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I still remember the night my friends surprised me by taking me to a strip club for my birthday. “Surprise, it’s an incredibly awkward situation!” Outside of my general discomfort and the challenges to my feminism, I did notice something interesting. There were a wide variety of body sizes -- much more variety than I would have expected -- and all had fans in the club. I reflected back on that when I read about the “Borgata Babes’” lawsuit claiming weight discrimination by their employer. The Borgata never denied their stringent guidelines on looks or the fact that they had weigh-ins for the waitresses to keep them in check. Still, the Borgata Babes lost and can now be fired for gaining weight.
According to the Press of Atlantic City, Judge Johnson found that “The Borgata Babe program has a sufficient level of trapping and adornments to render its participants akin to ‘sex objects’ to the Borgata’s patrons. Nevertheless, for the individual labeled a babe to become a sex object requires that person’s participation.”
Thinking back to my night at the strip club, even if they truly believe their customers can’t satisfactorily receive a shrimp cocktail from a server with whom they don’t want to have sex, what about people who have managed to break out of the spoon-fed stereotype of beauty and prefer fat women? Why can’t they get a free drink from their sex object of choice? If strip clubs can hire women with a variety of body types, why can’t Borgata get onboard?
Or how about this -- why is anything other than the ability to wait tables taken into account when hiring waitresses? Why is it ok to hire women to be “sex objects?” Why do patrons need a server who is within 7% of her hiring weight to bring them free drinks? Where did 7% even come from? Unsurprisingly the women behind the lawsuit talk about being encouraged to engage in dangerous behaviors to maintain a weight that has nothing to do with the actual job at hand -- including being told to take laxatives or stop taking needed medications before their weigh-ins.
The judge seemed to rest his verdict on the idea that if women are willing to be hired to do a job where they may be considered as sex objects by their employer/customers then they give up their body autonomy and should be required to meet their employer’s definition of sex object. This seems obviously problematic. Where does it end? I knew a woman who was hired as a dancer in Vegas. She danced in a show for months and then one day she was called to the office and told that she would have to dance topless to keep her job. She responded “I can do a triple pirouette, I don’t need to dance topless” and left to get another job. Some women can’t do a triple pirouette, some women can’t walk away from their job, and for the court to tell them that part of their job as a server is to maintain a stereotype of beauty so that some men can treat them like sex objects instead of professional servers is really not ok.
In addition to blatant discrimination like the Borgata case, studies consistently show that fat women are hired less, and paid less, than their thin counterparts regardless of experience or qualifications. This all underscores the need for height and weight to be added to nondiscrimination laws -- Michigan and a few cities, including San Francisco, already have these requirements. It also underscores the need for a change in thinking -- It’s perfectly ok to expect a server to do their job competently; It’s not ok to expect them to turn you on, or meet any sexual needs you may have while they do it. Women should be completely in charge of our sexuality and shouldn’t be obligated to serve it up on a platter next to the shrimp cocktail and a watered down drink by the nickle slots.