Your Underwear = Free Drink. Fair Trade?

This story hasn’t seemed to catch on in the States yet, but a bar in Dublin is offering girls free drinks in return for their underwear.

I’ll let that new currency sit with you for a minute, and add to this that the bar in question is the very same site in which a 15 year-old reported being sexually assaulted earlier this summer.

I’m going to tackle this in two ways – both in regards to the sexual assault and in regards to the pitch that women lose their undergarments in a bar. That they aren’t asking for a jacket, or a shoe, or a sock, or a headband, or, frankly, not asking women to give up anything at all for drinks other than their cash money, is not lost on me.

The idea behind this kind of promotional event is simple. By encouraging women to drop trou under the auspices of saving them some dough and by presenting it as something of a game – if you do this, you win this – they’re trying to mask the creepiness factor with a jolly sentimentality and, it seems, a savvy sense of the economical. This not only is an attempt to cover up their hopeful possibility of granting some men a free show, but the effort to make it lighthearted is done to silence critics as prudish wet blankets. However, selling this as a game – the exchange of alcohol for valuable organ protecting clothing – sets the precedent that one’s sexuality and access to it is in fact up for sale, and also strengthens the harmful thinking that by buying a woman a drink she automatically becomes sexually accessible. The existence of this promotion, regardless of whether or not women participate in it, actually reinforces this thinking. And given the jokey presentation, those who do not participate in it are liable to be seen as ruining everyone else’s fun. Any woman who has been pressured to take a drink from a man in a bar can assure one of that. Bars have been mating and meeting grounds for years – why not just continue to let men and women buy their drinks, meet, have a chat, see where it goes – without the unnecessary orchestration of a woman removing her underwear before even being introduced?

It seems pretty callous for this bar to promote this kind of “deal” after a young girl rounded up the courage to report that she’d been raped in this club’s bathroom. Even if we were to assume that their misguided vision – one of supposed sexual prowess – was what led them to create this promotion, did no one suggest that given the recent bathroom forced sex encounter perhaps they shouldn’t encourage women to drop their underpants in an alcohol-fueled environment that is essentially paying them to strip? The bar asked for underwear because removing underwear promotes the assumption that the sex region is open for business, and willingly so. They asked for underwear because they think it’s titillating, because sex sells, because they figured a lot of men would likely show up that evening under the impression that some half-naked drunk women would be hanging out by the taps. And what comes next in this line of logic I’m sure you know. They think they might get lucky. Alcohol has long been a factor in discussions around consent and what it means. If a girl is too drunk to coherently consent to sex – something one could see happening when they are given free alcohol for an entire evening – then the sexual encounter is non-consenual. By objectifying the sexuality of these women as something that can be bargained for, I worry that certain people may consider their consent negotiable as well. Is a drunk woman up sexually up for grabs? Absolutely not. Is it a drunk woman’s fault if she is sexually assaulted? Double-no. Is presenting the exchange of goods for the stripping of clothing minimizing a woman’s sexual agency and glorifying the idea that women can be bought? Yes. Can a woman participate in this promotion and still make a decision to engage or not in consensual sex? Sure. But this is about the fact that a bar took on the role of mediator in sexuality, and the reason I can’t think of any women or girls I know taking on this bar’s “challenge” isn’t because they are prudish, and it isn’t because they don’t like to drink – many do. It’s because the foundation of this promotion reinforces the dominant gaze of men who watch while women barter their bodies for money or substances.

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Filed under Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexism

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