Opinion

Bikini baristas: Double shot of sleaze and sexism | Amy Johnson

A dear friend told me recently that her daughter was just hired at a drive-through espresso stand near her town, where the girls get more tips depending on what they wear.

“But it can’t be ‘skanky’ or ‘sleazy,’” she reassured her anxious mom. The conversation came up when my friend found lingerie on the floor that her daughter was planning to wear to work. Hmmm. Interesting. Wear what (or as little as) you want, but if you get in trouble, your boss will be able to say he warned you about not being “skanky” or “sleazy.” Can you say sexism?

A Nov. 4 article in The Mirror suggests the issue of bikini baristas may be coming to a Federal Way coffee shop near you. While it’s not against the law, these private employers do discriminate on the basis of gender, age and, most likely, weight. I doubt I’d pass muster to be hired as a bikini barista, though the thought of a bunch of middle-aged mamas taking on this challenge does have a certain appeal.

Imagine if men were hired to dress scantily on a regular basis to get more tips from predominantly female clients at a coffee stand. How long do you think it would take for someone to be up in arms about lewd and lascivious behavior toward young women in our midst? And therein lies the irony of so-called bikini baristas. On the one hand, we have the “leave us alone” folks saying, “It’s no big deal!” And on the other hand, we have a slap in the face of women’s rights.

Sex sells, and while some people may say it’s the girls’ prerogative to work somewhere like that, there is this: My friend’s daughter is working where she does because “no one else is hiring right now.” Since when is it OK to pimp out women in any sense of the word due to tough economic times?

Say what you may about First Amendment rights and freedom of expression, but this is much deeper than that. If girls are feeling pressure to sexualize themselves in order to make a living, something is very wrong. Many of us would be outraged if these were drug-addicted women on the street corners in our neighborhoods selling sex, so why isn’t it the same indignation for the corner coffee stand? First Everett, now Federal Way?

Parents, think about how you are socializing your boys and girls. Do you read stories where boys and girls are in non-traditional gender roles? Do you and your partner or spouse each participate in non-traditional gender tasks around the home? Do you discuss gender stereotypes and sexism when you see it on TV, on the Internet, or with peers?

Do you have non-stereotypical toys, games and activities available for both the males and females in your house? I remember years ago in our home when Barbie learned how to change the oil in her Jeep, and Batman was cooking dinner for the tired superheroes at the end of a long day. How are you combating sexism in your children?

Next time you or a woman you know is told to wear a bikini to work by a male employer, think twice about the impact on girls and boys and women and men in society. We need to band together, as women and men, to fight sexism. The impact of it continuing is felt far beyond our neighborhoods, our cities, and even our country’s borders. We are all worthy of dignity and respect, whether our bodies are judged bikini-worthy or not.

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