Hooters Ruling/Discussion Thread (May 1996)

Query: From D. Reeves DREEVES@msuvx2.mephis.edu 4 May 1996

Is anyone a little disturbed by the ruling by the federal government dropping their investigation of the restaurant Hooters? I don't know what I am bothered most by, the fact that the restaurant can not be made to open up a comparable restaurant called "Tallywhackers" and have men running around in a costume that would make their mothers blush, or the fact that there are all these women that work for the restaurant saying things like "I just think it would be wrong to have men working here, they mess up the atmosphere." Give me a break!

I am not inclined to look upon the waitresses as victims pure and simple. While they are victims of male sexual exploitation I believe they know what is going on but they don't care as long as they can make a quick buck. Yes I do understand that they may believe that their only value is in their looks, and that is unfortunate, but does it help matters to perpetuate the belief?

Replies:

From Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com
6 May 1996

Yes, it disturbs me...the ruling, the restaurant's concept, the women's participation, the men who choose to go there. But what disturbs/interests me more is my over-riding personal reaction: on this one, I really can't get very excited. I admit to being very tired of fighting sexism battles, and like old warriors, I am becoming choosy about picking my battles. I don't have the energy I had 20 years ago, time seems to be a more limited(and precious) resource, priorities change. I can still fight a good fight but this one just doesn't seem worth it. I may be called to task for this reply..but facing personal truths aids personal growth, IMHO<s>. Maria Elena

From: DeAnne Blanton deanne.blanton.@arch1.nara.gov 6 May 1996

Yes, I'm perturbed, too about the "Hooters" ruling. But instead of getting mad, maybe some woman entrepreneur out there might want to get even? I like your idea of "Talleywackers" Restaurant. It could also be called "Whangers" or "Dingalings." If men chose to degrade themselves for a buck, too, then maybe, just maybe, the point might be made? Might sexual exploitation be finally noticed for what it is if it was the men in the "family restaurant" who were strutting their stuff for a tip? Unfortunately, the women who patronize "Talleywackers" might be just as pathetic as those men who spend their money at "Hooters." It would sort of be like equality at the lowest common denominator. But then again, maybe we should work this fight for equality from both ends of the spectrum.

From: Kriste Lindenmeyer kal6444@tntech.edu

I have worked in bars where I wore cheerleading outfits(something I would not have been caught dead in, in high school), a "cowgirl" costume, a french maid's uniform (need I go on?),etc. All were pretty humiliating, but I did it because it paid a lot more that I could make anywhere else with the same skills. Many of these places also employed men. Their uniforms were equally humiliating. Each of these places discriminated for a number of reasons. For example, the largest uniforms were size 9. Anyone who could not fit in the uniform was not hired. One of my employers said that he would hire any "guy who could fill out the uniform"--(it was a tight french maid uniform). Bottomline, Hooters is more insulting, but I doubt that the government or the plaintiffs (who no doubt were male feminists) had a case here.

Like Maria, I find it hard to get very excited---except for the fact that the Justice Dept. spent a lot of money on a case they decided to stop. Are my feminist credentials ruined? Kriste Lindenmeyer

P.S.(By the way, I think that Chippendale's is similar to Tallywacker's--it just lacks the "family" atmosphere).

From: Oona Schmid <oschmid@eden.rutgers.edu>
7 May 1996

I commend women's spirit of humor when they suggest opening restaurants named "Talleywackers" or "getting even." I am a little concerned that no one has mentioned that dressing men up in demeaning uniforms is not the same as dressing women up in demeaning uniforms. As historians, we study context. Actions are not separate from the socio-political environment in which they occur, nor are they separate from the identity of the actors. As Kriste Lindenmeyer pointed out in her thoughtful reply, women face a dearth of options in which they receive adequate compensation -- and the choices merely get narrower and stingier as a woman of color, etc. Men do not experience sexual harassment at an overwhelming majority of jobs. The point is simply to not forget the larger systemic injustices which explain why Hooters resonates as it does.

From: Marian Neudel <mneudel@acfsysv.roosevelt.edu 7 May 1996

Re: Hooters suit--I think the people who brought that lawsuit in the first place may have missed a winning argument--what about the rights of female *customers* to have their sensibilities appealed to? Hooters is, after all, not only an employer but a place of public accommodation, which is not supposed to discriminate against customers by reason of race, religion or *gender.*

From: M.Jennings (Michelle Rhoades) <mjenning@blue.weeg.uiowa.edu> 9 May 1996

<<Not supposed to discriminate against customers by reason of race, religion or *gender.*>>

While I do not condone Hooters in the slightest, I wanted to comment on this comment. I think that there are perhaps many lesbians who have visited Hooters and enjoyed it, too. Mind you, I am a lesbian and I do not like the "hooters theme" in the slightest, and their argument--that they sell a viable product is perfectly specious. I also find horrific the sexual harassment that the "hooters *girls*" have had to put up with. However, from a gay perspective, I would like to add that there are many lesbians who learned from this culture to disregard women and do not value women, *just like men.* These are often (though not always!) the very same lesbians who buy Playboys and stuff them under their beds, "just like men."

I want to remind the list this is not a simply "gender" issue. Hooters is packaging sex and they are packaging "female sex" for those who like it and want to "buy" it. In the process, the female becomes an object with little worth, whether the purchaser is male or female...I just wanted to add another perspective.

By the way, when I was in college in Tucson, one of our local artists (sorry, don't remember who, but you could contact the Tucson Arts District Partnership--I am sure they would know) put up large flyers and signs around the downtown area advertising a place called "Peckers--The best footlongs in town!" Oddly enough, those posters were defaced rather quickly.

From: Karen L. Cox klcox.@whale.st.usm.edu 07 May 1996

Places like Hooters disturb me too, but what kind of a fight are you going to put up when women are making more money at those places. I make the choice not to patronize these restaurants; likewise the waitresses make a choice to work there. Not long ago I was eating dinner and our waitress began a sentence(for what reason I don't know), "When I worked at Hooters and Melons..." All the women at my table sat in silence. But what were we going to do, insult her by saying "didn't you know you were being exploited?"

From: Jo Anne Shea jshea@uts.cc.utexas.edu 07 May 1996

I really admire those of you who confessed to not being tremendously excited about the Hooters ruling despite finding the establishment,etc. utterly objectionable. I think there's an issue here that feminist discourse has not yet been very effective at addressing: the raw anger(or lack there of) that most of us have only intermittently at the sight of women's bodies on display.

I know there are theorized responses: we get angry because this kind of exploitation contributes to the oppression of all of us and we don't get angry because, as Maria Elena Raymond, points out, we're weary and need to choose battles carefully.

What I'm really interested in, though, is the _untheorized_, almost visceral response that most of us have at least sometimes to women dressed "provocatively" in some public place. (It often gets expressed in disgusted tones such as, "oh! look at _that_" or "I can't believe that.") [I'm even less interested in the "theory" that we're all "just jealous."]

An instance of this kind of visceral anger occurred recently in one of my classes and I was hard put to make it productive. The context is complicated (I'll elaborate if anyone cares to hear it), but here's the gist: several women in my class were just _furious_ that some women were wearing bikini tops to the local night-clubs. My students really hated those women and were quite ready to blame _them_ for all manner of cultural sexism. Now, I know how to handle the second part of this response(i.e. blaming women), but I don't believe _I_ understand the anger well enough to help _them_ understand it. Ideas? Suggestions?

From: Kolleen Guy <kguy@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu> 08 May 1996

The discussion of the "Hooters" suit is an interesting one. The Hooters controversy, of course, goes beyond the issues of public accommodations and women in the workplace. There is also the issue of selling of t-shirts and other "Hooters" related items that make their way to public schools. I recently read about some young women in Iowa who were tired of seeing their classmates(in junior high school) wearing Hooters t-shirts to school. The young women designed t-shirts emblazoned with a rooster and called "Cocks" with the notation "Nothing to Crow About." With this, the school administrators(how surprising) reacted--banning "Cocks" shirts! I am encouraged by the bold actions of these young women. Perhaps a "Cocks" restaurant would be a more effective way of changing public attitudes towards "Hooters?"

From: D.Reeves DREEVES@msuvx2.memphis.edu 09 May 1996

Oona Schmid has a wonderful point, and it is well taken. I oftentimes feel that as a feminist I am reduced to fighting the symptoms of sexism and not the actual disease. However, I do not know where to start. Should I get "radical" and throw rotten eggs at customers and their managers, or just let this go and theorize on the oppression of women in my ivory tower? I get so frustrated sometimes I could just scream. If anyone has any suggestions just let me know.

From: Martyn Harris <martyn@hiscompany.com> 09 May 1996

Hurrah for Marian, you hit the nail on the head:

I have been in a Hooter's only once-with a heterosexual male friend of mine. And I can tell you this, as a gay man I found the experience distressing. When I go to a gay niteclub it's a 'perceived expectation' to see a bare-chested male wait person.[For good or bad] When I enter a restaurant to have a hamburger I do not appreciate the same bare-chested wait person to serve my lunch. Is it reasonable to expect because the owners of the chain like to gawk at 'hooter' everyone wants to?? By the way, has anyone noticed that the tables and the waitresses generally meet at a particular locale(just below the knot in the t-shirt...) Maybe the suit needs to be re-submitted under the guidelines suggested by Marian!

From: Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com 09 May 1996

While my original post said I really couldn't get too excited about this controversy, I certainly have enough energy to support these young women in Iowa. More importantly, sounds like they can support themselves.

From: Cheryl McLaughlin mclaughl@oberon.pps.pgh.pa.us 10 May 1996

Not only would Hooters not employ males as waitstaff, they would not employ me, although I am female. They would not employ me because I am too old(47) and am small busted. Where is the equity???

From: Maria Elena Raymond
73113.1362@compuserve.com 10 May 1996

JoAnne has raised an interesting point(s) and I'm a little at a loss as to how to deal with the students' anger. Actually, I'm surprised at how angry they sound(directed specifically at the bikini-top wearing females.) There was a time, almost thirty years ago, when I worked(as Kriste mentioned she had) in a couple of clubs in Missouri wearing provocative clothing and making sure customers drank and danced a lot...not unlike the dance hall women of the 1880s west<s>. In Missouri, at the time and perhaps even today(apologies to happy Missourians) those jobs were the best paying for women and I had a baby to support. I was probably no older than many of your students.

Obviously I didn't further the feminist cause by accepting the job, but it kept my son and me alive and fortunately we both became ardent feminists and I was able to use feminist power in a corporate setting (when I became older) to help a lot of women. So it evened out, in my mind...or that's how I've rationalized it. If women had approached me while I was working in those clubs and expressed their anger at me I would have been nonplused, as I am now about your students/ anger.

I think they are misdirected and perhaps have defined "feminism" within a very narrow scope to include only what *they* feel is appropriate for women to be doing. While I wish there were more well-paying , varied jobs for women, I think women who choose a particular way to make a living should not be denied that by other women...or by anybody. My idea of feminism, and I guess we all have our own definition, is above all the freedom to choose. Choose our hair coloring, our sexual partners, our clothing, our cars, our jobs, our living space, our hobbies...et al. And if my choice of clothing or job doesn't make the women in your class happy, I would hope they would take the time to try and analyze what it is *exactly* that angers them, and I would ask them to consider that perhaps the wearing apparel of these other women is none of their business. I know it's easy for students to get riled up about one thing or another, and certainly it's easy for them to do in a controlled classroom setting, but I believe they need to think about the outside world(as much as they are capable given their individual life experiences) and see if their theories are compatible with reality. FWIW.

From: Staci R. Anson sranson@Mailbox.Syr.Edu 10 May 1996

You seem to contradict yourself. When you go to a nightclub you expect to see a <<bare-chested>> person serve you drinks. When you go to Hooters you expect to see women in tight shirts. Why would you expect to see anything different? Your argument fails to have any substance because you deny the fact that people go to Hooters expecting to eat and be served food by attractive women. Personally, I am a female, a teacher, and a feminist, however I also believe there is nothing wrong with Hooters. Many of these women are in college and graduate school. They are not just dumb women with no self-esteem. They are fully aware of the fact they are 1) confident with their sexuality, 2) going to make money and 3) and that they DO know what they are doing! When I was in college I knew women who worked at Hooters and they were strong women, interested in women's issues and empowerment. Let a woman make her own choices instead of forcing her into a role as you all perceive an enlightened woman to be. An enlightened woman can choose to work wherever she wants to.

ALSO, this discussion has no validity on a HISTORY listserve. As I have just done, and everyone else who has responded to this subject, we all have simply given our own opinions, instead of an informed discussion on woman's history.

[Editor's Note] Taking Staci Anson's point to heart, perhaps it is time to take this discussion down the path of a more historical perspective. During the Progressive Era several states passed laws prohibiting women from working at night--did such laws include bars and restaurants? When did such protectionist legislation fall and was this "liberating" for women? KL

From: Susan Dalton dalton@ERE.UMontreal.CA 11 May 1996

I am glad to say that I am unfamiliar with the Hooters phenomenon; I am, however, familiar with the type of response that Jo Anne Shea's students had to women in bikini tops. I, too, have experienced this same type of reaction, and would like to get clear about what motivates it.

I become enraged at a very basic level when I sense that women are conforming to stereotypical behavior and getting rewarded for it. For example, I get angry when people seem to be captivated by a woman who doesn't try to lift anything heavy, or who makes a big show out of being afraid of spiders. I think that it is the combination of the nature of the strategy and the fact that it gets results that shocks me. I think that I feel that agreeing to use this type of strategy encourages the propagation of very narrow prescriptions for women's behaviour. It seem to ensure that I will not be equally valued for lifting heavy things and befriending spiders. When I see an enthusiastic response to stereotypical behaviors (or, more properly, consciously adopted stereotypical behaviour), it seems to reconfirm my fears.

Anyway, this is just a thought which I an not necessarily married to. I would be eager to hear others' contributions.

From: Cathleen Thom Thomabd@aol.com 15 May 1996

I would like to take issue with Staci Anson's claim that this discussion of the Hooter's ruling is not a "valid" topic for a history listserv dedicated to women's history. I disagree. The Hooters ruling is a contemporary example of how women and their opponents have used the legal process to affect women's place in society. Would Ms. Anson deny that the legal/constitutional history of women is a valid subject for this list? Probably not. Please remember that history is a living entity--it is not merely about dead men, or dead women, for that matter. It is a continuous process which we are always discovering (even our perceptions of past events change as we uncover previously unconsidered evidence) and living.

The discussion of the Hooters ruling is also a good example of the debate that has raged within the "big tent" of "feminism" ever since the inception of the concept of feminism. Different women have, and have always had, different conceptions of what it means to be a feminist. Personally, I agree with Maria Elena's assertion that feminism is freedom of choice for women to do and be whatever they want to be without restrictions from men, or from other women. Others disagree. This type of debate is nothing new and myriads of books, theses, dissertations, and articles have been written about just what "feminism" means. Thus, discussions like that regarding the Hooters ruling have always been, and remain, valid subjects of historical debate.

From: Theresa Kaminski tkaminsk@worf.uwsp.edu 16 May 1996

I, too, think this was/is an appropriate discussion, especially as it intersects with meanings of feminism. I just finished teaching a course on women's rights and feminism this semester and I hope my students came away with a sense of how complicated these issues are. Is it liberating or demeaning to work at a place like Hooters? Is it liberating or demeaning to walk around wearing bikini tops or other similar clothing? These are the kinds of questions I used to encourage a discussion about the impact of women's rights and feminism in the late 20th century.


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