We are here to claim our rights as women, not only to be free, but to fight for freedom. Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette, London 1911 Club Tropicana, drinks are free Fun and sunshine, there's enough for everyone George Michael, singer (Wham!), London 1983 IT IS Wednesday night and The Jump in Causeway Bay is loud, hot and very crowded. It's Ladies' Night. Admission for women is free and, just like in Wham!'s mythical Club Tropicana, so are the drinks. In fact, women can consume as many shots of house spirits as they want. Men, on the other hand, are charged a $50 entrance fee and full price for drinks. But the place is packed. With men ... staring at women. At the bar groups of men in smart-casual finery swill beer and nudge each other conspiratorially. And they stare and stare some more. Apart from their fixed gazes, many of the men share another notable characteristic: their age. Their daughters could be in here. Maybe that's who they are gawping at. Either way, they can't take their eyes off the jumping dance floor, filled mostly by wildly gyrating young women. They watch girls come merrily to the bar for more free booze. They keep looking as they walk round and round the club, like sharks circling their prey. Occasionally the staring stops. Such as when one of their number lies back in the infamous dentist's chair and has spirits tipped down his throat to the accompanying cheers of his mates. And the music plays incessantly: dance-floor crowd-pullers, old and new, served up by a large and loud northern English DJ. 'I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world,' bleats a Scandinavian pop singer, just before the DJ cuts her off. There's a prize to be won, he tells the sweating crowd, and the winner is the first person to bring him an item of women's underwear. One of a group of English boys - all dressed in rugby shirts and clearly on their way to a drunken oblivion - starts unbuttoning his trousers. The DJ, his exasperated tones suggesting he has seen it all before, acts quickly to quash such tactics, bellowing, 'I said LAAADDDIES underwear!' After a slightly worrying pause a wavy-haired blonde picks her way through the crowd to the DJ's console and, with the help of a male companion, bashfully hands over a bra. There is remarkably little reaction. The DJ plays another song. Dozens of girls slurp free alcohol, dozens more shake their booties. And the male hordes, beer bottles clutched to their chests, continue to stare. A big-boned Western Australia rugby team arrives, lick their collective lips, and head en masse for the bar. Within an hour, one of their number has a huge hand up the skirt of a drunk and slightly wobbly blonde girl. And she doesn't seem to mind a bit. On her way to the bar, Tilly Johnson, a 30-year-old tourist from Leeds, England, says, 'This is just like any Saturday nightclub in Yorkshire. It's a meat market. It's why the women go and it's why the men go ... But I've never seen a place give out free drink before. It might be full-on sexist, but it's also brilliant for women. It's fantastic!' The men's toilet is an oasis of calm, even though the Spice Girls are making conversation very difficult. 'Shake it to the left if you're having a good time,' suggest the girl-power millionaires at full volume as Adrian Hughes, a 29-year-old financial consultant and Ladies' Night regular, presses the cold tap, wets his hands and pushes his shaggy blonde mane up and back across his head. After he has tousled it to his satisfaction into a half-chic, half-scruffy state, he drops his head and makes a James Dean-ish sort of sneer at his reflection. Then he shrugs his shoulders. He is struggling with a concept with which I have presented him: a club night that would allow men to drink for free, and women would have to pay to watch. 'Men's Night?' he finally bellows, in a strong Australian accent. 'What would be the f***ing point of that?' Adrian has no such questions about Ladies' Night. Back in the bar - against which he's attempting to lean - he is clearly in his element. 'I love it here. Love it!' he says, pointing a thumb toward the dance floor. 'I come nearly every week. For me, Wednesday night is the horses at Happy Valley, and then The Jump.' Why does he always come here? The look of non-comprehension re-appears on his bronzed face. 'For the ladies.' Does he ever get lucky? He looks really incredulous: this is clearly an even stupider question than asking him about the feasibility of Men's Night. IT'S NOT hard to understand why Ladies' Nights are popular in Hong Kong. Whether you call it innocent fun, exploitative meat market, or mutually beneficial social activity, it works. It's the old carrot-before-the-horse trick. The carrot for the women is that they can have fun and get drunk for free. For the men, it is the knowledge that there will be plenty of women getting drunk and, hopefully, to have sex with at the end of the night. And for the club owners, many of whom aren't having the best of times at the moment, the carrot is turning an empty mid-week club into a packed and profitable one. They sell more alcohol to the boys than they give away to the girls. Both The Jump and Westworld Manhattan in North Wan Chai, which holds a Ladies' Night every Thursday, say it is the second most profitable night of the week, after Saturday. Everyone is happy. But there is a cloud on the horizon that could be as damaging to this meat market as a simultaneous outbreak of BSE, bird flu and a pig-offal scare would be to a real one. Men's Nights. Ladies' Nights work because they are sexist. If they weren't, women wouldn't get favoured treatment - and so they probably wouldn't turn up, get drunk and indulge in one-night stands. And if women didn't turn up, nor would men. End of story. But in the brave new world of political correctness, this also makes them something of a legal no-no. Last month, Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission sent warning letters to all nightclubs that offer free entry and cut-priced drinks to women informing them they could face court action for breaching the Sex Discrimination Act. The Commission acted after receiving about 100 letters in 1997 from men complaining about such practices. It also told Britain's newest TV station, Channel 5, to pull advertisements for two clubs that offered preferential treatment for women. Hong Kong's own sexual discrimination guardian, also called the Equal Opportunities Commission, was set up in the image of British body, according to senior officer Mariana Lai Po-chi. Which means that where Britain goes, Hong Kong is still likely to follow. 'If a complaint comes up and the practice contravenes the sexual discrimination ordinance, then we have to deal with it,' says Lai. So far, it has received only five complaints about Ladies' Nights, each of which will be dealt with individually, she says. 'We are not saying [Ladies' Nights] should be banned. Instead we would like to see the service providers adopt a more balanced approach.' And that means something akin to Men's Nights. But it's not a clear-cut issue. 'It's not that easy to understand who is being discriminated against,' says Lai, hitting the sexist nail right on its discriminatory head. Ladies' Nights exploit men financially. And they exploit women, by encouraging them to drink, and by encouraging men to watch them do so. THURSDAY night is Westworld Manhattan's turn. It's a different day and a very different world. Although The Jump crowd could be described as 'international', it would be safe to call it predominantly Western. And it is just as safe to say Westworld is almost exclusively Chinese. The Jump crowd wears smart-casual street wear; Westworld's dons expensive designer chic. The Jump has a spirit-swilling dentist's chair; Westworld has a cigar smoke-filled karaoke room. The Jump has tanned British Airway flight crews; Westworld has pale-skinned local models. If The Jump was playing Wham!'s Freedom; Westworld would be playing 20 Fingers' Short Short Man. But the differences are purely stylistic. Westworld's Ladies' Night works on the same principles as The Jump's: attract the women and the men will follow. It offers free entry and drink for women, while men must pay a $99 admission charge and buy full-priced - and very expensive - drinks. And it pulls in huge crowds. Women make up the majority of the lithe gyrating mass on the Westworld dance floor, but there is a seriousness to their moves that is not apparent at The Jump. These girls actually come here to dance, taking advantage of the free admissions policy. There's an atmosphere somewhat akin to innocence - or perhaps naivety. Maybe it has something to do with good, clean Asian values. Or maybe it's because Chinese girls aren't as likely to drink a dozen vodka and oranges. Just after midnight, Tony Ng, a local in his early 20s, approaches a beautiful Chinese girl with a Betty Boo bob who is standing at the bar. He uses a very Hong Kong chat-up line, one he's obviously tried before. 'Hi. My name's Loads-of-money,' he says with laugh, and offers her a Marlboro. She looks him in the eye but resists his smile and his smokes, and turns away with a small shake of her head. She gets lots of attention throughout the evening. But she ignores the advances, preferring to dance with a group of girlfriends and returning to the bar for the occasional drink. Which appears to be fruit juice. Tony laughs about the incident. 'Yeah, it happens all the time,' he says. 'I like it here, the atmosphere is good. But it is difficult with the Chinese girls ... Why? They just don't drink enough. They don't know how to have a good time.' It's not too difficult to work out Tony's definition of a 'good time'. To ensure a throng of beautiful people, there is a fairly strict door policy at Westworld Manhattan. On busy nights, there is a huge queue to get in. There used to be rumours that Western women were turned away because, quite simply, they drank too much and they weren't the kind of girls the paying (male) customers wanted to look at. The allegation is something that general manager Christina Cheng Kit-long denies. 'We are running a business here. It is a fact that men come here to look at women so, yes, we encourage the ladies to dress up. We are not running a charity and we do have rules. If they don't dress up they won't get in. It's as simple as that.' Like The Jump, Westworld has a square main bar, populated mainly by men, next to a dance floor packed with young women. Early in the evening, it seems more civilised than The Jump. More chic and more sexually reserved. But towards midnight, it becomes clear why Tony Ng likes 'the atmosphere'. As the clock ticks on, the place gets more and more crowded until any feeling of civility vanishes. It feels as if it is going to seize-up in a human grid-lock, like the Mongkok MTR platform at 6 pm. It's surprising that anyone on the dance floor can find space in which to move. The men at the bar are constantly buffeted by passing humanity. Trains of young girls in tiny designer tops and even tinier dresses snake hand-in-hand through the seething throng to the dance floor. They boogie for a while and then snake back. Here it is not just the men who stare - everyone is at it. There is a palpable atmosphere of expectation. The feeling that this is an 'event' rather than a club night is reinforced by the prizes, awarded for glamour rather than discarded underwear: holidays for two to Bali, round-trip flights to London. Five years ago, Westworld was the first Hong Kong nightclub to introduce a Ladies' Night.According to Christina Cheng, more than half the customers are of the fee-paying variety. Profits must be almost as handsome as the clientele. 'There's a lot of effort goes into it. It's not down to luck,' says Cheng.As for the possible threat from the Equal Opportunities Commission, she says the commission '[doesn't] really understand how things work'. The club itself has never received any complaints, she says. And it does hold events for men, such as three-for-one nights. 'And anyway,' she says, 'what if we did hold [Men's Nights], what sort of people would come? Nobody would come. Because there wouldn't be any women there.' The Jump's operations manager, Clarke Martin, is even more defensive, refusing to allow any staff to be interviewed.He also says The Jump has never had any complaints about sexism, 'probably because the ladies like the arrangement as much as the men'. Although he describes the evening as a 'destination not for the faint-hearted', he is careful to guard the club's reputation. 'Girls come here for the atmosphere. They don't come because it's free alcohol,' he says, with a straight face. 'And they drink in moderation when they are here.' And the men? Why do they come? 'For the same reason. They also come down because the atmosphere is great.' According to a former waitress, who worked at The Jump four years ago, not everyone was happy with the arrangements. 'It seemed to me that a lot of men hated it - they would resent the fact that they had to pay,' she says. 'It's actually not that different from what happens at other times. Most of the time The Jump is a very sedate, very nice place. But on Ladies' Night, Saturday night and Sunday brunch it's wild, wild, wild. On Ladies Night ... there is a very good atmosphere, but it's a fine line, isn't it?' So how wild can it get? 'Couples [have sex] in the disabled toilet. It's not locked because it doubles as a storeroom. I went in there many times and caught couples at it. And in the ladies' loos. Often there were men and women in the cubicles.' Promotional nights are more important than ever for Hong Kong's nightclubs, many of which are reeling under the double whammy of an economic downturn and a declining drinking population as many young Brits leave town, unable to get work visas. Gary Thomas, consultant manager at Stix, a nightclub below the Park Lane hotel in Causeway Bay, thinks that while the industry is in for a difficult few months, it will shake out the dead wood. Stix, he says, is doing well because it has tried to move away from the mainstream, with alternative entertainment and different styles of marketing. It targets a growing circle of American-born Chinese, British-born Chinese and Canadian-born Chinese who arrange their social life via the Internet. Stix sent them all e-mails and - hey presto! - became the chosen venue. But despite its attempts at innovation, on Thursday night it has, you guessed it, dance-floor packing pop music and free drinks for women. 'Giving away things ... I don't like doing it,' says Thomas grimly, as he leans against a bar in the club. 'But if one place does it, then everybody has to do it.' Two women stroll up to the bar and order a rum and coke each. Thomas grimaces. CARNEGIES IN Wan Chai doesn't give away free booze on its Wednesday Ladies' Night. It charges women $15 for a cocktail. And it has Milton the male stripper. He stands on the bar and although he doesn't do the full Monty - as they say these days - he does strip down to a G-string. The mainly Western women absolutely love it. And they often try to grab it, too. Apart from Milton and $15 cocktails, women can also climb onto the stage-like bar to consume 'blow-job shooters', eat cream-covered bananas, and, at around 1.30 am, take part in the Carnegies Miss Sensuality competition. The lucky winner gets a bottle of champagne. Six girls (who by this stage have had so many cut-priced cocktails they are past caring) clamber upon the bar and smooch around suggestively (and, if they remember, with as much dignity as possible), while the DJ shouts: 'So Carnegies, just who is the sexiest dancer of the night?' When the drunken swaying lapses into, well, drunken swaying, he makes helpful suggestions: 'Come on - if you can't be any sexier than that then you'll be getting Pompagne.' The DJ is a funny man. The winner is the girl who gets the most applause. It can get very embarrassing. 'It might well be sexist,' says bar manager Marcus Thompson, 'but it's a well-known tradition in Hong Kong. We attract the women and they attract the men.' Like other bar managers, he says he hasn't had any complaints. 'Men will go out anyway, and pay the normal prices. If there are women around, it's just an added bonus.' So what do the ladies think? 'Of course, it's pretty sick and sexist,' says 31-year-old author Kate Turner, as she sips her 12th Carnegies cocktail. She was born in Hong Kong, describes herself as a feminist and is out tonight to celebrate a friend's birthday. She reckons that Ladies' Nights are there to be used. 'I've been going to these things for years, since they first started. We always used to go on girls' nights out during the week and for a while I felt a little guilty because we would all drink as much as possible and then just dance amongst ourselves. But then I thought, hang on, that's what they are there for. They are there for us to do that. I don't have to talk to blokes or anything.' At Westworld, 24-year-old secretary Grace Lai is equally dismissive of the gawping men at Ladies' Nights. 'Sometimes the attention is nice,' she says. 'Sometimes I chat to them. But if I don't like them I ignore them. It's up to them if they want to be stupid enough to spend their money to watch me and my friends.' Too harsh on the male of the species? Let's go back to Adrian Hughes. After drinking a few more beers while pondering the feasibility of Men's Nights, he had a rare moment of clarity. 'You know what, mate?' he said by way of conclusion. 'There's more to life than free piss.' Like what? 'Like ...' He paused as he searched for the answer. And then it came to him. 'Like that,' he said, pointing at a girl's cleavage as she passed the bar. 'Like that,' he said again, elated. And with that he stumbled home. Where he would sleep - alone - for a few precious hours until work beckoned on Thursday morning.