Ladies’ Night: It’s Not About the Ladies

A fellow named Steve Horner has apparently been campaigning for years against the concept of “Ladies’ Night” at bars and nightclubs on the grounds that it illegally discriminates on the basis of gender. This has elicited much scoffing (and some more pointed criticism) from a variety of folks. Most people seem to laugh at him because Ladies’ Nights are such an established tradition — few even stop to consider that they might be discriminatory. Some feminists have chided him for focusing on this one minor instance of discrimination against men while ignoring much more serious instances of discrimination against women. The ACLU has said that discounts reserved for women do not “rise to the level of a constitutional injustice.”

It is pretty clear that Steve Horner is a supersized turdburger. He is unapologetically homophobic and misogynist. He thinks he’s a hero on par with the likes of Rosa Parks and Jesus Christ. And he dislikes Ladies’ Nights because he thinks they’re part of some broad “feminist-Marxist” conspiracy, which is the opposite of the real reason why they suck. His critics are right that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and they’re right that there are bigger fish to fry. But one can be a turdburger and still happen to be right about something, and Steve Horner is (sort of) right about Ladies’ Nights.

Formal policies charging women less than men for exactly the same service are discriminatory, and they are illegal. There is no legitimate justification for Ladies’ Nights, and the law does not permit wanton gender discrimination, even if it is men rather than women who are most directly disadvantaged by the policy in question. It’s true that Ladies’ Nights don’t really hurt anybody, but just because the issue is relatively unimportant doesn’t mean it’s OK to apply the law unevenly or to make exceptions for well-established traditions.

Steve Horner likes to whine about men being hurt by Ladies’ Nights, which mostly amounts to so much privileged noise. But his approach is backwards. Ladies’ Nights aren’t usually for women, and they’re certainly not anti-men. Instead, the prospect of a bar filled with women who wouldn’t usually be there is supposed to attract more heterosexual men. In most cases, Ladies’ Nights exist for the same reason that groups of young men often seek women to join them before trying to get into college frat parties: the hosts want as many women as possible, because they think it will both draw in more heterosexual men and maximize the amount of flirting (and sex) that will result. In short, the assumptions underlying Ladies’ Nights treat women as sex objects.

I realize that not all establishments with an occasional Ladies’ Night are motivated by the same assumptions. But the existence of exceptions does not change the associations the concept has in our culture. Ladies’ Nights aren’t some pseudofeminist correction for millennia of oppression, as the previously-referenced Jezebel article implies at the end. They are, in fact, quite patriarchal in themselves, privileging heterosexual men’s (ostensible) desires and framing such men as the default, “normal” patrons of bars. Is it really so surprising that an instance of gender discrimination which seems to benefit women on face is still mired in male privilege? Is this so uncommon?

Discrimination on the basis of gender should be questioned on principle. “Ladies’ Night” is no exception.

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