One of my favorite places that Mr. Squigglequins and I used to eat at the beginning of our relationship was The Tilted Kilt. The alcohol, food, and servers were great. Since Mr. Squigglekins and I used to go there often, I always wondered how the female servers felt about their job. How did they handle a customer that was unusually handsy? How did they handle being gawked at? Did they ever feel objectified? What was the power dynamics between the male and female employees?
A study published in the journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, gave me some insight. The study, Sexually Objectifying Environments: Power, Rumination, and Waitresses’ Anxiety, conducted by the University of Tennessee Professor Dawn Szymanski and her graduate student Renee Mikorski, found that working at a “breastaurant” like The Tilted Kilt, may be bad for your mental health.
The female participants in this study were predominately white-87%- and more than a third identified as working class while most said they were middle class. They filled out a fifteen item questionnaire designed at determining to what degree did their workplace encourage sexual objectification.
The participants replied to statements such as “Female waitresses are encouraged to wear sexually revealing clothing,” and “Male customers stare at female servers,” on a scale from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). They also reported on their perception of sexism in the workplace, the amount of “personal power” they had on the job, and how often they ruminated on work.
The level of anxiety was measured by how often the participants felt “nervous, anxious, or on edge” and found themselves unable “to stop or control worrying.” Unhealthy eating habits were measured by the participants’ responses to 26 statements that included “I am terrified of being overweight,” and “I vomit after I have eaten.”
The results concluded that women working at “sexually objectifying restaurant environments” where they wear revealing clothing and are encouraged to flirt with customers, were at greater risk for anxiety and eating disorders. The concern was brought not only by the female participants being “graded” by their supervisors and customers but also by feeling like they have a lack of agency in their workplace.
The researchers write that their findings were consistent with the theory that “disempowering contexts can influence women’s problematic coping responses, which in turn may increase the risk for mental health problems that disproportionately affect women.”
I toyed with the idea of applying to a “breastaurant” in my early twenties. I thought it would be fun to serve and wear sexy clothing but in hindsight, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it because I don’t have the mindset. I’m sensitive to critiques on my looks, and I don’t like people staring at me. Also, I’m awkward and terrible at flirting.
If you’re considering of applying to one of these “breastaurants,” there are many questions to ask. What is your boundary when it comes to clothing? Are you willing to wear less? The risk for sexual harassment is high in these restaurants, how will you handle when a potential situation arises? How well do you handle criticism, especially if it’s in the looks department?
If you want to apply to these workplaces, good for you, and if not, that’s fine. In the end, female employees working at these restaurants should feel happy and safe, like any other job.
Photo Courtesy By: By Andorra Photography [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons