Quantcast
Connect with us

What’s the psychological toll of being a Hooters waitress?

Published

on

What’s the psychological toll of being a Hooters waitress?

Dawn Szymanski, University of Tennessee and Chandra Feltman, University of Tennessee

“Breastaurants” – restaurants that feature scantily clad waitresses – will occasionally appear in the news, whether it’s the biker gang fight at the Twin Peaks in Waco, Texas earlier this summer, or the racial discrimination suit won by a former Hooters employee back in April.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet despite negative media attention, breastaurants like Twin Peaks, Spice Rack, Hooters and Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery seem to be thriving. While casual dining chains like Applebee’s and Olive Garden are struggling mightily, many breastaurant chains reported 30% or more growth in the last few years.

But for all the tongue-in-cheek restaurant names and salacious headlines, it’s worth asking: how would working in one of these breastaurants affect your emotional and psychological well-being? What’s it like to actually be in the shoes of a waitress at one of these restaurants?

In a series of studies, our research team sought to help answer these questions.

Put on display

The majority (about 75%) of breastaurant customers are men, many of whom are middle-aged. And these restaurants uphold traditional gender roles by employing an exclusively female waitstaff. (Nationwide, 72% of servers are female.)

In fact, Hooters legally gained this right in a 1997 class action settlement, in which they used the Title VII Civil Rights Act’s “bona-fide occupational qualification” as its defense.

ADVERTISEMENT

In essence, they argued that being female was essential to the performance of the Hooters Girl’s job responsibilities: because women’s bodies are tools of the trade, they should be exempt from the federal discrimination policy.

“Breastraunts” are examples of what academics term sexually objectifying environments, which are settings, subcultures or situations that promote, intensify and sanction the treatment of women as sexual objects. These could include beauty pageants, cheerleading squads, modeling and the little sister organizations of fraternities.

Places like breastaurants emphasize women’s bodies while suppressing their humanity and individuality, and two distinct ways restaurants promote sexually objectifying environments are by putting women’s bodies and sexuality on display and by encouraging the “male gaze.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Restaurants that promote the former regulate female workers’ appearance and wardrobe in ways that draw attention to their physical and sexual attributes. For example, they often require their waitresses to wear uniforms or clothing that accentuate their buttocks, upper legs and breasts.

In addition, some will force waitresses to maintain the weight at which they were hired. These restaurants will also promote events (like wet t-shirt competitions among waitresses) and products (such as swimsuit calendars) that market the sex appeal of their waitresses.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, restaurants that elicit the “male gaze” implicitly acknowledge and sanction the “right” of male customers to watch, stare at and visually inspect waitresses’ bodies – and to even appraise female servers’ sexual desirability and appearance.

More money and flexibility come at a cost

Given the growth and unique characteristics of Hooters-style restaurants, we wondered about the impact – emotionally and psychologically – on the women who worked in these sexually objectifying environments. After all, no one had ever investigated this before.

So our research team conducted two studies to shed light on this topic. The first was a qualitative study where we interviewed waitresses who worked at a so-called breastaurant.

ADVERTISEMENT

Participants reported that the main reasons they chose to work and remain employed at the breastaurant were (1) to make more money than they could have otherwise, and (2) to have a high degree of flexibility in creating their work schedule.

But they also described receiving unwanted lewd comments, sexual advances and other forms of sexual harassment from customers, which included being grabbed, having pictures taken of their body parts without consent, being propositioned for sexual favors – and, in some cases, being stalked.

All the waitresses reported feeling a host of negative emotions tied to these experiences: anxiety, anger, sadness, depressed mood, confusion and degradation.

Furthermore, participants relayed other negative aspects of their jobs. They felt a general ambivalence toward the work, demeaning and challenging interactions with customers, and poor relationships with unsupportive and competitive colleagues.

ADVERTISEMENT

Many reported finding themselves in double-binds: situations where they received contradictory messages that created dilemmas that they couldn’t resolve or opt out of. This could mean, for example, receiving an unwanted sexual advance from a frequent customer who’s a hefty tipper, which creates the dilemma of asserting oneself and eliciting an angry reaction.

Shame and depression acutely felt

Although this study provided an in-depth and rich descriptive understanding of these waitresses’ lived experience, it didn’t tell us if their experiences were any different from women working at restaurants that didn’t create a sexually objectifying environment.

The ketchup bottles at the Twin Peaks restaurant chain promote a sexually objectifying environment.
Ricky Brigante/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

So we conducted a second quantitative study, where we surveyed a national sample of 253 waitresses who worked in settings ranging from breastaurants to family-oriented, casual restaurants.

Consistent with the results of our first study, we found that waitresses working in restaurants that sexually objectified their employees were more likely to experience a host of negative interactions with customers, ranging from unwanted advances to lewd comments. They were also far more likely to internalize cultural standards of beauty, experience symptoms of depression and were more likely to be dissatisfied with their job.

ADVERTISEMENT

Our findings also support classic objectification theory. That is, our data were consistent with the notion that women who waitress in these types of sexually objectifying environments will soon amplify their habitual appearance and body monitoring. This, in turn, increases their body shame. And as body shame rises, so do their levels of depression.

The end result? Many end up dissatisfied with their jobs. Furthermore, we found a clear inverse relationship: the more their bodies and sexuality were put on display, the less happy they were with their jobs.

Taken together, our research suggests that although “breastaurants” may be good for waitresses’ pocketbooks, they don’t appear to be good for their psychological and work-related health.

Unfortunately, sexual objectification of women occurs in a number of different contexts and settings, from the cultural to the interpersonal.

Our findings are simply consistent with a fairly large research base that shows how harmful sexual objectification of women can be.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Conversation

Dawn Szymanski, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Tennessee and Chandra Feltman, Graduate Teaching Associate, University of Tennessee

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

CNBC anchors argue on air: ‘100,000 people died… all you did was try to help your friend the president’

Published

on

CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wednesday accused co-anchor Joe Kernen of providing political help to President Donald Trump instead of reporting factual news about the coronavirus pandemic.

Kernen appeared to get under Sorkin's skin by dismissing questions about the relatively quick market comeback as the rest of the economy suffers in the midst of the pandemic.

"Joe, you missed [the stock market] 100% on the way down and you missed 100,000 deaths," Sorkin said. "So we can have this debate back and forth and you can try and question the questions I'm asking."

"Hold on!" Sorkin shouted when Kernen tried to interrupt him.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

A closer look at Trump COVID contractors reveals inexperience, fraud accusations and a weapons dealer operating out of someone’s house

Published

on

A firm set up by a former telemarketer who once settled federal fraud charges for $2.7 million. A vodka distributor accused in a pending lawsuit of overstating its projected sales. An aspiring weapons dealer operating out of a single-family home.

These three privately held companies are part of the new medical supply chain, offered a total of almost $74 million by the federal government to find and rapidly deliver vital protective equipment and COVID-19 testing supplies across the U.S. While there’s no evidence that they obtained their deals through political connections, none of the three had to bid against competing firms. One has already lost its contract for lack of performance; it’s unclear if the other two can fulfill their orders on time, or at all.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

The View’s Meghan McCain calls for cops to be charged for ‘blatant murder’ of George Floyd

Published

on

"The View" co-host Meghan McCain called for charges against the Minneapolis police officers over the fatal arrest of George Floyd.

The four officers lost their jobs over the death, which prompted widespread protests that were met with tear gas and other violent tactics from police.

"There was huge amounts of protesters that took to the streets last night, and I think people are sitting in their homes and seeing what is blatantly a murder of a man on camera, and George Floyd, I watched the entire video," McCain said. "I know we didn't want to show the entire thing, but it's very graphic. It's very violent."

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image