Yo, Ladies™! Huddle up. Grab a backwards chair. (Now turn it around and sit on it RIGHT, YOU SHAMELESS HUSSIES. Ladies™ don't straddle.) It's time for some serious LadyTalk™. If you're a Lady™, like me, you've definitely run into this problem: It's dinnertime. You're starving. You haven't eaten since your morning cup of spinach run-off, you're exhausted from changing tampons all day, your duodenum is chafing from riding sidesaddle all the way to Labial Zumba, and you're feeling fat because all your Diet Spanx were in the wash so you had to wear Spanx Classic. Gross. All you want to do is find a nice restaurant where you can exchange currency for sustenance, lady-style. Is that so much to Lady™-ask?
But what the shit is this!? A "steakhouse"!?!? What's all this brown stuff on the walls? "Wood"? What the fuck is "wood"? Where's all the pink? How am I supposed to enjoy my food when there's no catwalk? Where's your garnish menu? Who eats 8 ounces of meat in one sitting? How many decks of cards is that? What do you mean I can't pay in beads and trinkets and Lady Lovely-Locks hair clips? You're saying I have to "withdraw money" from my "checking account"? What do I look like—A GUY???
I need feminism because what is restaurant.
Fortunately, the market provides! Over the past couple of years, a number of lady-centric eateries have cropped up seeking to capitalize on female spending power. Because, you know, WE COULDN'T JUST GO TO REGULAR RESTAURANTS. RESTAURANTS ARE FOR MEN. EATING FOOD IN A ROOM IS GENDERED.
I can think of a couple of ways that the restaurant industry could make female patrons more comfortable. Not aggressively sexualizing their female waitstaffs, for instance. Not presumptuously handing the check to the male half of every couple. Not remarking on how much food a female patron orders (HAPPENED TO ME MORE THAN ONCE). Not giving large groups of men better tables and service because they're expected to give bigger tips. Prioritizing women's safety at meat-market Ladies' Nights, if you're not willing to scrap them entirely.
Instead, though, they went with Plan B: Just cram as many corny, dehumanizing female stereotypes into your restaurant concept as humanly possible. (Idea: ACTUAL PLAN B ON THE SATURDAY MORNING BRUNCH MENU! And you could call your restaurant "Over the Counter." And you could serve Whorange Juice and Casual Seggs. Holy shit. Copyrighted.)
In their attempts to appeal, specifically, to women—to prove that they're clued in, that they're not just a boys' club—the restaurant industry wound up revealing that they have absolutely no idea what human women are actually like. Which is embarrassing, because the truth is incredibly simple. WOMEN ARE PEOPLE. WE LIKE PEOPLE-STUFF. SURF AND TURF HAS NO GENDER. I WILL FIGHT ANY MAN WHO SAYS HE WANTS A STEAK AND A CRAB MORE THAN ME.
Seriously, just listen to this shit. Via The Week:
But when SHe opened its doors on New Year's Eve 2012, all that talk of empowerment boiled down to smaller, "she-sized" steak portions, mirrors on the dessert menus so women could reapply their lipstick, and "sexy" décor. And let's not forget SHe's main attraction: a catwalk where women in scanty clothing perform for the restaurant's female and male guests.
SHe isn't the only restaurant that has drawn criticism for invoking gender stereotypes under the guise of being "female friendly." The international steakhouse chain STK received backlash after posting a female-friendly promotional video that featured sexist images of stilettoed women feeding each other steak. A pink sports bar in New York's Union Square hit every feminist's nerve when owner Ken Sturm told DNAinfo, "We did a softer design [because] we wanted to make it very inviting for women so that they don't feel like they're sitting a men's kind of club."
Really. Et tu, Eva Longoria.
These restaurants aren't for women, they're at women.
Unsurprisingly, the trend hasn't proven particularly successful. It seems that women don't like being pandered to for their own good.
The Week again:
As more women have come forward questioning the trend on blogs and in articles, restaurants have been less vocal about promoting themselves as female-friendly. When STK — which once touted itself as the premiere female-friendly steakhouse — opened another venue in Washington D.C.'s Dupont Circle in late April, the press release made no mention of the steakhouse being female-friendly, according to the dining blog EaterDC. There's no telling if STK's decision is in direct response to the criticism, but when I asked public relations manager Krystal Yoseph why the company made the choice, she said, "We're moving away from the female-friendly concept."
For the millionth time, women are just people. We're people who want to feel safe, comfortable, respected, and included. We are not cartoon bundles of stereotypes. We need food to make our bodies function, and if we're going to spend money on food, we want the food to taste good. Food is not gendered. (I mean, except yogurt.)
A "female-friendly restaurant" is just a restaurant—or, more specifically, a restaurant that doesn't deliberately foster and profit from an overtly misogynistic climate. (And, by the way, if misogyny is built into your idea of a "male-friendly" space, then you've got some shithead built into your brain.) Making a special pink restaurant for ladies simply reinforces the idea that men are the default and women are a special interest group that can't digest lobster bisque unless they slurp it out of a stiletto. "Woman" is not a theme or a culture or a niche or a monolith.
Throwing together a half-assed "restaurant for women" is far easier and less messy than actually trying to correct the gender inequalities that pervade restaurant culture. Wouldn't want to upset the good ol' boys by taking away their playground. Wouldn't want men to have to sacrifice ANY of their unfettered fun, dominion, and sanctioned sexual harassment for the sake of women's comfort and safety.
Nope, clearly the best thing for women is to chew-and-spit piles of dandelion fluff in a handful of designated lady-corners, while men continue to treat the rest of the known universe like their own personal cognac-and-cigar T.G.I. Fuckrooms. Equality!
Image by Jim Cooke.