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Cracking the boy’s club

The Strath’s first-ever female bouncer takes on unruly stigmas
Josée Boyd stands at a petite 5’3” and 120 lbs of muscle, but as The Strath's first female bouncer, she’s breaking into the boy’s club with a style all her own.

The Strath’s first-ever female bouncer takes on unruly stigmas

Josée Boyd stands at a petite 5’3” tall. She’s 120 lbs of muscle, but with her dark hair and slight frame she is easy to lose in a crowd. In fact, that was one of the first hazards she discovered about her job: she needed to wave a flashlight to be seen. Then she discovered the second, more serious problem: her voice grew too high-pitched in an emergency and her male colleagues couldn’t hear her over the radio system.

Boyd is the Victoria Strathcona’s first-ever female door staff — more commonly known by the term bouncer. But while plenty has changed for the Strath since the historic gold rush years when the Victoria landmark first began serving up good cheer, adapting to a female in its bouncer line-up is still causing adjustment for the group.

Boyd, nicknamed “Phoenix” by her co-workers, is a former military officer, an active Mixed Martial Arts and Zen practitioner and a mom who has been ready to serve and protect from the beginning.

“Someone asked me, ‘Josée, is there anything you haven’t done yet?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I’ve never been a bouncer’,” Boyd, 43, says with a laugh. “Ari, my now manager, was standing beside me in his martial arts studio and said, ‘We can change that.’”

And they did. Having trained and worked with Boyd through the martial arts world, Strath Security Manager Ari “Bolden” Knazan decided to hire her last July. At first, Knazan says, the 22 other door staff members were surprised with his decision.

“I sat them down and told them, look, this isn’t going to be the boy’s club anymore,” says Knazan. “And many of them were excited to change it up, but there was this general level of discomfort, at first — it would be a bit of a learning curve, you could say.”

Meanwhile, the thought of her new gig became an obsession for Boyd. She knew a thing or two about being tough: she worked as a naval signalman in Quebec in the late ’80s, has owned her own martial arts studio for the last four years and has a 10-year-old son. But Boyd soon learned door work is a work of brains over bronze.

“It’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it — they say I am like their private missile. Each person has a different technique, and a different talent they bring to the role. Ari encourages us to have our own styles in getting the job done.”

When it comes to that style, Boyd says it can often be surprising: some of the biggest guys use humour to diffuse tense bar situations, some unassuming ones use flirtation, some a listening ear and others — like Boyd — a more firm approach.

“People often assume that, because I’m a woman, I would be more sensitive or relate to women easier in a situation, but the opposite seems more true,” she says. “Female guests often prefer dealing with our male door staff, while we’re discovering that it’s not hard for me to tone down a situation between men.”

Knazan has worked at the Strath for 16 years and, in all the time he’s worked as door staff at various establishments, he’s only seen two women work alongside him. There is a perception, he says, that only “tough chicks” can do it.

“You do have to be mentally tough, but it’s not all about strength anymore. Even the toughest guys don’t know what will come through those doors and what will happen, until it does,” says Knazan, who will be publishing his tell-all book The Doorman’s Credo: behind the Velvet Rope this winter. “Alcohol can turn the nicest people into the biggest assholes. They will attack you, then the next day come back just to apologize.”

The Strath remains one of the largest, highest staffed and best managed bars around Victoria, according to reports from Victoria Police Department.

With the number of people that come through the facility’s doors on a nightly basis, it’s impressive how orderly the team is able to keep the environment. Knazan says the job is 90 per cent greeting people, and 10 per cent dealing with altercations and medical emergencies. But while most patrons are out for a good time, Knazan admits you can never predict the environment when alcohol is present.

He recalls his scariest moment in 2005, before Boyd was on the scene, when 18 of his 40 door staff were injured in a mass bar brawl. A bachelor party gone wrong turned into a fight that escalated so fast one bouncer was sent to the hospital with a broken face, and some of the burliest employees were left in tears, says Knazan. In that regard, while a pass to becoming a bouncer used to be whether or not you could fight, now credentials are strictly around whether or not you have your “papers” — a Basic Security Training (BST) from a registered source.

“This can be a thankless job. You have to take a massive amount of abuse, and people think they need you only when something goes wrong, but we’re here to ensure our guests have a good time, and to keep them all safe,” says Knazan. “We’re in the people management biz and, sometimes, that’s a lot like parenting.”

Often, that management is what makes bouncers seem like the “bad guys,” says Knazan, who adds that the term “bouncer” is no longer used, as it gives a crude representation to the job — door men and women are not there to throw people out; they’re there to protect.

“People see us make an ejection [removing someone from the bar], and they instantly think we are being unfair and cruel, but they didn’t just see that guy punch another guest in the face with a beer glass,” Knazen says.

Boyd’s biggest personal challenge in the job, which Knazan says he’s seen her develop, was to stop seeing things in black and white because, as she says, the job is filled with grey.

“Just when you think you’ve got everything mastered, it changes. You can’t worry about the past, or about what you think you know,” says Boyd. “In many ways, this is my Zazen practice because, in this job, you have to stay present. But you can’t put down your guard for a minute, or you could get hurt. And I want to be careful — I have a child to go home to at the end of the night.”

That presence manifested itself only a few weeks after Boyd started her job. While staff members are trained to attend altercations in pairs, one night Boyd found herself in the bottom of the Strath’s 9one9 dance club when an altercation between two female guests broke out in the women’s bathroom. She called into her radio for backup, but no one came. She called again, this time more frantic, and still no response. She hesitated, then decided to go in alone. Meanwhile, staff upstairs heard Boyd’s panicked calls but, due to her high-pitched tone, the men couldn’t make out what she was saying, or where she was. By the time they found her, it was over.

“That really was the scariest moment for me, and the one that left me feeling that maybe I wasn’t right for this job, you know?” says Boyd. “I don’t have anything to prove at my age, but there are so many barriers you can face as a woman in a so-called ‘man’s industry,’ but a lot of them you just don’t think about until they crop up.”

Boyd managed to resolve the situation in the bathroom alone, and now practices lowering and calming her voice when speaking into the radio. She also carries her flashlight and waves it when she needs the other members to see her in the dark, over a thick crowd.

“The single worst thing you can do in this job is try to be the hero and think you can handle everything yourself,” says Knazan. “This is a team sport. You have to realize where you are weak, and get someone else involved — that’s part of why I hired Josée. I didn’t need a token female, or someone to play the role of eye candy. I needed someone who could strengthen our team. And she does.” M