The War on Ladies’ Night

Let’s face it: If you’re the proprietor of a bar that caters to a predominantly heterosexual crowd, it’s in your financial interest to attract female customers. Not only will women spend money at your bar they might have spent elsewhere—men will spend more than they might have. Unless there’s a very interesting game on TV, your average male customer will generally prefer drinking in an establishment in which there’s at least a smattering of women.

And thus, once upon a time, bars began promoting ladies’ night discounts in hopes of becoming staple locales for Girls Night Out, that fabled feminine tradition that is the stuff that romantic comedies (and most Sex and the City episodes) are made on.

But ladies’ nights are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Richard Thompson Ford, author of Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality, explains how anti-discrimination laws are being used by civil liberties groups and men’s rights organizations to attack ladies’ discounts in the courts. Such efforts have thus far been largely successful, and many states now ban gender-based discounts.

In an excerpt of his book, published in Slate this week, Ford writes:

“Although the law in several states apparently prohibits ladies’ nights, popular opinion echoes the approval of Kool and the Gang: It’s ladies’ night, and the feeling’s right. After New Jersey banned ladies’ nights in 2004, then-Gov. James McGreevey condemned the decision as ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ that ‘reflects a complete lack of common sense and good judgment.’ (New Jersey later amended its civil rights laws to allow ladies’ nights.) A columnist in the National Review called the ruling ’emblematic of the growing arrogance of a government caste that seeks to micromanage every aspect of American’s lives.’ […]

Of course, read literally, without the mediating influence of good judgment or common sense, the laws that prohibit truly demeaning and invidious sex discrimination apply to ladies’ night promotions and the use of female sex as an expedient proxy for mothers in a Mother’s Day giveaway. Rights go wrong when propelled beyond the boundaries of good sense by abstract thinking.”

Ford’s perfectly right; and his argument extends well beyond the issue at hand. The war on ladies’ night is only a somewhat inconsequential example of what happens when well-intentioned legislation is used to limit business owners’ ability to improve their businesses and make their clientele happy. In this instance, banning gender-based promotions in the name of equality will most likely cause a few male-centric bars to lose out on the female crowd they might have gained with ladies’ night discounts. Which, of course, will make them lose out on expanding their male crowd, too—unless, again, there’s a very interesting game on the bars’ televisions.