Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hooting & Howling

To much furore and backlash, and then backlash as a result of the backlash, it was recently announced that American restaurant chain 'Hooters' would be coming to the UK, nationwide. Fifty-four restaurants have been planned across the country, spanning as far as Bournemouth to Aberdeen, Oxford to Cambridge, even including our very own Bristol.

It raises questions as to the morality and relevance of the Licensing Act; councils can legally offer restaurant and bar permits but The Act limits who can provide legitimate complaints (i.e. local business owners - local meaning very local) etc.

The impending presence of Hooters on a vast scale is not surprising. Generally considered an American novelty, and certainly a lucrative franchise, it's surprising this hasn't happened sooner. The passionate opposition to the move is not surprising either. Considering the wealth of research proving the direct correlation between establishment's promoting the overt sexualisation of women and the subsequent increase in violence towards them in those areas, what is surprising is that more people haven’t opposed this. Those who have represent the many different sub sections of British society - from the Conservative traditionalists to the Liberals, the LGBT and Women's groups, to anyone involved in campaigning against violence against women or those concerned by the over-sexualisation of children. Even to those concerned with Hooters' blatant employment discrimination on grounds of sex; those who ask, should any company in 2010 have the capacity to hire waiting staff based purely on their gender?

Hooters is by no means the most sexually explicit place one can visit in a city, and neither are the women topless. Yet maybe the question is not what Hooters will bring, but what Hooters will mean. It is not a brothel and it is not a lap dancing club, and therein lies its danger - for it's credible. It lends the objectification of women an air of normality, of having a valid place in our society, and of this being one very valid role for women too. That you may pass a busy Hooters in the street recognizes that it is okay for young boys to desire this straight-jacketed view of a woman and her body - and it recognizes that is is okay for young girls to aspire to being that woman too. Hooters is known for promoting a female aesthetic based on that of pornography - even if the women are not actually, quite, completely topless - and is promoted itself by pornographic publications such as Playboy and Penthouse. It hosts Bikini contests in every branch and its adverts - such as the Nottingham 'School Night' billboard advertising an evening of waitresses dressed in suitably doctored school uniforms accompanied, perhaps unnecessarily, by a photograph of a woman's cleavage in an unbuttoned blouse - rid its objectifying message of any ambiguity. In a progressive city, particularly one such as Nottingham known for its principles and daring, it all seems laughably outdated.
Whether there is a market for this or not, Hooters only contributes to a problem far bigger than that of a restaurant chain hitting our streets. Do we really want to be collaborators in all of this?

In a recent article for 'This is Bristol' (which can be found here) Sarah Feeley - aptly named 'Girl Friday’ - takes a purposely blinkered approach to the message a Hooters restaurant promotes, condemning the critics as over-intellectualising hypocrites, and citing all opposition fundamentally flawed as the women are clothed. Just because the women aren't topless does not mean that the attention is not on the Waitress's body, particularly breasts - surely the name 'Hooters' is a somewhat glaring indication of this? The article, certainly not the first of its sort, is littered with loaded terms such as 'militant objectors' and belies an anger not just with the criticism itself but the opposition's nerve in voicing it. Her attack on the hypocricy seems a little ironic.

Perhaps we can rest assured that street violence is certainly statistically worse for women - that it is women who must deal with the almost daily threats to their liberty, their confidence, their status in society, and that women only make up a paltry 51% of the British population. This may be so. But stereotypes restrict men as well as women and this damages people. Not just women.

An online campaign concerned with the prevention of UK Hooters branches.



  1. Other than the typos a really great read Emma!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. and on a similar note