Picture the scene: a popular Edinburgh nightclub hosts a ‘Fag Night’, with a £100 monetary prize for whoever dresses as the best ‘gay’. Or this, a ‘Thug Night’ which encourages attendees to ‘black up’ for a cash prize. These ideas are blatantly offensive, unacceptable, and would trigger a widespread backlash. It is hard to imagine a fancy dress horde swarming a ‘Fag Night’, looking for mindless fun and overpriced drinks. So how is it that when Why Not hosted a ‘Chav Night’ offering £100 for the ‘be$t dre$$ed’ ‘chav’ little to no opposition was mounted?
The origins of the term ‘chav’ are unclear, with some citing ‘Council House Associated Vermin’, whilst others link it to the Romany word ‘chavi’, meaning child. Whatever the origins, the term has become synonymous with being poor or more specifically being ‘white working class’.
Political correctness has seen the reform of much public language in terms of race and gender, yet it is interesting to note that the term ‘chav’ remains an acceptable term in public discourse. The public acceptability of the term works to further the notion that this form of discrimination is sanctioned or legitimised, a way of hating the working class without the awkwardness of having to say it out loud.
Why Not’s promotional advert for the event consisted of a gold chain against a Louis Vuitton print backdrop, and photos from last year’s ‘Chav Night’ feature attendees donning baby belly bumps made out of pillows to emulate the archetypal pregnant teen, sports jackets and hoop earrings. There is no nuance in this characterisation of ‘chavs’, rather a demonisation relying on cheap stereotypes.
But, if you asked the average Why Not goer what a ‘chav’ actually was, the likelihood is that you would receive a plethora of responses. Some would say that to be a ‘chav’ you must be poor, whilst others might see ‘chavs’ as unemployed. The term ‘chav’ could be defined as ‘not like us’, as it works to artificially manufacture an ‘other’, a set of people inherently different from the norm. In the creation of a clear other, it becomes clear who it is acceptable to ridicule, and who to avoid.
The politics of ‘Chav Night’ take on an even sourer tone against the backdrop of clubs refusing entry to those they deem undesirable, which translates to ‘non-middle-class customers’. Working class people, or those we perceive as ‘chavs’, are not welcome into clubs as people in their own right, but as grotesque caricatures of themselves. Do we only find ‘chavs’ palatable when we know they are temporary, a Halloween costume to the middle class, a benefit-scrounging bogeyman that comes away with a makeup wipe at the end of the night when we have had enough?
Having club nights such as this only furthers the schism between middle and working-class students that stands deep enough already. Middle-class students, whose exposure to students outside of their own social strata will most likely be limited, will rely on cheap stereotypes perpetuated by the likes of Little Britain. Whilst racial or sexual minorities have specific EUSA liberation groups to campaign on their behalf, class divisions are often forgotten in university politics.
The reason a ‘Chav Night’ is both unacceptable and harmful, whilst a ‘Posh Night’ would be okay, is that the stereotypes associated with being posh (such as an affinity for Jack Wills, coloured chinos and tweed) do not prevent ‘posh’ people from progressing in society. Nobody ever lost out at a job interview for sounding aristocratic, or having a name like Clement.
The stereotypes associated with ‘Chavdom’ are far more harmful: teen pregnancy, aggressive and violent tendencies, laziness and Macdonalds diets. These stereotypes prevent those we perceive as ‘chavs’ progressing academically and in the job market, harm the social integration of the working class, and can be linked to low self esteem. These stereotypes are classist and work to foster hatred of the working class. So, next ‘Chav Night’ ask yourself ‘why?’, not Why Not.
Image: promotional material from ‘Flare’