Well, that was an emotional weekend. [that is, my weekend at my ex-boyfriend’s. I started this post two days ago]
I have so much to blog about. Blogging is kind of exhausting, really, especially when you’ve initiated about eight separate threads of discussion and all sorts of people have challenged things you’ve said in important ways and you want to think about everything they said and respond to all of them, and meanwhile your blog is supposed to be personal as well as political so you want to write about your relationship with lots of people in your life, and it’s all a little bit much for your little brain to absorb and regurgitate onto a computer screen at once.
I think I know one reason why my blog has been more political than personal. It’s because, quite sadly, my personal life has been pretty stagnant (and stagnation often feels like emptiness in relationships) for the past several months. That’s largely my fault; I just got so frustrated with both trying to find a romantic partner and trying to maintain some of my friendships that I started to feel like the dubious payoff of meeting someone I really liked wasn’t worth the hell of dating, and there was no point in trying to make new friends in adverse circumstances (living in New York), when even some of the friendships I made under propitious circumstances (living at Swarthmore) appeared to be less meaningful than I thought they were, so I holed myself up in my apartment and practiced my cello and read the news on the internet.
Anyway, this weekend reminded me of what it felt like to be in a really warm and evolving relationship with someone, so now I feel like blogging about that.
But I think I want to divide this blog post up a bit, because I have a lot to say. Since this has become something of a gender blog somewhat in spite of my conscious intentions, I want to write about adventurous forays I made into two male-dominated worlds this weekend: fantasy role-playing games and Hooters. This blog post will deal with Hooters, a later blog post with fantasy role-playing games, and perhaps a later one will deal with Adams and my relationship…
Hooters was on Friday night, when I took the bus up to Albany. Bus rides north make me feel romantic (bus rides south, heartbroken and tragic), because I’ve always taken them to meet some boy or another, but my rational mind knew that despite the associations that arose, it just wasn’t that romantic, and that was made even more salient when Adam was an hour and a half late on Friday to pick me up at the bus station, which was a little nervewracking since the Albany bus terminal is pretty scuzzy and I was there with my laptop and my cello, but strangely, there were three other instances of people or groups of people being stranded there that night. I asked two girls if it was normal for so many people to be trapped in a bus station at once, and they said, “This bus station more so than others. Are you waiting for a friend?” “Well, he was my friend. He’s less and less my friend with each passing minute. By the time he gets here he’ll be my sworn enemy. Unless he’s lying in a ditch. In fact, he’d better be, or I’ll put him there.” They had been ditched by their dad, which totally trumps being ditched by your ex in stranded-at-the-Greyhound-terminal misery poker. There’s a certain pathos about upstate New York (at least the parts of it I’ve seen); I don’t know how to describe it, but the fact that people are often stranded in the Albany bus station fits into the puzzle. They then asked if I went to their high school, and you know by the time you’re suspecting that someone went to your high school, they’re you’re kind of people, so we all got to enjoy some of the camaraderie of youth on the road.
Adam finally showed up (he hit a snow bank; he and car were fine; not his fault), and we wound up giving those two girls a ride to their destination. It turned out they had just met Sara Lee (the one whom nobody doesn’t like) at the New York Museum of Science; they said she was very, very old, but oddly ageless since she’d had so much plastic surgery. I thought that was fitting since Sara Lee products probably have a lot of preservatives. One of them lives in the city and she gave me her cell phone number.
Anyway, Hooters. After we dropped them off, we went to go out to eat, and Adam asked me where I wanted to go: Ruby Tuesdays, John Harvard’s, or Hooters, which he added mostly as a joke. But I said, “Let’s go to Hooters; I’ll write about it on my blog.” (Now I feel like I’m some sort of anthropologist.) I then told him this fabulous story: I remember when I was twelve or thirteen reading an article in Seventeen
about a school where a lot of the guys had taken to wearing Hooters t-shirts (the owls’ big mammary eyes stare out of the two O’s in “Hooters;” the slogan is “more than a mouthful…") at school, so some enterprising girls decided to talk back a little, and they silkscreened their own shirts: “Cocks [the rooster’s eye was the O; the C was the beak, curving downward suggestively]: less than a mouthful.” They wore them to school and the school responded by banning the girls’ shirts, but not the boys’. There was a huge uproar, so the school eventually banned both shirts, but that hadn’t really been what the girls wanted either; they didn’t want some authority clamping down, fighting their battles for them, and ultimately preventing any interesting dialogue or interchange. Years later, I was in college with my friend Susan, who was from Iowa, and she started telling this story about how she and her friends had made these “cocks” t-shirts in response to Hooters shirts. “Were you profiled in Seventeen
?” I asked. She said yes, and I jumped up and started shrieking, “I read about you in Seventeen
! I read about you in Seventeen
!” It was an exciting moment.
I told Adam this story as we were walking into Hooters, and when he heard the “less than a mouthful” line, he said, “Now that’s just mean.”
I said, “Adam, how is that in effect any more mean than the ‘more than a mouthful’ line? That makes women who don’t have big breasts feel inadequate.”
“But you gotta understand,” he says that a lot—you gotta understand—“a man’s penis is central to the way he thinks about himself.”
“And women’s breasts aren’t important to how they think about themselves?”
“Well, that’s true,” he said. He also says “that’s true” a lot.
This is going to lead me to an observation about some men, not the exruciatingly genderconscious men of say, my college, but other men. It’s a phenomenon I’ve observed. They make whatever jokes or comments they want and expect the women around them to take it with good humor, but when the women take it with good humor and dish a little “humor” back they complain loudly about how the women are hurting their feelings. On Saturday night we watched this movie Crossroads
, not the Britney Spears movie, but a flick from the eighties with Ralph Maccio that combined the “road trip” and “wizened and wise older black person teaches young, wealthy, wet-behind-the-ears white kid the ways of the world” genres. We played a drinking game devised by Adam and John (Adam’s best friend)—every time Willie Brown (wizened and wise black man, blues harmonica player) says something “cool” you drink (an example of the kind of cool thing you drink to: “Back where I come from, you don’t play no harp, you don’t get no puss-eeeeh.” Katie voices no objection to finding this cool, since a) they gave her her own flask of straight rum and she’s enjoying it a little too much not to drink at every opportunity, and b) she has a sense of humor even when she’s not drunk). Anyway, as you can imagine, when I’m drunk I get pretty raunchy, even more raunchy than I am when I’m not drunk. I also have a thing for little dark-haired femme boys, so I was finding Ralph Maccio pretty cute in those shiny eighties sport coats with the rolled up sleeves. When you added the fact that in the movie he played a classical guitarist, well, I was pretty far gone (I dated a classical guitarist, in fact, although he would never play his guitar for me, even though I begged him, so I was basically left with dating someone who had very long fingernails on his dominant hand. I can’t think of another example of something which is so sexy in life, but such a disadvantage in bed). I started enthusiastically voicing my appreciation for his string plucking abilities, and Adam and John started complaining that I was making them feel inadequate. They were sort of joking, too, but still. I then said that they had said the same things about women. “Not in your presence!” they protested. I then proceeded to rattle off some examples of things they had said about women in my presence. Then later Jamie Gertz shows up to be Ralph Maccio’s love interest, and John and Adam started proclaiming that they would do her. Demonstrating that I could give and take in equal measure, I informed them that I would do them both, at once, right there in that hayloft. That ended the conversation. I will say, in defense of men who do not have consciousnesses as excruciatingly raised as your typical liberal arts student, I’ve observed among several Troy (that's Troy, NY) men that they seem much more naturally open-minded about what women are attractive and what constitutes a sexy body than a lot of the uberfeminist guys from my college.
Anyway, Hooters. It was kind of fun. Our waitress was extraordinarily busty and was wearing a very low cut t-shirt and one of those bras that hikes your breasts up to your collar bone, in the process creating a sort of shelf of the lowest part of your breasts that the rest of your breasts spill out of. It would just look ugly if you were wearing a whole shirt; it’s sole purpose is to expose as much of your breasts as possible without actually showing your nipples. There’s some variety in the way they wear their shirts, but none of the waitresses wear pants. I mean, technically they might call those things they’re wearing shorts, but they’re underwear. They might be wearing another pair of underwear underneath, but that doesn’t change the fact that their shorts are underwear. I had to admit that our waitress was quite sexy. Not all of the waitresses looked like our waitress, though. Most of them seemed pretty thin (not supermodel thin, but average thin), but some of them had smaller breasts. Not our waitress, though, and I could barely restrain myself from giggling at the exuberantly fleshy display that bobbled in our faces whenever she stopped by to see if we needed anything. After she walked away I repeated to myself, “Look at the face. Look at the face. Look at the face.” Adam said, “I’m trying!” I told him, “I’m talking to myself!”
And this reminds me of an area in which I really have sympathy for straight men and think they get a bum rap. When a woman is wearing something very low cut, I, a straight woman, have a lot of trouble not staring at her breasts. Imagine how I would feel if breasts were this hugely fetishized irresistible sex object. While it is an extremely classy straight man who can avoid looking at a woman’s breasts when she’s doing everything possible to draw attention to them, it’s a human one who can’t avoid looking. Come on, ladies, if you dress like that you’re trying to sexualize yourself, and you can’t really complain (as some women do) if someone treats you the way you advertise that you want to be treated. I mean, you can complain if men yell lewd comments at you on the street, but looking? I myself tend to dress pretty modestly unless I’m heading out to some party and I feel like sexing it up, or my mood that day is one in which I want to draw a lot of attention to my body. Then, when I get that attention, I’m happy about it. Maybe it’s because I’m a B-cup, but I feel a little surge of triumph every time I get the cleavage glance. (Note: this is not an apology for staring at women’s breasts when they’re just wearing normal shirts that cover a reasonable amount of skin. Men who do this are yahoos.)
Oh yeah, Hooters. Adam told me that sometimes the waitresses pull up a chair and talk to you. I was like, great, like geishas. But our waitress didn’t chat with us (maybe because I was there). At one point another waitress walked by our table to drop off our roll of paper towels (i.e., our napkins--Hooters is a very classy joint), wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a winter hat. “You’re so clothed!” I told her. She flashed me a big smile and said, “I’m going home!”
So having ventured into the belly of the beast, I’m not sure what my opinion is. In some ways it seemed like an essentially good-natured celebration of women’s bodies. There did not appear to be any strict women-should-look-exactly-this-way standard in force. Based on what I saw, I think I probably could have walked in and gotten a job. As a feminist who likes to think a lot about the ideal way to view ourselves and people of all genders, I have to grapple with what parts of our gender roles are both fucked up and discardable (discardable because they are entirely socially constructed) and what parts are forgivable and probably not discardable. The extent to which beauty is described so rigidly in our society is fucked up and discardable. The straight male desire to see women in their skivvies even if they’re not sleeping with them--and their ability to pay for the pleasure--is probably forgivable and almost certainly not discardable (hey, I’ve been known to enter ewan+mcgregor+naked into google. It used to get me stills of him with a hard on (from The Pillow Book
). Now it gets me nothing. I should have saved them to my hard drive). To me, that means we should focus on defining beauty a little more generously, rather than saying we should never objectify women. (I made that point here
(the original post was a picture of a pouty blond holding the American flag), although I was lying a little, because I actually do get sick of seeing those images in my face all the time, and to the extent that Oliver Willis
contributes to it, it annoys me and will probably keep him off my blogroll. If he had pictures of other kinds of women, that would be different. That was an example of my desire to be good-humored making me tolerate a little more boys-will-be-boys than I truly wanted to in my heart of hearts. I also thought markg was such a fucking asshole the most important thing was crushing him down.) And while the women in Hooters were objectified, they weren’t objectified in a way that totally denied them an opportunity to express their own humanity. The waitress could still smile at me and say, “I’m going home!”
On the other hand, I have no reason to assume that every patron is as polite and respectful to them as Adam and I were. I also have no reason to assume that just because they have big smiles on their faces, it means that working at Hooters is what they really want to be doing. There is not a lot of economic opportunity right now in upstate New York, so in fact they might not have a lot of choice, or they might be willing to suffer a little indignity for the marginally higher salary (assuming the salaries are higher; I don’t know whether they are or not). I’d have to talk to them out of uniform to hear about all of that. But to the extent that they have to work at Hooters because there aren’t enough other good jobs, that’s the real travesty. At the very least, we should be working on arranging society so that the women who do prance around in their skivvies can demand respect in the workplace and are only doing it because they’re very, very well-paid.