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21st March 2022

Reclaim the Night: How the media presents women and men’s nights out

Although drinking culture is an activity enjoyed by both men and women, gendered stereotyping within the media perpetuates old-fashioned ideas of femininity and masculinity
Reclaim the Night: How the media presents women and men’s nights out
Photo Credit: The Drum

Within the UK, and especially at university, nights out and binge drinking are a big deal. However, the media portrays a night out differently for some people than it does for others. An exploration of how societal and media presentations feed into narratives around the differences between a woman’s night out and a man’s night out is urgently needed.  

With regard to drunkenness, the presentation of women’s alcohol habits differs greatly from that of men. One Daily Mail article, entitled “Why do some of our brightest young girls want to drink themselves into oblivion,” claims that women drinking excessively leads to a squandering of “the great privileges they now have”. The article goes further by questioning “what is it that encourages them to ape the worst behaviour of men?” 

Here we can see a fundamental difference in the presentation of gender and drunkenness. Women partaking in night-out activities are perceived to be behaving like men and/or adopting male characteristics, only serving to reify societally embedded gendered stereotypes.

Isn’t it a contradiction to say that women are squandering their privileges whilst also placing women in an entirely different category to men in terms of what ‘fun’ should be? Certainly not an iteration of the “path to equality” that the author claims to have cleared.

The article also links women’s drunkenness to instances of sexual violence and safety on the streets. Unfortunately, the link between victim behaviour and increased instances of sexual violence isn’t a topic that has newly surfaced.

Perpetrators of sexual violence are often described in the media as “devious monsters”. However, there is still constant blame on victims in spite of this that they are assaulted because of their behaviour and/or the way they dress.

The exploration of media perceptions of rape is certainly important when looking at how the media portrays night-out culture. With increased instances of spiking in the past year, it is now time for a re-evaluation of how we deal with instances of sexual assault. If we simply continue to place women as inherently vulnerable, whilst placing the solution as a change in victim behaviour rather than attacking the perpetrators of said crimes, there is limited hope for reversing gendered stereotypes.  

It is important to recognise that the media’s portrayal of men’s nights out can also be inherently harmful. One instance in which this is particularly clear is death due to drowning on nights out, a phenomenon that is distinctly male-heavy. 

One example of this was Matthew Dutton, a 22-year-old man who drowned after a night out in Wigan. The Mirror described Dutton’s alcohol and ketamine intake as “akin to playing chemical Russian Roulette”. Furthermore, one report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) found that “alcohol was a confirmed or probable factor in two-thirds of all cases (of drowning)”.  

The link between canal deaths and alcohol is thus clear, but it might be interesting to investigate how media perceptions of male behaviour contribute to this level of tragedy. According to studies, men, in particular, feel pressured to drink alcohol. Perhaps this is due to the perception that drinking is a “male activity,” as emphasised by common marketing campaigns that link alcohol to sports.

It is therefore limiting to state that only women experience negative media stereotyping – common societal assumptions can also be to blame for impacting men’s safety.  

There are also further intersections of identity that can be examined in terms of night-out safety. An article by Vice interviewed queer people on their night out experiences, yielding mixed results. One person stated that during a trans-friendly event, they had witnessed bouncers removing people from bathrooms because they were of the wrong gender, highlighting the need for LGBTQ+ safe spaces with queer-friendly security.  

It would be interesting to investigate how media depictions of trans and queer nights-out link to decreased levels of safety. After all, LGBTQ+ bars and clubs are designed to be safe spaces where people can feel at ease with their own identity. Questioning the need for these safe spaces might shed light on how common attitudes towards the community have detrimental effects on people’s everyday safety.

A general re-evaluation of how we portray nights out in the media is desperately needed. The reiteration of gendered stereotypes, whether about masculine drinking tendencies or women’s vulnerable position in society, is harmful and has severe physical effects on everyday safety. Now, more than ever, an examination of how these stereotypes are underlying and yet manifest in news articles on a daily basis is required.

However, this is not enough – these instances of stereotyping need to be erased in order to make actual progress on night-time safety.  

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