Over Spring Break I stayed with my cousin and friend in Orlando.
Being standard run-of-the-mill teenage guys, they persuaded me to dine with them at Hooters. I admittedly had never had a Hooters experience up to this point and went in rather open-minded.
Many people look down on Hooters women, believing that they are on the stepping-stone of becoming a stripper. Others praise Hooters women for working there as a necessity to earn a living.
I walked into Hooters with these two scenarios washed from my mind and the first thing I can tell you is: people do not go there just for the chicken wings.
Our waitress was young, and looked to be maybe 16. She had blue braces, two push-up bras on, the standard Hooters tank top and orange short-shorts. She leaned over the table to write her name on a napkin, exposing her cleavage, before looking at the guys at the table and asking in a squeaky cartoon mouse voice, "How can I serve you?"
I remained quiet throughout most of the experience, observing the behavior of the men. Between my cousin and friend, it was a basic formula of staring at boobs and then at one of the many TV's playing sports.
I watched as some men took their photos with the women, while others simply gawked at their bodies. When the check arrived after some rather mediocre food, my ever-so-classy cousin over-tipped the waitress and placed his number on the check. I too, over-tipped the waitress, but I had different motives.
In my mind, I had been building a story about our waitress as a runaway adolescent with daddy issues and an urgent need for money. Perhaps she paid for her braces, and now she's working her way through school; perhaps she's a single mom doing everything in her power to provide for her child and herself.
Once exiting the restaurant, I couldn't help but question the women's motives for working at such an establishment.
This experience brought me back to recent headlines for a Duke freshman that pays her tuition by making porn films. The Duke freshman defended her work in pornography with similar motivations to the ones I conjured, noting that she's used all of her porn profits to pay her tuition.
What if she wasn't using pornography as a means to an economic end? What if the women of Hooters were not using the money for tuition? What if these women were actually just enjoying sex work?
One Duke student argued, "If the patriarchy is about men making decisions for women and taking away their agency, why do some feminists want to control other women's decisions?"
Is it possible that these women feel empowered by harnessing their beauty to make wealth?
To find out, I reviewed several interviews with Hooters women. First of all, the number one reason women chose to work at Hooters was to earn more money. Once employed, the women have to immediately adopt the Hooters look (based on a very narrow, white, heterosexual standard of beauty), which included endless physical requirements regarding hair, nails, makeup, teeth-brushing, deodorant, tattoos, jewelry and of course the requirement that the women maintain the weight at which they were hired. "Basically, you're not allowed to get fat," one woman recalled.
While on the job, the women reported feeling endlessly sexually objectified by male customers.
"The guys are constantly watching you, no matter where you go," one woman said, "If you're doing nothing and just standing there, because that's what you're literally there for, they're always watching you."
This experience and research have led me to this conclusion: Hooters is degrading. It's unhealthy for both men and women. It allows men to behave as if we were objects placed on this Earth for their own amusement and it makes women feel inferior to men. There are plenty of other jobs out there that pay just as well.
To rely solely on one's beauty is to rely on a sinking ship.
Kaila Curry is a freshman in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.