You may have heard about this already; a Hooters in Florida was planning to host a “Little Miss Hooters” contest. (Sounds to me like the management there had drunk too much of the “Hooters is a family restaurant” kool-aid).
Instapundit linked to it, there was a storm of angry e-mail, and the contest was cancelled. Sara at Diotima then asked an interesting question:
Will Baude answered (and here I’m paraphrasing) that the problem with “Little Miss Hooters” is that it isn’t consensual (if I were Mary Daly, I’d probably write that as “con/sensual”), since a sub-five-year old girl isn’t old enough to consent to be a quasi-stripper. But Sara responded that “there is a legitimate source of consent in this situation – the girls’ parents…. Parents give consent for their children all the time, why shouldn’t they be allowed to give consent for their daughters to be in a Little Miss Hooters contest?”
It’s ironic that I link to Sara’s post, because I’m the opposite of the people she sets her question to: I can explain why working at Hooters is not just another job choice. But I can’t quite articulate why the “Little Miss Hooters” contest is such a big deal.
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First, why I think it’s degrading to work at Hooters.
At a wedding rehearsal I attended last week, a bridesmaid wore a dress that left nothing but her nipples to the imagination. I didn’t, and don’t, consider that degrading. If it makes her happy to wear a dress like that (and as far as I could tell, it did), it’s not my place to scold her for it.
So I don’t think it’s intrinsically wrong to wear revealing clothing, “flaunt your sexuality,” or whatever. But I still think there’s something wrong with Hooters.
Here’s the thing; a Hooters waitress isn’t dressed like that because it makes her happy. Shes’ dressed like that because there’s money to be made providing men with young women wearing revealing clothing and flirting with customers. And if she’s having a bad day, or just isn’t in the mood to flirt or wear revealing clothing or be looked at by strange men, and if it’s not fun for her? Well, then, she better pull on the baby tee and pretend to be having fun, because that’s her job.
That, in my opinion, is degrading.
Of course, you may respond, if having to fake emotion for money is degrading, then many jobs in capitalism could be called degrading. “Yeah, so?,” I might respond. (It’s not like I ever claimed to love capitalism.) Also, there are very few things as pesonal as sexuality, and how one chooses to express sexuality; and considered in that light, working at Hooters is worse than working at McDonalds.
(I also agree with the usual feminist critique of Hooters, but I assume that “Alas” readers are familiar enough with it so they don’t need me restating it.)
So that’s why I think there’s something wrong with working at Hooters, even though I understand that women working at Hooters may not have better alternatives (which brings up questions of job discrimination against women, but that’s another post).
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But what about “Little Miss Hooters”?
Of course, I find it disgusting. But that’s an emotional reaction, and, although emotions can be a helpful moral guide, we have to be cautious. After all, it’s emotinalism about children’s sexuality which has led to parents being arrested for taking innocent photos of their nude children.
There’s the argument that a “Little Miss Hooters” contest will encourage pedophelia, but I don’t buy it. Normal adults don’t see anything sexual about a four-year-old in a tied-up t-shirt; and whatever creates pedophiles, I don’t think it’s contests like this one.
Nor do I think that the contest organizers were intending a pro-pedophilia statement. They were just playing with the fact that small children dressed as adult costumes are adorable (think of a little girl dressed as Mae West – or as a fireman, for that matter – to see what I mean). To me, it suggests they’ve gotten so used to “Hooters” that they’ve lost track of how the rest of the country sees their business (hence my comment above that they’ve drunk too much “Hooters is a family restaurant” lemonade).
I think it’s horrible to teach little girls that they should be valued according to their ability to be more conventionally pretty than other girls. But that’s an objection I have to all child pageants (and to many other things in our culture), not to “Little Miss Hooters” in particular. (It’s notable that the widespread disgust for “Little Miss Hooters” in the blogosphere isn’t matched by a similar disgust for all the other “Little Miss” contests out there).
There is, also, the matter of consent – but in general, I think parents ought to be free to “consent” to things for their children (stopping short of actual abuse or abandonment).
So why condemn “Little Miss Hooters” in particular? So far, I don’t have any better answer than “it squicks me.” And, clearly, it squicks a lot of other people, too.
But I’m not sure that’s a good reason to make “Little Miss Hooters” a big deal. In fact, there’s a danger in over-reacting to stuff like this. From a Salon article:
The price we allow our children to pay for our scapegoating cowardice is enormous. Our kids, caught in the middle of all this, don’t mind our snapping lenses, but they do mind the ghastly world we picture for them. It is a world filled with dangers around every curve, with safety only in non-pedophilic adults and our friends, the police. We ought to examine more searchingly if we are really doing all this for their good, if we really need to see the world this way, if we aren’t the ones afraid of the demons.
Anyhow, that’s where I stand: disgusted (or perhaps just squicked?) by the whole idea of “Little Miss Hooters,” but not able to articulate any reason to find it grosser than any other child pageant. Reader suggestions are welcome.