I’ve happily declared myself a feminist since around the age of 18. Not long before that though I incorrectly thought feminism was the belief that women are superior to men and that men are the enemy. But then my best pal and I discovered Lisa Tuttle’s Encyclopedia of Feminism in a bargain bookshop. Once this marvellous book put us straight we realised we were feminists and set about explaining to anyone who would listen that feminism was a good thing because it actually meant the belief that men and women are equal – and should be treated as such – rather than one or other being superior.
More than 18 years later I’m still a feminist and think we are living in times that require feminist activism more than ever. Occasionally though, I find myself worrying that my friends – especially the male ones – will consider me humourless if I express my opinion about certain aspects of feminism. This made me wonder if any other feminists (be they female or male) ever felt the same way? And what topics prompted this?
Equal pay, equal treatment in the workplace, equality under the law… all feel like fairly safe topics, but when it comes to sex – be it sexualised images of women, pornography or sexual violence against women I get the feeling that there are some who consider me a party pooper if I express my objection to the way women are exploited, mistreated, used and abused.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be keeping my mouth shut and I hope you won’t either.
By way of example, a friend of mine recently attempted to start a debate about the restaurant chain ‘Hooters’ via her Facebook page, but instead of a fair, interesting and useful discussion her male friends contributed comments such as:
“Pfft shut up and show us your tits”
“I think a statistical sample is required. You should send a group of us 6 or 7 times!”
“Such matters need weighing up properly….in each hand”
One man posted this more useful link though http://www.ebcak.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/funny-picture-hooters-vs-feminists.jpg with the comment: “Here’s a view.”
I commented: “I must confess I don’t know much about Hooters though … from what I can tell it’s a burger bar that only employs female waiting staff with substantial breasts so that customers can ogle said bosoms while they eat. Is that right? Sounds like the exploitation of women to me. What shall we do about it?”
To which another man responded:
“They’re not slaves!, they are there on their own choice. If they want to they can leave … the fact they like me putting tips down the panties is there decision. That picture [the one from the link above] … really says it all… Big fat feminist lesbian jeolous cuz the only job she could get in hooters is frying my curley fries in the kitchen so she decides to be a total fuckin looser and protest outside and try ruin everyone elses fun!” (sic).
As I mentioned in the Facebook debate I had been blissfully unaware of ‘Hooters’ until my friend brought it up, but further research confirmed my initial impression that it is a burger restaurant that demands its mostly female staff (known as Hooters Girls) use ‘female sex appeal’ to entertain the customers. The Hooters Girl uniform consists of a white vest top, orange shorts and flesh coloured tights and there is a raft of rules and regulations that they must conform to relating to their appearance (referred to by the company as The Look).
The Smoking Gun website ran a piece about the original, US incarnation of the chain a few years back http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/so-you-wanna-be-hooters-girl and posted some pages from the company’s employee handbook including one it says Hooters Girls have to sign which is a statement accepting that their workplace is one in which “joking and innuendo based on female sex appeal is commonplace” and that they don’t find this “offensive, intimidating, hostile or unwelcome”. My reaction to this, and to the lengthiest comment from Facebook quoted above, is that some young women (and it seems to be predominantly young women that are Hooters Girls) will be so desperate for a job that they are prepared to waive their rights but signing a waiver only means you can’t complain. It doesn’t mean you agree that the conditions are acceptable, let alone desirable.
But I digress. The point I’m making is that those who criticise women for complaining, speaking out or protesting against things that reduces women, and the value of women as human beings, solely to their physical appearance are guilty of a double standard.
They argue that it is perfectly acceptable to leer at women who ‘freely’ choose a job such as being a Hooters Girl, but if we want to exercise our freedom to object to women being used as entertainment for men then we are “ruining everyone else’s fun”. Not only that, we are allegedly also jealous of women that they consider worthy of ogling. As if we are secretly or subconsciously motivated by a desire to be ogled but aren’t attractive enough (by their restrictive standards) to be worth looking at. Such views demonstrate the narrow-mindedness of those who express them and whether from friend or foe they need to be challenged.
I’ll be reminding myself of that next time I feel concern about seeming to be a killjoy just because I believe that women have a right to complain about being constantly presented as little more than sexual entertainment for men. As a feminist I can’t see what the so-called freedom to be leered at by customers in one’s workplace has got to do with equality.
- If you want to make up your own mind specifically on the question of whether Hooters exploits women you can read about the company on its own website: http://www.hooters.com/About.aspx.