Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney women on the prowl

Young women are drinking more and some are flirting more aggressively than ever before. Sharon Verghis goes in search of the New Lass.

by Sharon Verghis
January 8 2003
Sydney Morning Herald

Up for it: a brash young gal homes in at Moretons on Sussex on a Friday night. Photo: Jane Dyson

A crowded hotel in Paddington, 10.30pm. A warm Friday evening edges slowly into night - and it's sexual endgame time for those on the hunt. Jodie, 20-something, perilously low hipsters and shoulders flaking with a fresh Bondi beach sunburn, has a man fixed in her crosshairs. Two men actually: backpacker types, English possibly, but better-groomed than the usual Pommy undertow that sweeps into this popular sports pub each weekend.

She is drunk, no, plastered - a truer description for that state of inebriation so profound that even a slight shift of a hip does strange things to the centre of gravity. No matter - tonight, everyone here is liquored up and loud. She makes her move, casting the same verbal hook heard all up and down the long front bar, "Can I get you a drink?" They accept, she smiles, pouts, flicks her tongue delicately over her lips, unaware that her prey are exchanging confused looks. Which one of them is being hit on?

Again, no matter - those are the rules of the game she is playing. She leans into the man closest to her, an inch from his face, and places a hand on his thigh for balance. He shifts uncomfortably and leans away slightly on his bar stool. She leans towards him, he leans away again. And on it continues until finally, he puts an end to this small, comical ballet by pointedly turning his back on her. Unperturbed, she turns to his friend, pouts and places a hand on his leg. The whole process grinds into action again. "Can I buy you a drink, mate?"

In watering holes and club lounges across the city, a new kind of sexual power play is under way. The players are young women - New Lasses to complement the mens' magazines' New Lads. They play raucous drinking games. They skol with panache. They perform origami and lame magic tricks with beer coasters, fall off bar stools, spill beer, flash their breasts out of car windows, start fights, wolf whistle, heckle attractive men. Breathe deeply - that's the scent of oestrogen in the air, not testosterone.

So true to form are they that it almost seems to be a none-too-subtle send-up of laddish behaviour. In recent years, this small revolution has caused a shift in the sexual politics that underwrite Friday and Saturday nights. The great Aussie male's right to be a sexual boor has been well and truly hijacked. Young women, armed with financial clout, are the new sexual aggressors - taking firm control of the mating game as men, for the most part, retreat to the margins and the safety of numbers.

Young women are drinking more and playing harder - one, perhaps, feeds off the other. Attribute this new woman ideal - think sexually voracious Cameron Diaz in the recent The Sweetest Thing, to the Sex and the City factor. Or view it as the inevitable offshoot of grrrll power, or the influence of a new breed of X-rated pop divas. Whatever the reason, at ground level, a new generation of young women reared on Cosmo sealed sections are eschewing the wallflower mode and taking control.

Local author Kath Albury's recent book on the subject, Yes Means Yes, raised hackles aplenty in some quarters. Her conclusions had the simplicity of commonsense: women are sexually diverse and don't mind pursuing a bit of nooky from time to time. Note, she says, the thriving women's erotica market, the booming sales of sex toys to female customers, female consumption of porn, even the announcement by drug giant Pfizer of plans for a new pink Viagra pill for women.

University of Queensland lecturer Dr Susan Hopkins, author of Girl Heroes: The New Force in Popular Culture, says it seems to be linked to a new type of "McFeminism" - one that links female equity issues with consumer culture, sexuality, narcissism and power.

They thrive on our screens - Britney, Christine, Pink, Lara, Buffy, Xena et al. Even pre-teen magazines have embraced this nice, commercially appealing ethos of sex and power, Hopkins says.

"In terms of media representation, we are definitely seeing stronger, more confident, more assertive women," Hopkins says. "Even the recent Charlie's Angels remake shows this - if you compare it to the original series in the '70s - these are not women who sit around and pose. They're jumping and kicking and thumping."

Here are some tales from the frontline:

Carly Jones is a young bartender at a popular eastern suburbs pub. She has plenty of empirical evidence to relate about this new breed, who she says seem to be part of a particularly Australian phenomenon. In New York, where she worked, the mating game, while fast-paced, followed subtler rules.

Women in Australia, she says, drink more, and they drink beer - not a beverage of choice among American women. Sydney women are also more "in your face" when it comes to flirting and picking up, she believes.

"I think a lot of the behaviour is because of Sex and The City - you know, the Manolo Blahniks [sexy, expensive shoes], women getting together and getting hammered and going out on the hunt," Jones says. "In some ways, it's feminism, with a new bravado.

"I find the most obnoxious people are generally women aged 27, 28 - the younger ones tend to be more timid. The older ones are definitely becoming more sexually aggressive - they drink more than the men - far more - and they get really rowdy."

So what's the average alcohol consumption for the typical young woman on a Friday night? "Well, in a four-hour stint, most of them will drink six schooners." She pauses, laughs, then mimes lifting a huge glass. "I mean, a schooner - that's a lot of beer."

It's Friday night at another more upmarket city watering hole, and Amanda, 22, is here with friends Cate - "that's C, not K" she tells all potential pick-ups firmly - and Lis. All three are on the prowl, eyes busily scouting the crowd packed into this small, intimate upstairs bar.

"You can find someone every weekend," Amanda says. "I know one girl who came here one night and practically ran out when she noticed that she had slept with all five men at the bar on different weekends. That was a bit uncool."

What's the strategy of choice? A glass of champagne, "the good stuff only", for the prey, then a good chat-up line, they all chorus. No room for the demurely dropped handkerchief in today's sexual market.

So what do men think? Rob, 24, gives voice to the slightly ambivalent sentiments among many young men. "Sometimes, it's just too much - a girl can slap a bloke if he's overstepping, or whatever, but you can't really do anything."

His friend, Aaron, chips in: "Yeah, and sometimes they don't care even if you're standing there with your girlfriend. It can get really aggro on the nights when there's a uni sporting team drinking here, and they've got all their groupies along in their mini-skirts, making a move on anything that moves."

Copyright  © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.