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Are sexed-up club night themes damaging women?

Female students are constantly under comment and scrutiny for the way they dress and the way they act. Am I wearing enough? Am I wearing too much? Am I having enough sex? Will someone think I’m a slut? External forces are constantly pulling us to and fro, telling us what is deemed acceptable and what is not. Themed student nights now come under inspection: are girls being overly sexualised at these events? (Is there a ‘right’ amount of sexualisation?) Are they being coerced to dress too provocatively and act too sexually? To be both sexually available but not a ‘slut’?

Let us begin with an example from right inside our own rainy city. At ‘The Bop’ recently, a group of girls on a bar crawl were encouraged to lick the chocolate off of a Kit Kat Chunky from between a guy’s legs. Boys were not required to perform any such task. And so the story repeats itself up and down the country, with girls being encouraged on bar crawls to remove clothing and perform sexual acts, whilst guys are left to sit back and enjoy the show. In Sheffield, protest resulted after the company Carnage held a ‘Pimps and Hoes’ themed bar crawl, leading many to question whether it’s right to hold themed nights encouraging girls to dress provocatively. Comment on over-sexualisation of student nights is rampant.

‘Pimps and Hoes’, ‘Vicars and Tarts’ and ‘Geeks and Sluts’ are all recent student event themes with one thing in common. They encourage females to wear very little whilst allowing males to dress in, what is perceived at least, a humorous fashion. But before we criticise the organisers of these bar crawls too much, think about your average student night. The majority of girls will be wearing fairly little, many in the thought that sexy is only possible with a large amount of flesh on show. This is down to societal pressure, a pressure that men do not feel, but this isn’t simply because of themed bar crawls. The bar crawl could be ‘Vicars’ only, and I can guarantee you there would be some dog collars teamed up with some very short skirts. Wider societal pressures are telling girls sexy means less, and whilst these bar crawls are reinforcing those stereotypes, they are not the root cause of them.

So if banning – or at least massively frowning upon these patriarchal bar crawl themes – isn’t the answer, what is? Firstly, it’s important to remember there will always be girls out there perfectly happy to wear hot pants with their bum cheeks spilling out, and there will always be girls who manage to make even the most mundane fancy dress outfits sexual (I’m thinking sexy pumpkin). I say, all power to them. The problem with saying certain nights aren’t acceptable is that this allows other people to tell girls ‘sexy’ dress up isn’t okay, that they’re wearing too little, being too slutty. Girls should have the choice to participate in these themed bar crawls, not be told it’s not okay by external voices. I want all women, and all men, to be happy to wear whatever the hell they want to wear on a night out. The only effective way to do this is for girls and guys to tell societal norms they aren’t happy with to sod off, and go out in whatever they want to go out in. Girls and guys, wear t-shirts and jeans if you want to, wear absolutely nothing if you want to. A little reminder in case anyone’s forgotten, but female vicars and geeks exist, male ‘sluts’ and ‘tarts’ exist, and you’re free to make all these outfits as sexual or non-sexual as you want. Go on these bar crawls, but do what the organisers aren’t expecting. The problem isn’t over-sexualisation, but a forced ‘over-sexualisation’ of just one specific gender, and the expectations and judgements forced on that gender. The only way that will change is if we change our attitudes, not if a bar crawl’s theme tells us to do so.

‘Pimps and Hoes’ is however an entirely separate issue, and I understand the concerns of the protestors. Women are still today being forced into prostitution here in Manchester, in Sheffield, all over the UK and the world. Men still hold these power positions over incredibly vulnerable women, and getting people to ‘act out’ such a power relationship as ‘just a bit of fun’ is disrespectful to the women in these situations. But a little bit of perspective is needed here. I do not for one second think that Carnage wanted to belittle the suffering of these women when thinking of its theme, I also don’t think that any participants on the bar crawl will suddenly think that it’s okay to sexually exploit women. It’s also important to remember that just because something is distasteful, that alone cannot warrant censorship. So whilst I agree with the aims of the protestors, and am certainly glad their protest has led to increased awareness of the issue, I can’t help but think there are much better targets to protest against than a bar crawl that, whilst misguided and stupid, was not meant in malice.

And as for those Kit Kat Chunkys? Absolutely fine. But only so long as such exploits are not only aimed at the sexualisation of women. If I’m going to lick chocolate out from between a guy’s legs, or a girl’s legs, I damn well expect them to return the favour. A big part of student life is sexual exploration, and I’m fine with bar crawls providing an outlet, whilst having a bit of fun, for people to explore their sexuality. But bar crawls need to stop only sexualising young women but also encourage guys to get down and dirty. It is, after all, only fair for them to get a go too.

Tags: carnage, fancy dress, sexualisation, slut, slut-shaming, Women

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Becky Montacute

Neuroscience/Immunology PhD student
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