Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is This Feminist Full of Shit or Not?

SteveG has an occasional series called Bullshit or Not (see here), where he takes a quotation from a famous philosopher and asks his readers to call bullshit or not. I had this in mind while reading Louisa Thomas's comment in the Talk of the Town in the July 23rd issue of The New Yorker, entitled "In the Zone." After reading this column, it occured to me that I should start up a similar series where I ask my readers to call bullshit or not on whether a self-proclaimed feminist is full of bullshit or not? The first example should be Johnna Mink and her feminist pole dancing. Now, here is the text from the Thomas's column:

When, a couple of months ago, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and Smith Barney revised their expense-account policies so that employees were forbidden to entertain clients at Hawaiian Tropic Zone, a Times Square restaurant featuring waitresses wearing bikinis, the restaurant’s owner and C.E.O., Dennis Riese, said that his feelings were hurt. He told the Post, “We are a totally misunderstood restaurant.” Over lunch the other day with a young investment banker, Riese set out to correct the record. (The banker asked that his name be withheld, in case his bosses were unimpressed with Riese’s defense.)

The first thing to understand is that Hawaiian Tropic Zone is not an upscale Hooters. “It burns me deeply to hear those words,” Riese, a short man in his mid-fifties, said. His holdings also include Tad’s Steaks, TGI Friday’s, and Tequilaville. He asked the banker, “Have you ever been to a Hooters?”

The banker, who is from Columbus, Ohio, replied that he had, once.

“Would you call this an upscale Hooters?”

“It’s a very different feel,” the banker said.

Nor is Hawaiian Tropic Zone a strip club. “No nipples,” Riese said. “You’re never, ever going to see a girl nude.” He continued, “I’m such a feminist. I love women and believe in them. And I’m not being P.C. by saying that men and women like to look at the woman’s form—it’s been going on since Michelangelo, you know, since they were doing statues of Venus de Milo. So I really believed that I was creating a restaurant that was going to appeal to men and women. I used colors that are very feminine in this place.” He gestured toward a tropical mosaic and toward a pair of soft-orange overhead lights shaped—as are the salt and pepper shakers—like breasts.

Riese called for a menu. “We have a section that says ‘simply grilled,’ because women don’t like to eat sauces the way men do,” he said. “They’re watching their weight more often.” He pointed at the menu. “Also, see, it says ‘sharing encouraged,’ no extra charge. Well, women have smaller stomachs. And maybe two young single girls have a smaller pocketbook, and the idea of encouraging two girls to come in—nobody’s going to put a spotlight on you, make you feel uncomfortable because you’re sharing a dish, or that you want something just simply grilled.” (Riese says that women make up about a third of the restaurant’s customers.) “Women like sexy. Talk about empowerment and feminism! There’s nowhere offering women sexy in the way they would like it to be—classy sexy!”

The waitress, a petite African-American woman wearing a black stringbikini top and a floral-print mini sarong, brought over a salmon burger for Riese and a green salad for the banker. A nametag at her hip identified her as India.

“Beautiful women use these attributes of theirs to get up in life,” Riese said. “I don’t think these girls are feeling exploited. If a bunch of guys are coming in and ogling them, it’s because they’re guys and those are girls! And that’s part of our biological nature.”

The banker had a question. He said, “I’d heard that periodically all the girls line up and customers rank each of them from one to ten. Is that true?”

“No, but we have a beauty pageant,” Riese said. “Twice a night. Music comes on, and they walk across that stage up there.” He gestured toward a catwalk over the bar. Behind it, fifteen giant plasma screens showed a woman in a blue bikini, running her hands over her body. “The ballots are on every table.” The winner, Riese said, “gets a little tiara, and she wins fifty dollars.”

“My understanding was that you rank them, from one to ten,” the banker persisted. “And it seemed surprising to me—I would think that the women who scored very low, especially ones who took pride in their good looks or their bodies—”

“But we don’t do that,” Riese interrupted. “That would be prehistoric.”

So what do you think? Is Dennis Riese full of shit or not?

You know, what is interesting about this move (Mink or Riese calling blatant patriarchal practices empowering to women) is that it reveals a lot more about the mind of 21st Century Americans. The media wants us to both hate and love feminism. Well, actually, they want to sell us that what we thought was sexist crap is actually empowering to women. Why? Because on some level, feminism has seeped into the collective consciousness of many Americans--men and women. After all, major brokerages are banning their employees from entertaining clients at establishments like Hawaiian Tropic Zone. This is, at minimum, an admission that wooing clients with barely clad hootchie women is inappropriate behavior because it is one step above taking clients to the Bada Bing! Women also have a sense that they should aspire for more in life than shaking their bootie at knuckle draggers, who try to seal major business deals by titillating their clients. How better to reconcile this sense of guilt or bad behavior than repackaging it and calling it feminism.

Ok, have at it folks . . . .