Politicians and campaigners fear that a new branch of the self-declared ‘delightfully tacky’ fast-food chain will bring the sky falling down – but they’re wrong.
Have you ever been to Hooters? If you are in the UK, the answer is probably ‘no’ because weirdly, the popular fast-food chain has only had one branch in the whole country*, located in Nottingham – a stone’s throw from the train station and the BBC and – more importantly – from where your Reprobate editor used to live. Its presence in the city has always been an odd anomaly, a weird slice of something very American plonked down on the edge of the city centre that locals could take a strange pride in. It might not be much, but it was ours and ours alone.
Well, until now. In what might be the first step towards expansion or just another one-off, Hooters is about to open in Liverpool. And to listen to local politicians, you’d think that the world was about to cave in as a result.
Labour Councillor Maria Toolan has started a petition against the opening, stating that the brand is “an archaic and chauvinistic brand and this type of venue is no longer reflective of today’s society. Hooters employs women to promote its business activities in an exploitative manner, it demeans and degrades women and undermines female equality. We believe it will attract interest from a narrow unwanted demographic and will cause increased anti-social behaviour.” At the time of writing, the petition has attracted 343 signatures. No details on just how many of the signees actually live anywhere near Liverpool, of course.
This fear of anti-social behaviour is a belief that is not backed by anything as pesky as evidence, of course – and you’d think that if the Nottingham Hooters was the epicentre of miscreant activity from an ‘unwanted demographic’ (and who, we wonder, might that be?) we would have all heard about it by now.
Mayor Joanne Anderson also expressed outrage at the proposed bar being given a licence, citing the “infamous sexually objectifying and misogynistic environment” and commented that “licensing policy is outdated and we need to give communities a greater say in what happens in their areas.” ‘Communities’ in this instance presumably being herself and people who agree with her. Meanwhile, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell piped in, “A Hooters bar only works to undermine our efforts to tackle misogyny and the objectification of women.” We might question why the idea of men – or, indeed, other women – finding Hooters girls visually attractive is actually misogynistic but I suspect for all three of these professional small-time agitators – full of the self-importance and real-world insignificance of the local politician – it’s handy to throw around buzzwords until they cease to have meaning, citing their own feelings and personal bitterness as evidence of real-world harm. Bearing that in mind, it’s no surprise that Julie Bindel, the self-proclaimed Voice Of Woman, has also popped up with a predictable awful take. For someone who constantly claims to have been silenced, Bindel sure has a lot of media outlets lining up to give her a platform for her voodoo theories – but that’s another story.
Now, I think that it is pretty safe to assume that none of the critics of Hooters has ever actually been there. Like most people who want things that they don’t like banned, they won’t sully themselves actually experiencing the thing they object to because why would they? Politicians, campaigners, activists and moralisers all believe that they know best about everything, even – perhaps especially – things that they actually know nothing about. To listen to the way some people describe Hooters, you’d think that it was some sort of a combination of a brothel, a slave market and a Donald Trump rally, where leering men grab, grope and slobber over hapless women forced by terrible circumstances to work there. The reality is a bit different.
Hooters is not a strip club. I feel I need to say that up front because I’m not sure that many of its critics actually realise that. It has female serving staff in tight white t-shirts and orange hot pants (sometimes switching out for an all-black ensemble), which might be a bit eye-popping (especially if you disapprove of women’s bodies not being fully covered for whatever reason) but is not, by any stretch of the normal imagination, nudity or even semi-nudity. If anything, it speaks as much to the venue’s sporty aesthetic as to objectification. As for accusations of ‘objectification’ – well, that’s a phrase so overused as to lose all meaning, especially given that it is a very subjective idea that is presented as (no pun intended) ‘objective’ fact. One person’s objectification is another person’s empowerment and liberation, and who are we to say who is right other than perhaps giving more weight to the opinions of those on the front line – in this case, the Hooters waitresses?
We should also note that the restaurant is not a strictly male preserve in terms of customers. My former girlfriend and her housemate were big fans of Hooters – or to be more specific, they were big fans of the Hooters BBQ chicken wings, especially on the days when you could, if memory serves, eat as many as you like for one fixed price. I’d say that out of the half dozen or so times that I went to the restaurant, five of those times involved being reluctantly dragged down there by one or both of the ladies. I should also point out that this wasn’t a case of suffering the environment to enjoy the food – they actually liked the place. And you know what? I saw their point. It wasn’t remotely my scene really because in the end, it’s a sports bar as much as anything and I find most sport unbearable. But as fast food places went, Hooters was (and presumably still is) more spacious, more comfortable and had better, friendlier service than any of their rivals. No queuing up with the deadbeats to be served at the counter by some sullen Johnny No-Stars here – you got table service with a smile and frankly, that’s a step up from a lot of British fast food (and even slow food) experiences right away. More significantly, the food was okay – OK, not great, but for what it was definitely a step above a lot of comparable fast food rib joints.
I never went on a Saturday night or when there was a big match in town and so can’t really speak for the atmosphere on those nights (though I did walk past en route to other places and didn’t get the sense of it being overly aggressive). The times I went, it was all very civilised – certainly a lot more civilised than McDonald’s or KFC it must be said and a lot less lairy than much of Nottingham’s city centre which is traditionally awash with stag andhen parties every weekend. I’m sure the venue attracts its share of leery blokes – just like lots of pubs and other noisy, party atmosphere eateries. But just as strip club patrons are usually very well behaved because they are rather intimidated by the presence of so many attractive, self-confident young women, so I suspect that a lot of the people in Hooters probably felt very self-conscious. And anyone who did step out of line would be dealt with rather swiftly by the door staff, I suspect.
Or perhaps – and here’s a radical idea – most men are not animals with no self-control. Perhaps they can enjoy the aesthetics of an attractive woman in ‘skimpy’ clothes (T-shirts and shorts, remember, not lingerie) without thinking that they are entitled to molest her. Just a thought. In any case, while you may find Hooters to be ‘objectifying’ – though why more so than any other business with a public-facing dress code that aims to depersonalise by commodifying the wearer into a part of an identikit collective is an interesting question unless you are someone who believes that women should be covered from head-to-toe at all times – the idea that it is in any way, shape or form an erotic experience is so wildly far from the mark that it perhaps tells us more about the accuser than they realise. Perhaps the critics secretly want women to be banned from wearing tight tops or short skirts anywhere – for their own good, of course.
Now, don’t get me wrong – visiting Hooters was not a particularly sophisticated experience – and nor should it have been. In fact, the company’s own slogan is “Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined”. But there’s room for tacky – hell, some might say that a love of the tacky is part of the Reprobate DNA. I’m sure for some employees, the experience of working there was not pleasant – though again, welcome to the real world of work – most people hate their jobs and bar work often involves dealing with drunk, aggressive people regardless of your (or their) gender. More to the point though – the idea that the existence of Hooters somehow contributes to male violence towards women is laughable and not remotely backed by any evidence other than the angry beliefs of people who have an inbuilt resentment of people – especially those from an ‘unwanted demographic’ – who might enjoy the more basic pleasures of life.
This hasn’t been the first attempt to expand the Hooters franchise in the UK. Newcastle and Cardiff had previously refused to approve licenses on legally dubious grounds. The Liverpool plans will presumably remain uncertain until the day the venue actually opens – never underestimate the relentless fury of the morally-uptight campaigner. However, with zero evidence of any real-world harms, the only consequences of the Liverpool Hooters opening will be a few more people in employment and an extra distraction from the miseries of day-to-day life for those whose simple pleasure it is – the latter, of course, being reason enough for the sort of people who are only dimly aware and immediately disapproving of the concept of ‘fun’ to condemn it. For them, simply ignoring something that they don’t approve of is sadly never enough and they always know better than everyone else about what is good for us.
* For the sake of transparency, we should add that there had also been a branch in Birmingham, which closed in 1999.
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