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
Photo: Getty
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for historical child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

Operation Midland, which was set-up to check claims that boys were abused in the 1970s and 80s by a high-level group of paedophiles including politicians, military figures and members of law enforcement agencies, has had up to 40 detectives assigned to it and a similar investigation. Admittedly some of these were murder and major crimes officers but that’s still a large contingent.

In fact if such squads were formed for every historical case the Metropolitan Police would be overwhelmed as last year alone it received reports from nearly 1100 adults – many of them well past retirement age –that they were sexually assaulted when children.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.