Saturday, December 22

Ladies' Night

A Las Vegas Gym Faces a "Ladies' Night" Bias Case (New York Times)

Following in the footsteps of those who have sued bars to end the practice of "ladies' nights" (which has had mixed results), a Las Vegas man is suing a gym that offered a cheaper sign-up rate for women as well as a special workout area for women, claiming sex discrimination. He makes the claim that such a policy is just as bad as giving a price break to a certain race, and that if race-based discrimination offends you, so should discounts for women.

I can't help but feel that at least at bars, ladies' nights are not only good business but are in the public interest. My argument is that interaction between the sexes is an inherent purpose of most bars, and if those bars want to use price differentiation to achieve that goal, then it should be allowed.

But on the other hand, I am having a really hard time justifying how that scenario is legally and morally different from a bar hosting a "whites' night", which I would not at all support. Is it simply that we have gotten so used to ladies' nights, senior citizen discounts, and admission discounts for children that they 'seem' okay, even if they are not materially different from race-based discrimination?

I welcome your arguments in the comments section!


Anonymous said...

Ladies' Nights are good for business and extremely important social tools.

Sexism is pervasive in society and women definitely face different treatment from men in places like gyms, where the Las Vegas issue initiated.

I think trying to align a "Ladies' Night" with a "Whites' Night" is a highly fallacious argument. No one believes that women run society, whereas we know that men (and whites) do, since most of the power in society resides with white heterosexual men. Creating a Ladies' Night isn't discrimination... it's leveling the the playing field.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that last comment was me.



Kevin Markham said...

Regarding the "leveling the playing field" argument: Perhaps women should get special treatment at bars if they have been systematically mistreated at bars, but I wouldn't give them discounts as bars for being mistreated in general. Perhaps you are arguing that there is a male power structure in the bar setting, and this helps to correct the imbalance? I find that somewhat compelling.

But under that logic, couldn't the argument be made that we should also have "Latinos' Night", or discounts for Latinos in any setting where there is a white power structure? I can't explain why, but that just doesn't feel right to me.

M. Lee said...

The Las Vegas guy, does he realize that females are about half the population, where as say any ethnicity is way less than that? To be Captain Obvious: there are females of every race. I don't think that race and sex are comparable or interchangeable in this instance. If he feels so compelled about the direction of "equality" as to bring it to a court of law why not make gyms create a man's gym and bars create a men's night and then see what he thinks about it.


LindsayBluth said...

I have a couple comments. Firstly, to use the "level the playing field" argument to support practices that cater to females is counter-intuitive. If you, as a female, feel discriminated against by society then you wouldn't patronize a bar/gym that gives women special treatment or monetary discounts. Because you are basically saying, as a female, that you deserve to be handed special treatment...not to mention this does nothing to alter the apparent white male domination of societal power.

Secondly, if you are female and have been to a bar, chances are you have allowed a male to purchase you a drink. If we are going to ban "Ladies Night" specials, then we should also ban the practice of men buying women drinks. Or at least recognize that this practice is similarly sexist. Maybe women should turn down that next drink if they are just going to pull the white male argument next time it suits the situation.

Anonymous said...

To comment to Melissa:

Actually, the number of non-White ethnicities in this country is fast approaching--and will in 5-8 years exceed--the number of Whites, so I feel the comparison may be accurate (though it should be noted that, as a White woman, I have no comprehension of what it is like to feel oppression based upon my race).

To comment to Brenda:
I've never had a man purchase me a drink in a bar. But I have allowed women and transmen purchase me a drink.

Men purchase women drinks because this is the expectation based upon society gender norms. (It's similar to men buying women dinner on the first date.) I believe a woman can decide for herself whether or not she wishes men to buy her a drink, or dinner, or anything else--and that agreeing to or not agreeing to does not alter the argument at (or indicate a varying level of feminism).

What's going on here is that a Las Vegas gym is cashing in on a good way to make money. As far a Capitalism goes, kudos to them.

What's going on here as well is that a man became upset when he was not include in the marketing scheme of this particular gym in Las Vegas.

Beyond that, the issue does delve into affirmative action, which is what is at heart. As a proponent of affirmative action, and also not being exceptionally familiar with all the facts of the case on hand, I think the gym was making the right decision. There IS gender discrimination in society and women experience it everywhere: the workplace, walking down the street, at restaurants, at bars, and in the gym. Gender discrimination doesn't always have to look "bad" to still qualify as gender discrimination, just as oppression doesn't have to always look "bad" to still be consider oppression.


Gregory Brown said...


I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the gym is cashing in. I really don't see "ladies night" as primarily a discrimination issue. To me it's more exploitative. The bar and gym owners are not trying to level a playing field or implement affirmative action. They are trying to drive sales. In a way I feel (especially with the bars) is taking advantage of women more than anything else. As a man I've never felt discriminated against by ladies night. If anything it's marketed as much towards my gender.

However, I think we all can agree that happy hour is extremely oppressive to sad people.

Kevin Markham said...

Thanks for all the comments so far -- they have helped to clarify my thinking on this issue, as did a conversation with my friend Kyle. Here is my current thinking:

A bar should be able to make the business decision to implement a "ladies' night," and the burden is not initially on them to justify why it is necessary or moral to institute such a practice. If an individual or community has a problem with the practice, the burden is on that individual or community to prove that it is egregiously harming them. I accept that any discrimination can potentially "harm" someone -- I could claim, for example, that senior citizen discounts at the movies "harm" me and should be illegal. Ultimately, the question becomes how much harm a "reasonable" person would say I am experiencing, and whether that level is acceptable.

In the case of ladies' night, the compelling factors are that (1) I am not required to visit that bar, (2) I likely have plenty of alternatives should I want to visit a bar other than the one that hosts ladies' nights, (3) I am not being tricked into thinking ladies' night is one thing and then discovering it is another (the marketing is clear), and (4) at any time I can terminate the business relationship by walking out of the bar. In other words, I think that a reasonable person would conclude that the harm caused by the discrimination inherent in a ladies' night is at an acceptable level.

As far as how this compares to race-based discrimination (a Latinos' night, for example), it seems that each practice needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Race and gender are different beings with different histories in this country, and need to be treated as such. For some communities, I can imagine instances in which a Latinos' night might be appropriate, but that would be up to a reasonable person in that community to decide. As such, I would be much more in favor of local governments determining the rules surrounding ladies' night, rather than state governments or the federal government.

We need to stop thinking of discrimination as "something that's bad and should universally be eliminated," and start recognizing that the morals and practices of our discrimination can and should change as we evolve as a society.