In Defense of Hooters and the St. Pauli Girl
Seven scantily-clad women decorate the walls of my bedroom. My common room is adorned with posters of Marilyn Monroe and that paramour of the brewing industry, the St. Pauli Girl. By the standards of modern feminism, I am thereby guilty of a most terrible crime. I objectify women. Because I commit my transgression in the privacy of my home it goes unnoticed, unavailable for the political critique of others. But the issue of sexual objectification will likely be a topic of heated public discussion in the coming days.
On March 24, the Hooters restaurant chain will invade our City on a Hill. Renowned for its scrumptious fried cuisine, the establishment also has a reputation for its engaging waitstaff. The talented young women who serve up the chicken wings and oysters are as much a part of the ambience as the effeminate Maitre D' at expensive French bistros. Hooters girls are as generous with flirtatious glances as their uniforms are with glimpses of flesh.
Equally generous with flesh is Playboy's newly released College Girls Collection. In a development bound to send an epidemic of aneurysms through the ranks of RADWAC, nestled between the beauties of the Big Ten is Michelle Woodbury '00, a psychology concentrator in Dunster House. Woodbury poses coyly atop a bed in a portrait more revealing than even the most carefully crafted admissions essay.
These two prurient developments in our Puritan enclave will surely be greeted by divided reaction. The men on this campus, at least those who are heterosexual, may pretend to be outraged for fear of alienating the real women in their lives, but will secretly rejoice at the boon to their fantasy arsenal. I've already made my reservations at Hooters. Female students, meanwhile, will likely express mild disgust, with militant "womyn" taking to the barricades.
The objectification of the opposite sex is a perfectly natural and unavoidable phenomenon. We all view each other through various lenses--as social beings, intellectual beings and, if the other has a complimentary sexual orientation, as erotic beings. Each lens is appropriate for particular settings. In class, a professor would be offended if a student treated her as a friend, but if the professor and the student were out for lunch, social interaction would be perfectly appropriate.
On the pages of Playboy, Woodbury is asking to be perceived as a sexual entity. On campus, she retains her right to be viewed and treated as the greater sum of all her identities. Waitresses at Hooters make a similar bargain when they choose their jobs.
Some feminists would argue that this distinction of spheres is convenient on theoretical grounds but that it breaks down in practice. They argue that exposure to sexual objectification distorts men's perception of all women. They are wrong. Normal, sane men are not confused by their experiences with poster girls, seedy restaurants or gentlemen's magazines. Their enjoyment of such diversions does not render them incapable of healthy, respectful relationships with the opposite sex. Nor do the pathological among us receive their decisive nudge into misogyny from such sources.
Activists make an additional case against those who sell sex. They claim that regardless of the impact on men, those women who offer themselves up as the objects degrade their own humanity. The models and waitresses themselves might disagree, but that doesn't stop the activists from throwing issues of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue atop their bonfires. The argument goes that nefarious social pressures, perhaps even a history of abuse, force these women to peddle their bodies.
While sad stories of childhood trauma and freaks of plastic surgery do abound, such unfortunate victims of life would certainly find an equally tragic resting place even if institutions like Hooters were not there to welcome them with open arms. Further, there are plenty of women who exhibit their bodies simply out of a healthy pride in their own appearances.
The last and increasingly popular case against sexual objectification is the argument that men's positive reaction to the female body, specifically those female bodies on display in Playboy and at Hooters, puts pressure on women to meet an unrealistic standard of physical beauty. This is complaint is valid to an extent.
But what women should understand, and most, I believe, do, is that the mass market, two-dimensional conception of beauty is not the basis on which men judge the three-dimensional women in their lives. If Miss February were a brilliant philosophy student whose personality was completely compatible with mine, I might consider her appearance to be a bonus in her favor. Of course, my girlfriend would probably consider it a bonus in my favor if I were an heir to an oil fortune. But she's not making an appointment to get breast implants and I'm not frantically sinking wells in the backwaters of Texas. Idealizations are a fiction, and those who confuse fiction with reality have bigger problems than the posters on their walls.
Hooters and our campus Playmate should be graciously received by our community. And while some empowered young females are undoubtedly disgusted by my taste in interior decor, I am not at all repentant. Like most heterosexual men, the sight of a big-busted blonde tickles my fancy.
When I stare up from my desk, I don't want to see any printed reproduction of Picasso, nor do I wish to encounter the name of some technical director at the bottom of a movie poster. When I take a hard-earned study break, I like to be greeted by a pretty face. And ladies, if any of you have a fetish for bespectacled Jewish boys, I'd be happy to pose for you.
Noah D. Oppenheim '00 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.