(This essay originally appeared on http://www.newsworks.org, the online news source for WHYY – NPR in Philadelphia, on June 17, 2011. Read below or follow link to website.)
The recent firing of eight middle-aged cocktail waitresses from their jobs at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City pretty much lays out the way society as a whole views older women. And it ain’t pretty.
I don’t know if you have been to Atlantic City lately, but I’m here to tell you that most people who are gambling there really don’t care if they are being served their alcohol by Snooki’s hot young sistah, or by a smiling white-haired grandma in a toga. Have you see the people on the slot machines? Most of them have absolutely no right to demand hotness in anyone else. Look in the mirror, people.
Okay, so maybe management has the idea that if they hire sexy young thangs, that will pump up business. And, maybe that hiring strategy works, although I haven’t seen any scientific studies of this. (Perhaps Wharton Business School should get on this – a recent study by a finance student at Holy Family University did reveal that blonde waitresses got better tips than brunettes.) But have any of us stopped flying now that flight attendants are no longer Playboy Bunny caliber?
Speaking of Playboy Bunnies. Never mind.
My first job out of college (oddly, there didn’t seem to be a big demand for political science majors) was as a waitress in Manhattan Beach, California, where all the local businessmen came for lunch and the Beautiful People came at night to party. When I went for my “interview” I was asked to try on the uniform and walk across the bar area while the restaurant owners scoped me out. Yes, this was demeaning, but so was being broke, with no car, and college loans to pay off. At lunchtime, we waitresses sashayed around in our short skirts, tank tops, and platform shoes, a jaunty scarf tied around our necks, hawking “nooners” – double martinis served in snifters – to the packed tables of businessmen. Yes, it was nearly all businessmen. And yes, we servers were all women.
Now that I am fifty-eight, I don’t expect that I could get the same job. I am also never going to fulfill my lifelong dream of being an NFL cheerleader, but I’m not going to sue the Eagles for not hiring me.
Fact: Men like looking at sexy young women. There are actual scientific studies that show this, although why anyone needed to fund a study on this is a topic for another day. We still live in a culture that values youth and beauty above other attributes, although I’m counting on Betty White to single-handedly change this attitude. Fifty may be the new forty, but fifty is still not considered “hot” – unless maybe you are ninety.
By all accounts, Resorts Casino appears to have been heavy-handed and degrading in the way they treated their long-term female employees. Another fact: People who work for you a long time don’t like to be treated poorly, especially after they have walked hundreds of miles for you in a smoky casino in high heels and short skirts.
The Playboy Clubs, with their ridiculously-outfitted Bunnies went out of business a long while back, but now there seems to be a Hooters off of every interstate. Is this considered progress? And I don’t think strip clubs or any other similar places of business that degrade women are going away any time soon. Those places are all about disrespecting women to feed into a somehow time-honored and socially acceptable male sexual fantasy.
There are labor laws that protect employees from being fired due to discrimination, but Resorts has stated that they acted within the bounds of legal requirements of hiring and firing. My guess is that no one is going to be flocking there to check out the new hires in their skimpy Roaring ‘20s outfits.
I admire the cocktail waitresses for standing up for their rights. They are obviously as mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore. The lesson for Resorts may be this: Don’t mess with Grandma. Especially a Grandma who has schlepped around for you in high heels, whose bunions are killing her, and who needs her job to make her car payment.