Is "being sexy" just all apart of the job? Expectations on female waitresses are a feminist issue because...

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I couldn't help but think of this class recently over break. I am back home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I find myself among friends just talking and hanging out. My friend, Megan, proceeds to tell us that at work today her manager said that her t-shirt and jeans attire was not sexy enough. Her male manager then went on to say, "you need to look as sexy as possible at work." The males in the room, including Megan's boyfriend, justified the manager's comment by saying it provided Megan with more tips.

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Since when is "being sexy" a prerequisite to serving food and beverages?
Are male servers required to look sexy?
Are places like Hooters detrimental to views of women?
How does this type of mentality affect the views of women?
How does this affect the treatment women in this type of work place?

4 Comments

I think that the first two questions you present point directly to the problematic nature of workplace policies (particularly within the food industry) relying on women's status as sexual objects. On one level, requiring women to dress in accordance to what a male boss perceives of as being "sexy" has absolutely nothing to do with her ability to serve food and beverages. In many other work environments, one would put into question whether or not a request for greater sex-appeal would classify as sexual harassment- I'm inclined to believe it would. For any food serving establishment to rest its success on the objectification of women's bodies is not only entirely unrelated to the food industry as a whole, but a fairly disgusting practice in and of itself.
Your second question really conveys what is a double standard within this culture- particularly in relation to food serving businesses such as Hooters. As is fairly self evident, men are rarely, if ever, required to dress in a manner that is considered to be sexy, particularly within an industry that allegedly has nothing at all do to with sex. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware of any industry in which men are objectified under the pretenses of having a job such as waiting tables. Double standards such as the one presented within your feminist issue, present an excellent example of capitalist-patriarchy at work.
For me, situations such as this become problematic because of the fact that treatment of women becomes contingent upon sex-appeal not determined by the woman herself, but instead by a larger narrative of heterosexual sex-appeal and abuse of power by male-bosses.

As a woman, I have often felt disgusted when I saw waitresses wearing 'sexy' outfits at restaurants. The type and location of the restaurant really has a lot to do with how servers are dressed, as you will usually see female servers dressed more provocatively in sports bars. I myself am a server at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Minneapolis, and female servers are required to wear shirts that button at the top so that we do not show any cleavage. The Old Spaghetti Factory is more of a 'family' restaurant, and so the managers want to make sure their servers are dressed in a 'family-friendly' manner. However, in sports bars, the clientele tends to be primarily male, or people of either sex who are out having a fun, casual evening. I think managers are exploiting their female servers in these types of settings, because they know that a waitress dressed in 'sexy' clothing is more likely to make more in sales/tips than a waitress dressed in 'less sexy' clothing. These managers may not realize what it is like for a woman to be ogled by men and to receive unwanted advances, which is likely to be the result when a woman wears provocative clothing. All the managers seem to care about is increasing sales, even at the expense of a woman's dignity and comfort. One may argue that women do not have to work in these places if they do not like the attention received due to their appearance, but it is possible that these women do not realize how wrong it is that they are being exploited, taking it for granted that situations such as this occur very often, or, even if they do realize that it is wrong, they may not know what to do about it, and do not want to risk a paying job by complaining. As stated in the above comment, this is an "abuse of power by male-bosses," implying that the power-structure of employer-employee is in effect here.

I've always been interested in this topic and it reminded me of two instances in my life where dress codes were used.
When I was working downtown at the Hilton the women concierge and front desk clerks were required to wear a uniform which consisted of a mid-length black skirt, white blouse and black blazer. The were fitted and provided by the Hilton. One of my co-workers decided that she didn't want to dress like this and asked to be fitted into black slacks instead. Management agreed without any hesitation because the employee argued that the policy was discriminatory.
In another case I was working as a waitress at a local sports bar. The male servers (which were few) were required to wear black slacks and a restaurant-issued polo shirt. The female servers were required to wear either black shorts, or black skirts and a babydoll cut t-shirt. I started wearing black pants and was told this was against policy but I wore them anyway. I also asked to get a polo shirt to wear - I was told this was against the dress policy. When I brought up the fact that I was being discriminated against I was told that it was a sports bar and that's what the clients expected and if I didn't want to follow the dress code I could work somewhere else.
Why was it that when I served beer at Major's I was less of a respectable human being than when I served wine at the Hilton?
I've always wondered how places can get away with this stuff.

Hey Alexandra,
I, myself working in the food industry as a server can relate very well to this. There is no prerequisite that women have to look sexy, but I see it at my work all of the time. When the females serve many of them apply more makeup and dress a little nicer than when they host or cashier. Even though we have pretty conservative uniforms one can see the difference between servers and cashiers. My boss, who is clear faced most of the time, even admitted to me to wearing at least lipstick when she is serving because it makes her better tips. Most of the people working as servers are female and always pretty put together. There are very few male servers. The males servers naturally look the same while serving and cashiering. I feel customers pay more attention to how male servers actually serve instead of look, and sometimes this can be true for the female servers as well, but I think females are judged much more on their looks.
I think these jobs can demean women when as in your example, the manager told your friend that she needed to look sexier. That is definitely not appropriate to me. I think the people who run these types of industries need to look at how they treat their employees and based on what they hire them. Looks definitely play a role in this type of an industry, but a female can look nice and put together without needing to look hot or sexy. They are there to do a job, appearance should be matter, but it should not be demeaning.

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