Today’s Guardian Women includes a feature by Julie Bindel, who visited Hooters in Nottingham and also interviewed some of the people campaigning against the chain.
As I sit waiting for my fajitas, a crowd of men start celebrating their friend’s 18th birthday. The birthday boy stands on the table, strips off his shirt, puts on a Hooters child-size T-shirt (available for kids as young as three, these read “Life Begins at Hooters”), and downs a pint of lager in one go. Several “Hooters girls” rush over, banging out a tune on their drink trays and chanting, “It’s your birthday, yes it’s true, and we’re gonna sing for you.” In the US, Hooters girls take part in other displays too, including wet T-shirt contests that come with a sadistic twist – the T-shirt is pre-chilled in the freezer. One lawyer for Hooters summed up the chain’s ethos when he dubbed its venues “Breastaurants”.
And do the men who visit Hooters treat the women who work there with perfect respect? Well:
Not surprisingly, a number of sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed over the years by former Hooters girls, following a notorious case against the company in Florida in which the plaintiff alleged that she had been subjected to “an endless torrent of sexually inappropriate remarks, demands for sex and uninvited touching that created a situation in which no reasonable woman would have continued to work”. It is unclear how many cases have been brought since, but a former Hooters manager, based in the US, tells me that the majority have been settled out of court. The Hooters spokesperson says there have only been “a handful” of lawsuits given the company’s 17,000 employees.
Apart from a few couples, most of the customers at the Nottingham branch are, as you would expect, young men. I ask two male students why they like coming to Hooters. “For the girls,” one laughs. Our waitress confirms that she’s heard it all before. “Most men comment on the ‘lovely jugs’ when I carry pitchers to their tables,” she says. “I just wish they would come up with something original.”
Jan Macleod, of the Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, which is campaigning against Hooters opening in Scotland, says the chain normalises the sexual exploitation and harassment of young women, and tacitly increases the acceptability of more extreme venues, such as lap-dancing clubs. “Their website says, ‘Whoever said you can’t get paid for something you love doing, never worked at Hooters,'” says Macleod. “I don’t think young women do ‘love’ the sexual harassment, any more than female customers ‘love’ to see women staff being objectified.”
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