Calling time on club nights that sexualise women

Why are women still expected to look a certain way?

I’ve never been one for clubbing, which is rather surprising seeing as I’m a second year undergraduate at one of the most notorious "party" universities in the country. I chose to attend Liverpool for its atmosphere, its culture and the course they offered. However, many of my housemates chose Liverpool solely on its reputation as a good night out. Fair enough - I can appreciate having a good time with your friends, getting progressively pickled and ending the evening with an oily, unappetising commodity (human or takeaway). It is the treatment of girls in clubs that I cannot abide, in particular the way club nights portray young women in their promotions.

A good example is the "Carnage" club nights that are held across the country. These nights are seen as the holy grail of clubbing by student partygoers. For ten pounds you receive all sorts of discounts and free entry into various clubs around your city. You also receive a "Carnage" T-shirt, which girls are expected to customise into crop tops, the shorter the better. Note how it is expecte - it really isn't the done thing to wear your "Carnage" T-shirt the normal way. If you don’t look like Britney Spears circa "Baby One More Time" you have a problem.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what girls are expected to wear and act on such nights. The recent Carnage night held here in Liverpool had the lovely theme of "Pimps and Hoes". The boys naturally got to dress up in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, with fur coats and feathered hats. On the other hand, the girls’ costume theme was not designed to be humourous but humiliating. When the theme of the night Liverpool city councillor Rachael O’Byrne commented: "The theme is blatant in its sexism and perpetuates the objectification and exploitation of women." She went on to argue that "Themes such as 'Pimps and Hoes' sexualise women's inequality and creates a climate where rape culture is trivialised."

You could argue that the promoters of Carnage were not trying to degrade women, but were rather empowering them with a theme that promotes a pride in how you look. However, it is clear to see that this is not the case. Club culture itself promotes the sexualisation of women to a degree where it is no longer about empowering women, but degrading them.

It is worse to think that these club nights are aimed predominantly at Freshers, some of whom are quite shy and find the thought of dressing like a "hoe" to be the stuff of nightmares. Not only is it distressing but it conveys a message to new students that dressing like that on a night out is the status quo and if you do not conform then you will be outcast. Therefore, not only are these nights degrading but they are also playing on the insecurities of young women.

It is only ever empowering to wear attire like this if you yourself have chosen to wear it. The Slut Walk marches contrast well with the concept of Carnage nights. The women who participated in the marches were told not to wear provocative clothing at night as it could lead to rape. They marched for the right to wear what they choose without fear of intimidation or violence. It should always be about choice, not about what club promoters or the media think you should look.

As a young woman, I could do without the constant bombardment of advertisements, magazine covers and music videos inferring how I should look. I, along with the majority of young women in this country, constantly feel the pressure to be thin and "beautiful", or whatever society’s idea of beauty is.

Tina Fey explained society’s skewed view of how a woman should look when she said "Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits."

Note how she also uses the word "expected". Why are women still expected to look a certain way? Club nights that are aimed at students are only serving to continue the objectification of women and promoting the idea that this is the way it should be.

Club night themes often perpetuate the objectification and exploitation of women. Photograph: Getty Images
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Can’t afford to die: the rise of funeral poverty

The cost to councils of public health funerals has risen by 30 per cent in the past four years. 

Dying, as you'll know if you've ever planned a funeral, is an expensive business. If your relatives plan a service with a funeral director, they should expect to pay around £3,500*. Burial alone will cost you around £1,750 (making cremation, at £660, seem like a positive steal). And that's before they've even bought a box to put you in. So it is unsurprising that, according to insurance company Sun Life Research, one in seven families struggles to pay funeral costs. 

Families who can't pay are left with two options. First, there's the Social Fund, a centrally-managed pot of money which can offer a one-off payment to help with funeral costs (it also covers things like maternity grants and the winter fuel allowance). Councils themselves also offer "public health funerals" for either people who die with no next of kin, or whose next of kin can't afford to bury them.

Public health funerals are, it seems, on the rise - partly because of the rising costs of burial and the limited nature of the Social Fund, but also thanks to austerity measures which mean that luxuries (like burying your loved ones) are no longer within reach for the poorest families in Britain. 

Coffin up

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Local Radio found that, according to responses from 300 councils of the 409 who offer public health burials, the costs to councils of these public health services was up an average of 30 per cent from four years ago. Part of this rise is due to the skyrocketing costs of funerals, but part was down to the fact that the number of public health funerals had increased by 11 per cent.  

The assistant director of bereavement at Cardiff City Council told the BBC that when he started his job 20 years ago, the service was mostly used by "vagrants or alcoholics". However, the pool of those accessing council funds for burial has widened dramatically: 

"Over the years it has increased, and sometimes there are families but they are estranged or divorced, or there are families where they claim there's an inability to pay."

Another factor is that applying to the Social Fund, as opposed to your council, is complex and confusing, so many who are eligible for it don't get the money they're entitled to. Even if they do, they're only given £700; an amount that hasn't increased over the past decade despite the rising cost of funeral services. 

Grave policies 

Social policy academics from the University of Bath, led by Katherine Woodthorpe, recently investigated the role of bereavement in public policy. In their paper, they note that "little attention has been paid towards benefits associated with bereavement". The researchers conclude that the system needs to be simplified so families don't have to pay the costs up front, then apply to complicated systems of funding afterwards:

The most constructive change to the current system would be to re-organise the claim process so that individuals could be informed of their eligibility and (potentially) what they might receive from the state before committing to funeral costs. The current practice of submitting a claim after committing to funeral costs is counterproductive, leads to confusion and is the creator of unnecessary stress and financial difficulty for newly bereaved individuals.

When Woodthorpe's paper came out last year, the Telegraph reported its findings under the headline "Paupers’ funerals making comeback as families exploit loophole to save funeral costs", based on the fact that some families who couldn't afford services were going to councils for funeral funding rather than applying to the Social Fund. It included reports of council workers' "anger" at seeing people "who claimed they could not pay then turning up to the laden with expensive bouquets and other embellishments". 

It’s more than possible that these funds are occasionally misallocated and exploited, but we also need to remember that respectful disposal of the dead, while something we take for granted, is deeply ingrained in our culture – which is why there is a dedicated public health budget to ensure that this process isn't restricted to those with thousands of pounds in the bank.It's also worth noting that even the price of the most "expensive" bouquet wouldn't make much of a dent in modern funeral costs. 

It’s perhaps a sign of the times that a respectful burial, which is a deeply symbolic and emotionally significant ritual in all cultures, is now seen as a luxury, increasingly beyond the reach of the poorest families - and one which we bedgrudge those who are too poor to access it without help. 

*Costs are estimates from Money Saving Expert. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.