Hooters, the American restaurant chain, whose ‘trademark’ are scantily dressed waitresses (men need not apply), has lodged a licensing application in Cardiff. ITV reported that the plans were “voraciously” (how about ‘vehemently’?) opposed by the Cardiff Feminist Network who are against its “promiscuous clothing” (how about ‘undignified’?). Leaving aside the unfortunate use of words, should a restaurant/bar be blocked because of its uniforms?
Some of my fellow lib dems don’t think so and don’t see the fuss, after all if you don’t like it, don’t go there. Indeed, but what about the members of staff? When the ban on smoking in public places was being discussed, an important point was made about the staff: they couldn’t choose. Some might be fortunate enough to turn down a job, but not all and especially now. Shouldn’t the law ensure dignity at work?
I must declare my ‘interest’: I’m not a member of the Cardiff Feminist Network although I’m an ‘associate’, so to speak. I’m on the Facebook group and have received tons of messages in the last few days. Mind you, when I asked a question and was ignored. I’m also a fairly active member of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, although I retain complete autonomy over my thinking as you can tell from my blog.
This has nothing to do with party policy, it's liberal philosophy. I feel that the comments made by some lib dems betray a shallow liberalism that ignores issues of power, equality and morality. Let me explain.
Let’s imagine a restaurant where the waiters are all black people wearing worn out clothes and fake chains around their ankles. Would that be objectionable? After all, people still participate in ‘slave auctions’ for charity. Nobody gets really sold to anyone else, it’s just a bit of fun. Except the fake slave auctions make you forget that people are traded every day. As it has been pointed out, trafficking is a far more pressing concern for feminism, but that fails to see the connection of trafficking with a culture where women are sexual objects. It is this culture, where scantily dresses waitresses are just a bit of fun, that makes you forget of the dignity of human beings and sustains trafficking.
Sexy clothing, however, is not necessarily exploitation. Sex is not just political, it’s also personal. If people want a vulgar display of nudity, it is for them to decide. That's the ambiguity of sex, which makes any judgement a possible threat to private sexual mores. However, there's nothing private about a restaurant. Furthermore, because sex is not just about power, this issue is not just about women, but all of us. It’s about the society we want.
A fundamental principle of liberalism, which I hold dear, is the freedom to express oneself even if it offends. We should not impose our morality on others; yet liberalism is not neutral. A liberal society is one where the dignity of individuals is preserved.
To turn a blind eye to undignified working conditions is to let the powerful impose their social norms on us. I don’t understand why it’s all right for Hooters to impose their view of human beings on their staff, while it’s not all right for the law to ensure that employees are treated fairly. It is no longer all right to make racist comments because we have 'imposed' the idea of equality on our society. Yet, it seems that the ‘pornification’ of society is still ‘all right’. I, for one, beg to differ.