Are things getting better for women? I sure would like to think so. Books and magazine articles are coming out in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. saying an increasing and surprising number of married women make, not just as much, but actually more than their husbands. The numbers range from 25% in the U.K., to 31% in Canada, all the way to just short of 40% in the U.S., according to author Liza Mundy. And when women earn more, these authors argue, they have more choices, more independence and their husbands do more of the chores at home. This is good, isn’t it?
With these happy figures dancing in my head, I went to a client meeting last week in Toronto’s financial district. I saw women driving subway trains and directing traffic. I rubbed shoulders with lots of women in well-tailored suits riding up and down elevators with their male colleagues. I dealt with intelligent women in my meeting. “Yes,” I thought, “things are looking good here on the equality front.”
With that happy idea in my head, I went along to my next appointment, lunch with a girlfriend. Not far from the bank towers, we met at a restaurant where the food was supposed to be good. The food was pretty good, and the restaurant had a great patio, but the real attraction for most customers, it turned out, was the great view of the flesh of the young, female, wait-staff.
The waitresses were all very attractive, between 20 and 24 years old, and half naked. They were all dressed in black, and while the clothes were not a uniform, the effect was identical. All the girls had bare legs, bare arms, bare shoulders and lots of cleavage. They all wore 4-inch heels. The young men working there were either bussing tables or serving drinks behind the bar. They were also dressed in black – long pants, long-sleeved shirts, flat shoes. There was no male flesh on display.
As I said, the food was pretty good, and the sunshine on the patio was pleasant. The service, if you were a middle-aged woman, was appallingly bad. The business model was crystal clear. The girls, and the management of the restaurant, were selling men the opportunity to ogle and chat up very attractive, scantily clad young women, younger than most of the clients by decades. The management sold a lot of liquor and some food. The girls got (I fervently hope) great tips. We got a few rays of sunshine, a decent salad, and a waitress too stupid to place our orders in the kitchen or to know how to divide a bill in half. Women customers were not really part of the plan.
Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Gloria Steinem’s landmark article “I was a Playboy Bunny.” Steinem went undercover in Hugh Hefner’s New York City Playboy Club to investigate the club’s claims that Bunnies had glamorous jobs and made lots of money. The reality, of course, was terrible working conditions, constant sexual harassment, lousy pay, and the tortuous experience of working half naked in skin-tight costumes and high heels.
Almost fifty years have passed, and women have made huge gains in educational attainment, employment opportunities, reproductive freedom, and legal protection from discrimination. Hugh Hefner is an old, old man, and perhaps I should be worried about the proliferation of hard-core porn on the internet, not the persistence of this Playboy-esque business model in twenty-first century restaurants. But I was very sad to see these young women hustling for tips from leering business men.
I am a big believer in glorious sensuality and sexuality among consenting adults. I am not a believer in trading sex – real, promised, imagined or implied – for money. It is very rare in human history for that exchange to turn out well, in the long run, for the people doing the selling. I am also a big believer in young women working to be the equals of their male counterparts in education and employment. If they surpass them sometimes, that’s good too.
So my restaurant dollars will be going to establishments where there are men and women waiting on tables, men and women being served, and everybody gets to keep their pants on. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
(If you’re interested, you can read Gloria Steinem’s original article at: