Can I buy you a drink?

Imagine you walk into a bar. A guy offers to buy you a drink.

Do you accept?

In his excellent book Free (2009), Chris Anderson describes nightclubs where men pay to get in but women get in for free as a type of cross-subsidisation, with ‘paying people subsidizing free people’.

This is similar to restaurants and resorts advertising kids eat/stay for free deals: ‘The hope is that the free customers will attract (in the case of women) or bring with them (in the case of kids) paying consumers’.

So, are ladies’ nights yet another example in the list of ways women are infantilised or treated like children? Or is there another reason?

In Japan, I was recently surprised to find that men are barred from entering the popular ‘プリクラ’ (purikura) or ‘print club’ areas of Japanese arcades in some prefectures. Single-sex ‘clubs’ are nothing new, but I was shocked to find that these spaces, which have photo booths that print stickers, would be subject to such a rule. Surely there could be nothing more innocuous than school kids taking photos together and decorating them with cute stickers?

Sadly, owing to their popularity for scouting underage girls, males are no longer allowed to use these machines alone or with male friends in some game centres unless accompanied by at least one female per male customer.

Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me. Sexual harrassment is so common that buses have special seating for for ladies and will not allow men to sit next to women unless they book their tickets together. Trains have special ‘women’s only’ carriages in the rush hours to prevent unwanted advances. Rather than attacking the broader social problem of respect – of the personal space and autonomy of everyone – this ‘solution’ singles out women – among children and people with disabilities, who can also use these carriages – as ‘special’ and ‘different’.

Likewise, “ladies’ nights” cannot be viewed as simply an attempt to equalise patronage. Rather, just like free offers for children are designed to lure adult patrons into holiday packages and restaurants, ladies’ nights are designed to lure men into bars – with women as products. Giving attractive female patrons a few free drinks, is, after all, much cheaper than paying entertainers, and especially if you can get male patrons to pay a cover charge.

Already in the US, courts in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have ruled “ladies’ night” discounts an unlawful form of ‘Gender-Based Price Discrimination’. In the UK, “ladies’ nights” are prohibited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Hong Kong District Court has also deemed “ladies’ nights” unlawful. In fact, in the Wikipedia entry on Ladies’ Night, there is more discussion of the illegality of such promotions than there is information about the method of promotion itself.

A woman walks into a bar…

How would you answer the question posed at the start of this post?

If you go to a bar, someone may offer to buy you a drink. It’s up to you to assess their motives and expectations, and accept or reject the offer.

If you go to a bar on ladies’ night, your cover charge and/or drinks have already been paid for. There’s no such things a ‘free drink’ any more than there is such a thing as a ‘free lunch’. Someone is paying for it.

Quite apart from the myriad issues involved in determining who is a valid ‘lady’ to receive a free drink on ladies’ night, even if we assume an unproblematic relationship of gender/sex, the question remains:

Do you want the autonomy to accept or reject offers put to you? The power to make offers yourself?

Or is a free drink worth knowing that when you walk into a room, every man in that room has already paid some portion of your bill?

The very concept of “ladies’ night” is fundamentally unfair.

It’s unfair to women, asking them to trade a significant portion of their autonomy for something as paltry as a free drink.

It’s unfair to men, asking them to pay for a service or product women don’t have to, and to subsidise the drink or entry fee of someone they don’t even know.

And it’s unfair to anyone who doesn’t want to fit into the stereotyped regimen of ‘men’ vs. ‘women’.

Generally speaking, we evaluate who we become indebted to. We exchange favours with friends who will cheerfully reciprocate in kind, not those who will laud a favour over our heads or refuse to help out in return. We (at least should!) borrow money from banks who have reasonable expectations regarding interest rates and payment periods, not from loan sharks with unreasonable demands.

Offering free entry or free drinks on “ladies’ night” is equivalent to asking women to accept favours from an unspecified number of unidentified men, and asking men to offer favours to an unspecified number of unidentified women, purely on the basis of gender.

Remember the meaning of ‘free’: Only that which is offered with love is truly free.

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Today’s featured image is a photo of the ‘ladies only’ purikura sign, and a drink… of grapefruit juice!

If you’re interested in traveling longer for less, please also check out my recent guest post on Beautiful Budget Life!

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