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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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad