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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Is "successful" sperm really the measure of a man's masculinity?

An advertising campaign challenging men to "prove your worth" is being proposed to increase dwindling numbers of sperm donors – will the myth that only "real" men have potent sperm ever die?

Are you a superman? By which I mean, do you have the kind of sperm that would be accepted by the UK Sperm Bank, currently stuck with only nine donors on the books? Laura Witjens, chief executive, is currently launching a drive to recruit more donors. Her secret weapon? An appeal to male vanity.

Speaking to the Guardian, Witjens claims that if she advertised saying, “Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are”, it would be a route to gaining “hundreds of donors”. The implication is that beta males need not apply; this is for “real” men only. And what better way to demonstrate one’s manly credentials than through the spreading of one’s super-strength, 100 per cent proof, ultra-potent seed?

The proposed campaign approach serves to remind us of two things: first, the male ego is ridiculous, and second, reproductive ability is still treated as an indicator of whether or not one is a “successful” representative of one’s sex. However much we claim that biology is no longer destiny, certain expectations linger. “Real men” have high-quality sperm and want to see it distributed as widely as possible. “Real women,” on the other hand, only end up unable to reproduce if they have “left it too late” (that is, spent too much time in what is still seen as the world of men).

That fertility is primarily linked to luck rather than sexist morality tales is something we’d rather not admit. After all, far too many cultural edifices have been built around the idea that the opposite is true.

For something that resembles runny PVA glue, sperm has done well for itself. Throughout history, men have been obsessed with their precious seed and what it means for their status as the dominant sex. Since it is women who get pregnant – women who perform the actual task of gestating and birthing new human beings – there has always been a need to inflate the importance of semen, lest men should be sidelined completely. Whereas for women reproduction is a continuous process, for men it is more disjointed and conceptual. Hence it is important to have something to rely on. In sperm we trust.  

Otherwise can a man ever be sure – really, really sure – that a baby is his? For biological mothers, maternity is never in question. For biological fathers, paternity needs to be established. There are various ways of achieving this: heterosexual marriage, compulsory monogamy, the policing of women’s sexual choices, the withholding of material resources from women in return for sexual exclusivity, the threat of an appearance on Jeremy Kyle.

And then there are the various myths regarding how magical and special your own sperm is. It had to be you, didn’t it? He shoots, he scores. How else would the phrase “Who’s the Daddy?” have come into its current usage? The “skill” of impregnation is linked to manliness. If you’re a real man, the implication is, then you’ve nothing to fear.

The “superman” theme proposed by Witjens harks back to the various ways in which men have sought to position themselves and their sperm right at the centre of human reproduction, believing, for instance, that it already contained human beings in miniature, or that women merely provided the passive matter that would bring their active principle to life.

The biology I learned at school still played on the narrative of the hardy, valiant sperm battling against all odds to reach the passive, if somewhat capricious, egg. Sex education met gender indoctrination; it even seemed to be implied that the egg, in closing off entry to all other sperm once the “victor” had penetrated her boundaries, was being a bit of a tease (she’d already set off down the fallopian tube, what did she expect?). Pregnancy itself, we were led to believe, could never match the creativity, risk and drama of that one initial shag.

To respond to such myth-making with “but it’s only sperm and actually it could be anyone’s” seems positively mean. Women are supposed to worship it. Our effluvia – vaginal discharge, menstrual blood, breast milk – might be seen as disgusting, but when it comes to a man’s cum, it’s considered rude not to want to swallow it. People who respond with outrage when a woman suckles her baby in a crowded café think nothing of the idea that a real woman should want to gulp down semen with gusto. Patriarchal semiotics tell us that what comes out of men is life-giving and hygienic; women, on the other hand – popping out babies and sustenance – merely leak. It takes a brave woman to say, “hang on, is semen really all that?”

In the UK at least, it would seem that it isn’t. According to Witjens, getting one’s sperm approved for the UK Sperm Bank is exceptionally difficult because of how strong the product needs to be to survive the freezing and thawing process: “If 100 guys enquire, ten will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys.” Meaning most men don’t actually measure up to “superman” standards (without even considering what this approach says to men with a low sperm count, of whom it is suggested that the manhood test has been well and truly failed).

Her advertising strategy may be one that works. But it would be nice if, in a society that increasingly favours a politics of acquisition over one of care, we could be a little less focused on the potency of the mighty seed, looking instead at this particular form of donation as part of a broader process of creating and caring for others. Perhaps appeals to male vanity just work better than appeals to altruism. Even so, it’s a pity that it has to be so.

The aftermath of sperm donation can be complicated. Once one gets beyond the cash and the ego trips, the process can lead to real children with a real need to know the identity of the donor. Whereas in the past social convention allowed men to define ownership of children on their terms, nowadays globalisation and reproductive technology have led to a splintering of roles. Is it care or biology that makes a parent? What is it that shapes an identity and makes a person?

For most of us, the humane position is that nurture – the act of being there – must trump any biological contribution. To think otherwise is unfair on those who devote years of their lives to the raising of children. But for many donor-conceived adults, the donor is still needed to complete the picture of who one really is. And he will not be a superman. He will be a person who gave something small that nevertheless contributed to the creation of something miraculous: a life. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.