what each team member’s role is in making sure that these values are experienced. Of course, we will be tested along the way, and we may slip up. However, it will be how we respond and recover in those situations that determines whether we are truly aligned with our vision. We are looking forward to the challenge, and we are excited about what lies ahead.”

Prior to the announcement, prominent women’s rights activists told the Tatler that sexist and racist attitudes were commonplace at southern suburbs late-night venues, not just Tiger Tiger, and charged that establishment management teams were paying “lip service” to complaints and that they were not addressing the issue.

Mini Radebe, who previously called for the inclusion of a hip hop tent at the Rocking the Daisies music festival, has been at the centre of the campaign against Tiger Tiger’s relaunch. While the Tatler was unable to reach her for comment on the latest development at the time of going to press, Ms Radebe said earlier it had been her experience that women were exposed to a lot of sexist behaviour in nightclubs.

“Males are let in first, or when a male pushes past, nobody tries to regulate the male. Women are often asked to stick to a certain dress code, while the males can do whatever they want. Whenever a women goes to report a certain encounter they might have had in the club, they aren’t taken seriously and are often dismissed, if not mistreated by the bouncers themselves. That is also sexist behaviour because women know that nobody will listen.”

One of the biggest points of contention has been the kind of language used in club marketing campaigns, including the “dress to impress” call-to-action.

“Saying something like ‘dress to impress’ is very problematic because who exactly are they trying to impress? It just gives a way for girls to be objectified or gives the sense that girls only go to the club to impress men when that isn’t the case at all,” Ms Radebe said.

“(The use of the word) ‘girls’ is also problematic in terms of forming gender binaries, as ‘girls’ is not everybody’s reality and that makes them transphobic. If there should be a dress code, let it be open to everyone because now girls are made to be seen as objects and men are going to have entitlement complexes. They’re now thinking the girls came out for them so they can try their luck. That is promoting rape culture.”

UCT rape awareness campaigner Priyanka Naidoo, who also welcomed Tiger Tiger’s closure, agreed with Ms Radebe that sexist and racist attitudes were widespread.

“Tiger Tiger’s closure is definitely a step in the right direction, and I am happy that the club has engaged with stakeholders. But I can definitely say that these attitudes are not restricted to Tiger Tiger. I look at places like Stones in Observatory where the manager has actually become aggressive when engaging with a group of us over a request to change the music that was being played,” she said.

“Tin Roof in Claremont is less well known but equally as problematic as Tiger Tiger. All of these places contribute to this club culture which makes it impossible to go dancing with a friend without being groped or hit on.”

Stones general manager Georgina McCloughan said she found Ms Naidoo’s claims “very difficult to believe”.

“Our staff are trained specifically to ensure females are kept safe, and, in fact, it is for this very reason that more than 50 percent of our clientele are women. Women are well looked after,” she said.

“Our doormen regularly will walk women to their vehicles to ensure their safety. If anyone has a complaint of sexism, I would want them to report it to me, as it would be taken very seriously. I would request that I am provided the day and time when this occurred, so I can see who was on duty at the time.”

Tin Roof management declined to comment.

Asked why she believed allegations of sexism and racism were gaining prominence now, Ms Naidoo believed that people were living in a “sort of era of consciousness”.

“Although there has only been an interest now, people have been sharing their experiences of homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism over the past few years. I have been at UCT for the past two years, and in that time I’ve had many older friends caution me about going to Tiger Tiger. Needless to say that their reputation precedes them.”

She, too, claimed the “dress to impress” line “plays into rape culture and patriarchy” as it implied women were there for the “male gaze”.

“This form of objectification advertises women as the product and men as the customers. The ‘dress code’ also creates an unrealistic standard it implies that you have to look a certain way to get into a club. The use of gendered language such as ‘ladies’ night’ is also exclusionary.”