Calling time: Discounted drinks are nothing to cheer about for women
Julian Groves says ladies' nights don't discriminate against men, whose interests are well catered for in a society floundering with basic issues facing many women, such as childcare and poorer pay
Should Hong Kong's bars and nightclubs be allowed to charge women less than men for drinks? Are men being discriminated against because they have to pay more for their drinks? The question is not "ridiculous", as Allan Zeman suggests.
A visiting Martian might well get the impression, as I often hear from men, that it is men who are increasingly the subordinate sex in society. They have shorter life spans, and are more likely to be victims of suicide. Boys perform worse than girls at school to the extent that they are now in a minority among undergraduates. There are more men than women in prison. Men are often passed over for women for jobs in the unskilled sector (cashiers, waiters and shop assistants). And there is no men's commission.
But looking at these facts in isolation obscures a larger picture. In whose interests is it that bars have large numbers of women whose alcoholic consumption is unfettered by budgetary constraint? Men's or women's? Bars are run as businesses and their owners know they have to attract a large number of female clients, who might not ordinarily frequent them, especially if they are packed with men. Without the women, the men may not come. We know from sociological studies that men's higher propensity to commit suicide is related to their isolation from family, friends and the community - something women, because of their traditional roles as homemakers, know how to mitigate. Men encourage each other to be independent; the silent and strong sex. To share your feelings is to risk being called a "wimp". Women rarely use such language. They are more likely to say that they prefer a sensitive man who shares his feelings. Our culture of masculinity encourages competition and even aggression among men, which often gets them in trouble with the law.
Employers in the service sector know men would not be happy with the low pay and poor conditions that women endure. They figure women, particularly those bearing the costs of childcare alone, will compromise, settle for lower wages and accept part-time work. Regardless of their achievements in even the toughest of sports, we still think women need to have physical obstacles, such as doors, removed from their paths. Harmless, I agree. But this thinking has often been to men's advantage. Concerns about the physical limitations of women have been used to keep them out of many jobs we now know they are perfectly capable of doing equally as well as men. The assumption that men are material providers, while women have to rely on men's generosity (or in this case, discounted drinks) has similarly limited opportunities for women. Such beliefs are an important part of masculine identity. They work to the advantage of men, not women.
Should we have a men's commission? I suggest we already do: it's called the Hong Kong government. Over 80 per cent of our legislators and Executive Council members are men. And although there's something called an "Equal Opportunities Commission", it still hasn't figured out how to provide adequate childcare for working parents without still relying on women - poor women from overseas. From this angle, it looks like men as a whole are doing pretty well. If it were men who bore children, the problem of childcare for working parents would have been resolved years ago. Companies would boast hi-tech day-care facilities for employees, as they do with gymnasiums and sports clubs.
I agree it's time to abolish ladies' nights. They are discriminatory and unjust. But not against men. And almost certainly not at the behest or to the benefit of women.
Julian M. Groves is a senior lecturer in the Division of Social Science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology