Women of Color on Modern Parties

By Ayayo Orwa

Over the past couple of months I conducted interviews with several young women and feminine presenting people of color, more than one of whom are non cis-het. The aim of these conversations was to discover how these people experience parties and how that may have been different from what they would have experienced decades ago. Today I will elaborate on the responses I received to some of my questions. 

Question 1: Do you go to parties? If not, why?

  • Surprisingly, considering I was speaking to college students, every participant in my project reported not going to parties often. Most did not attend more than one or two this freshman year.
  • All the participants had similar answers and said that it was because of lack of intimacy. People said that they value one-on-one conversations. Often the music is too loud to hear anyone else, and you are around a lot of strangers who are just moving from one place to the next. Participants did not like that constantly meeting new people for only a few minutes each, does not allow for any kind of real connection. 
  • Some additional reasons were music being too loud, not being interested in substances, financial cost, and not wanting to ruin a good sleep schedule. People also commented on parties being far too crowded, and the anxiety that being in a highly stimulating environment like New York City parties and clubs can cause. 

Question 2: What makes you want to go to a party?

  • The most common answer was based on close, existing relationships. Knowing that your friends were going, or the joy of getting ready together with them before the party, was unanimously the most enjoyable/ enticing factor for parties amongst the people I interviewed.
  • People also said that it was important what the party provided. Most of the girls said that good food was likely to draw them to a party, as well as good music and a clean venue.

Question 3 – Time Period : Do you feel like you would have had a different attitude towards parties 50 years ago?

  • One participant said they would have been more likely to attend parties in the 70s- 80s. They commented that during this time, parties were some of the only safe spaces for openly queer youth, so that would have likely pushed them to go. Because of the fact that in recent years there have been more places/ times for LGBTQ+ youth to find community outside of nightlife, she stated that she feels less of a pressing need to attend parties.
  • Other participants said that they would not have attended parties as often because race issues may have made it awkward. One participant brought up that they even would have feared violence, and not just hostility, due to race at these parties. They feel more welcome at parties in recent years.
  • Similarly to the first response, one person said that she would have liked to go to parties 50 years ago because of the rich culture that emerged in POC spaces that were created by their exclusion from most places due to white hostility 

Question 4 – Music : What kind of music do you listen to, and is this different from the music you would want to hear at parties?

  • People said across the board that they listen to all kinds of music, but often not the music that is played at parties. This was also a common reason for not attending parties: the fact that when they would get there, they don’t even know the words to most of the songs, which gets awkward. This may have been different before everyone had personal devices with headphones, because in a space everyone had to listen to the same record being played, and therefore may have known more of the same songs. Participants also said that they enjoy more upbeat music at parties, and that the sad songs, or tik tok and theater music that they may listen to at home should not be for a party setting.

Question 5 – Attire : How do you dress for parties? Is it similar to the way other people dress? Is it different from years past?

  • Most participants reported dressing fairly casually for parties.
  • One girl said that because of the presence of fast fashion in recent years, people are quickly able to get the newest trend at a very low price. She stated that this has decreased individuality because everyone is buying from the same large companies instead of shopping locally, and increased the pressure people have to match everyone else because of how accessible trends are today. 
  • Another participant talked about how there is a less strict expectation of how to dress nowadays. Not only did they mention how people generally dress more casually, but pointed out that in modern society we have a less cohesive style. She talked about how every time period has specific styles that were popular then (like for example bell bottoms in the 70s), but because now we borrow so much from trends of the past, modern dressing is a blend of everything, so people are not dressing in just one way.

Question 6 – Substances: Do you think it is possible to enjoy parties without drugs or alcohol? Do you think parties worsen the issue of substance abuse, or would it have occurred at the same level regardless? Is this problem worse now, or in the past.

  • Participants unanimously agreed that it is possible to have fun at parties without using drugs or alcohol. They said that there can be awkwardness when choosing not to participate, or if you are the only one of your friends sober, but nobody expressed peer pressure to be a chronic problem in their personal experience. 
  • Most people said that parties do in fact worsen the issue of substance abuse. People did acknowledge that these problems exist even without parties, but most reported that parties do harm in prematurely exposing youth to substances. Young teenagers being in spaces where drugs and alcohol are so accessible through party culture often gets them hooked before they truly understand what they could be getting into. Most of the women emphasized avoiding environments where you are pressured to drink and knowing your family’s history with addiction. 
  • People seem to think that this issue is getting better, with many mentioning the serious epidemic of drug use in the 80s and the efforts made to decrease addiction in recent years.

Question 7 – Marginalization : Do you think that your race, gender, or sexual identity affects partying experiences in modern day? How so?

  • Two of the women commented that they have had many POC say that they need to know that there will be people of their minority group coming, or they will not attend. Some participants also said that they themselves do not feel comfortable at all white parties. It was also brought up that black women are often denied entry to these parties and clubs due to the importance put on having “pretty girls” there, based on a beauty standard that is undeniably Eurocentric. 
  • Safety was also a common theme among the people interviewed. As feminine presenting people of color, many participants talked about their fear of fetishization, and how they may be objectified at these events more than white women. Even outside of race, women have to fear getting groped or worse. One participant also talked about how women receiving free drinks at parties is arguably just a ploy to get women in a more vulnerable position to sleep with the person offering. Even the fact that women often have to pay a reduced price compared to men , or nothing at all, is often to maintain a good “ratio” where there are enough women at the party for men to want to attend and pay the fee. The possibility of getting roofied, especially at our age is terrifying, and many participants said that their vulnerability as a woman was the greatest way in which their demographic identity affects their partying experience.

All in all, there seems to be both good and bad that has come out of the modern partying, even though many people seem not to prefer it. The experiences as feminine presenting POC do seem to exaggerate the negative effects of partying and may be why all the people I interviewed tend to shy away from it. Even with the damages parties cause, they seem to add beauty into our environments through increasing time spent with the people we are close to, and building community.