We got an email yesterday from reader Marie, who calls herself an “apprentice feminist” (welcome to the guild, sister!) and who brought a story from the San Diego area to our attention.*
Shenoa Vild had been working as a waitress at a sports-themed restaurant called Trophy’s for five years when it was bought out by another company. With the change in management came a change in atmosphere and employee requirements. Vild, 27, has never worn make-up, and had never encountered professional challenges about it. She was, by all accounts, very good at her job, and yet the new owner, Mark Oliver, fired her for not complying with his directive to “[wear] adequate make-up, lipstick, earrings and necklaces.” Vild said that Oliver told her “to start coming into work everyday like I’m going out with ‘the man of my dreams’.”
Holy heteronormativity, Batgirl! I have no idea (nor do I care) about Vild’s sexuality, but that statement right there tells me what this is really about: using a certain, enhanced image of femininity to draw more business from men who want to enjoy a little T & A with their G & T. You know, The Hooter’s Effect.
Oliver is within his rights to require his female employees to paint their faces. Late in 2004, the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled that requiring make up for female employees is not discrimination. If you’re interested, there’s a little bit of history on the precedent, Darlene Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Company, and how it does or does not fit in with a previous ruling on sexual discrimination and gender stereotyping from a 1989 case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.
The legal question revolves around whether requiring cosmetics for women is “more burdensome” for women than whatever is required of men (hair length, facial hair, earrings, etc.), and the court clearly believed that it is not. I’m no legal scholar, but I have to disagree on ethical feminist grounds. And not even because make-up costs women money and time that might be better spent elsewhere (although of course it does). I’m concerned about the message sent by requiring a certain, highly stylized form of “beauty,” which has no net effect on job performance (and I’ve been a waitress; eyeliner’s got nothin’ to do with it).
We’ve got a lot of lawyers among our readers, so y’all can bat about the technicalities, but I will never agree that a law requiring women to perform their gender is just. Both men and women are encouraged to perform their gender all the time, of course, but women’s gender requirements–as well we know–are not largely to their benefit. The ruling underlines that women are meant, first and foremost, to be visually pleasing, where “pleasing” represents a narrowly defined image that was established by commercial interests, and it connects beauty to servility: beauty is work that women perform for men. I’m also concerned about the burden such a ruling, and the mindset that undergirds it, places not just on the women who work for such companies, but for women as a class.
Sure, Vild might get more tips if she wore make-up. And I might get some guy to buy me a drink if I hauled my tits up to my neck and batted my eyelashes. Neither of us thinks it’s worthwhile to find out. Vild chose to leave the restaurant, and subsequently found work tending bar at an establishment that doesn’t require cosmetic enhancement for its female employees. This is one time when I applaud a woman for “choosing her choice.” Good for you, Shenoa.
*Thanks, Marie! And to the rest of you: we love leads on stories.