Are Ladies’ Nights Really Sexist?


Are Ladies’ Nights Really Sexist?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Last Wednesday, I was jolted from the stupor of my humdrum existence when I accidentally spilled some piping hot green tea on my laptop. Like any true millennial, I was bereft. My plans of a cosy evening with Jessica Jones had gone for a toss along with my comforting beverage. The thought of making a fresh cuppa and curling up with a good book crossed my mind, but it was immediately followed by a voice that sounded uncannily like my mother’s, suggesting that it was high time I committed to some kind of interaction with the outside world. And maybe put on a clean pair of pants.

This was sound logic, and I couldn’t argue with the voice. So I decided to do what I assumed cool, fun girls do on a Wednesday night – I stuck my poor laptop into a bag of basmati, phoned a friend, and headed for a club whose ladies’ night advertisement screamed, “Free shots until 1.30 am!”

Not very long ago, I was a stranger to this bizarre big-city phenomenon called ladies’ night. “What do you mean EVERYTHING is FREE for women?” But, having grown up in a middle-class family in a small town, the word “free” was like a Bat-Signal for my inner Monisha Sarabhai. In some ways, I felt like I had spent my whole life preparing for this paisa-vasool spree.

Imagine sashaying casually past the bouncers like your name is Beyoncé, bartenders plying you with gleaming bottles of Bacardi, waving trays bejewelled with jello shots under your nose. Girls of all kinds were flitting around, too many mimosas down, occasionally tripping over their own stilettoed feet. This was ladies’ night, in all its rosé-tinted glory. How could Jessica Jones and her uncompromising flask of lukewarm Bourbon compare?

Just as I was really sinking into the high-gloss atmosphere – and my river of free booze – a friend ruined the sanctity of the moment. Seeing that I had found my way back to the bar again, he smugly remarked, “How can you call yourself a feminist and still have these free drinks? I thought you were all for equality.”

Guys swarm to bars and clubs to ogle at sloshed bridal parties and drunk college girls trying to dab

At the time, I merely downed my fifth tequila shot pointedly, with a heaping side of salt. But did he have a point? The ethical conundrum of ladies’ nights has become the source of much confusion and legislation across the world. Ladies nights has been deemed unlawful in Hong Kong, Australia, and the UK since they “discriminate on grounds of sex”. A report in The Telegraph titled “Oh yes it’s ladies’ night and the feeling’s wrong”, points out that ladies’ night and other common door policies relating to gender are in fact illegal under the 2010 Equality Act, according to UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Act defines discrimination as when someone “treats another less favourably than they treat others because of a ‘protected characteristic,’” such as gender.

Clearly, my killjoy friend was not alone in his earnest pursuit of “gender equality”.

The rhetoric of these rulings is that in an equal world, women shouldn’t get free liquor for doing nothing more than wearing make-up and strutting along in high heels. Of course, the other side of the argument is that women tend to make less money than men, and are subject to the pink tax and a lot more discrimination in general, so they’ve surely earned a few free drinks. Why shouldn’t women have something, even if it’s just a night out, go in their favour for once?

But the biggest paradox of an event that’s ostensibly for women, is the sheer number of men who turn up. Many establishments not only rely on the male customers to make up their losses, but double their cover so the guys end up subsidising all the free Long Island iced teas and vodka-crans. “Because men are still expected to make more money, they are also expected to pay for us ladies. Ladies’ night can be seen as a holdover from the time when men were the sole providers,” an essay in Jezebel argues.

One Hong Kong club owner said, “A club without girls is not a club.” Women are as necessary to their business model as fish are to barrels. Guys swarm to bars and clubs to ogle at sloshed bridal parties and drunk college girls trying to dab. They stand in the corner, all Don Draper-esque, with expensive drinks and exploding dreams about the potential of so much inebriated, accessible women. They dance up against unsuspecting girls, as if by paying the women’s cover charge, they’ve earned the right to their bodies and their time. And many of them hope and pray that the alcohol does what their personalities cannot – seduce one of these women to go home with their sorry asses at the end of the evening.

The whole ladies’ night exercise then is just a large-scale version of a guy buying you a drink at the bar. You wonder if it’s a good idea to accept, whether it will create tiresome expectations and lead to blatant objectification, or worse. But then it will strike you – ladies’ night or not, saying yes to that drink or no – you’re probably going to be objectified in 12 different ways before you get home tonight. There’s always that one dude skulking in a corner somewhere making you uncomfortable with his prying, piercing gaze, or the sad soul who keeps introducing himself to you, getting progressively more drunk with each attempt.

Speaking of guys who won’t leave you in peace, I think I finally have an answer for my friend.

Ladies’ night is pretty damn sexist, but it’s not because I get to enjoy free drinks while he’s stuck with an overpriced Old Monk. It’s because using women as bait to lure men is a legitimate marketing policy for clubs around the world, and this is unfortunately seen as a heartbreaking inequality for men in some parts of the world.

Still, what do I know? Feminists just wanna have fun, and truth be told, I only came here for my Beyoncé moment.