Thursday 28 November 2013

Pandora's Bachelorette Party at Doboz

Market choices vs. anti-discrimination laws in Budapest nightlife

Some days ago Hungary's Anti-Discrimination Authority issued a ruling in a case filed by Szilárd Teczár, a student of media studies, against Doboz” (Box), a Budapest night club. In its decision, the authority announced that Doboz' policy of charging men for the entrance while letting women in for free violated the anti-discrimination law.

In a sense, I admire Mr Teczár he has done something I have long speculated about. Ever since I learned of Hungary's anti-discrimination law effective from 2004, I have been thinking about whether price discount granted for women at night clubs could bear legal scrutiny. As the practice has been quite general in the Hungarian party scene, I had plenty of occasions to ponder on this while standing in those long rows waiting for the entrance. 

Also, Mr Teczár did what he did with some style. His official complaint focused on the obvious material disadvantage male visitors suffer as compared to female visitors. In most of his submission, however, he went on to propagate a less evident gender ideology, saying that it is women that are the principal victims of the practice. To be honest, the arguments he put forward in support of this theory seemed so far-fetched that at first I suspected this was a parody. In essence, he contended that free entrance for women makes them appear like prostitutes supplied and provided by the club to paying guests. Still, selling a law-enforcement authority such an ideology wrapped in a legal argument is a remarkable intellectual coup.

Its virtuosity notwithstanding, I disagree with Mr Teczár's complaint and, accordingly, with the Authority's decision. Despite my own speculations, I never filed an action myself because I realized that the issue existed only in law but not in reality. As is often the case with ideologically motivated legislation, the law was not enacted to solve problems but to create them — or, as the ideologist would put it, to "raise consciousness" of themAs a lawyer, I indeed became conscious of the discrimination issue but kept it a secret out of respect for reality. Obviously, Mr Teczár lacked this self-restraint. 

The economics of having fun

In fact, I do not remember ever meeting either a woman or a man who had been upset by women's discounted entrance to parties. Both groups seemed to accept it like any other business decision customers encounter day by day. 

If one felt that an explanation was indispensable, one did not need to look long for it. People go to night clubs for two main purposes: to dance and to pick up potential dating partners. Both purposes are difficult to pursue without girls; guys usually don't dance with each other, much less consider dating with each other. It follows from this that you need around as many girls as guys for a good party.

Now, girls seem to be slightly less keen on partying than guys. In my youth I owned a book called Murphy for Students, Or Problems Do Not Begin with the Beginning of Adulthood”. The book provided advice for adolescents and youths in many different areas of life in the form of concise rules. I recall one of its rules concerning “evening programmes” “if you set out to organise a house party, and you want the party to be attended by 20 guys and 20 girls, invite 3 guys and 100 girls.” It seems reasonable to assume that the discount granted for women at night clubs operates under the same theory: to offset the lesser interest women express in parties.

Can this theory be rationally verified? No, but it need not be. It was one of Marx' most fundamental mistakes that he thought the price of products could be reduced to some measurable underlying reality such as the work invested in them. In fact, prices – including entrance fees for night clubs – depend exclusively on people's preferences and choices, seldom rational, sometimes capricious and never exactly measurable. The superiority of the market economy over central planning is due precisely to the fact that it leaves pricing decisions to those that know current trends of supply and demand from day-to-day business rather than to experts looking into their causes. In our case: To people running night clubs and not to academics involved in gender studies.

For the same reason, it does not matter if women's supposedly lesser demand for parties has its roots in their inherent “nature” or in the “nurture” society imposed on them. It suffices that the market has detected a pattern in party-going characteristic to sex difference and has created mechanisms to compensate for it.

So much for economic theory; what about the law?

Sex, rights and rock & roll

On the face of it, Mr Teczár's action was bound to succeed: Article 5 of the Anti-discrimination Act provides that the requirement of equal treatment shall be observed by anyone offering services for an indefinite group of persons (that is, also by night clubs). Article 7(1) states that direct discrimination violates this requirement. Article 8 defines direct discrimination as any measure subjecting someone to disadvantageous treatment (e.g., having to pay more) compared to someone else in a similar position because of certain characteristics, including his or her sex. This definition clearly fits the entrance policy of Doboz.

The law has an escape clause, however, that may be applicable to Doboz' case. Article 7(2) states that a measure based on a justifiable reason that, according to objective assessment, directly relates to the relationship in question, does not violate the requirement of equal treatment. Remarkably, the law excludes some characteristics – like race and nationality – from the scope of this escape clause, but sex is not among them. This suggests the legislator realised that sex may serve as a justifiable ground for differentiation. A case can also be made, as shown above, for the direct relation of the composition by sex of party attendees to the business model of night clubs. Therefore it can be argued that the profitability of night clubs requires a sex-based difference in pricing.

To this it can be objected (and Mr Teczár in fact objects) that the profitability of a business cannot justify a practice that humiliates women. This is the point where ideology begins. In fact, both male and female visitors of night clubs can decide for themselves what they feel is humiliating for them. If a woman finds the discounted entrance fee discriminative, she is free to pay the full price – the club will in all likelihood be more than happy to accept it. The entrance pricing of the Budapest party scene is not the product of an anti-women conspiracy but the result of countless autonomous choices made by night clubs as well as party-goers, male and female alike. A neutral state should not tell its citizens which of their choices humiliate them, much less use legislation to prevent them from making these.

Based on the above reasons, I can see some chance that a court would overturn the Authority's decision, should Doboz decide to appeal it (it has 30 days to do so). The problem is that the burden of proof in such a court procedure would lie with Doboz: that is, Doboz would have to prove that women have in fact less of an appetite for partying, a theory that – no matter how plausible – cannot be verified in the strict sense. The case would depend on whether the court would be willing to accept that markets – including that of parties – are often moved by unknown, indeed, irrational, factors, or whether the court would rather want to raise the veil of supply-demand conditions and look behind it as Marx did. The latter possibility holds little hope for Doboz – today, anti-discrimination legislation has reached a level of abstraction in which the irrational side of human experiences can hardly be considered.

Budapest, a popular place for bachelorette parties organized from all over Europe, may soon entertain Pandora, the fateful first woman of Greek mythology, as the last bachelorette having a party here. If the Authority's decision becomes final, the spirit of equality will escape Pandoras's Box and affect the diversity of Budapest nightlife.

But it was hope, after all, which was left in the box after all evil escaped from it to spread over the earth.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, I must say that everything in Pandora's Bachelorette Party at Doboz just came out to be super amazing. The details are nice. My cousin is also going to get married soon and she also would be having a cute but a funky party at one of the local rental spaces for parties. I am finding some game ideas for that and was just wondering if you could help regarding that.