Wednesday, October 01, 2008

And Have You Ever Heard of a Singing Waitress?

They were two lawyers and I have a legal background too, so talk turned to workplace discrimination and the reasons why the more expensive restaurants have few if any female waiters and the legal implications thereof. The hardest part is staying on your feet all day, so the reason can’t be physical. Yet have you heard of any lawsuits? Which reminded me, diners always have waitresses, at least in the movies.

So, what’s going on? And has a man ever successfully applied for a waiting job at Hooters? Bonus question: Would he have to wear that uniform?


WDS said...

Nope, no hairy male waiters at Hooters.,9171,987169,00.html?promoid=googlep

Michael Reimer said...

My wife is a foodie so we've eaten at some of Toronto's most expensive restaurants, and we've had more female than male waiters at those. This is only anecdotal of course, but are you reacting to a Japanese phenomenon here, or...?

Jun said...

WDS: I like to say, every thought that I have about anything has been thought of before by the people who do that thing for a living. That’s an interesting lawsuit to say the least. Does it settle the matter once and for all—for all men, born and unborn? In Chicago? Illinois? The entire United States of America? I assume that this was tried in a federal court, thought the report is maddeningly silent on this point. A good journalist would have included that. And now, what about Playboy Bunnies?

Michael: Washington. And New York. The lawyer who raised the point about the dearth of male waiters in expensive restaurants has been based in Washington for most of her working years. If anyone’s is an expert on expensive restaurants, a Washington lawyer…

Her theory is that the head waiters there hire people whom they know, friends, relatives, and people who look like them. And so the male dominance self-perpetuates. The corollary of this is that at a less expensive restaurant, the tips are smaller and are therefore less desirable as a workplace; it would have to be more flexible in hiring. A diner would offer even less of “a man’s job”. Of course in the United States, there are always minorities and immigrants, which complicates the situation, particularly at the low end.

I’d never thought about this, even it immediately made sense, since my three-year experience in New York—and movies—told me the same thing as soon as I heard it. I think the fact that the lawyer is a woman—of my generation at that—makes her more sensitive to this point. No, I don’t think that this is the case in Japan.

Incidentally, there’s a broader point here about how discrimination may continue even when formal barriers are eliminated and there is no conscious effort to maintain informal ones. Female umpires? Unthinkable Unthinkable, that is, until there is one. That’s not right! Then there is a deluge. Okay, we’re still waiting for that one.

Jun Okumura said...

The Jun who made the last comment and I are the same person. I happened to be logged on under a different account at the time.

Michael Reimer said...

Jun: I guess I have to swallow my pride and admit that Toronto's top restaurants are not in the same echelon as those in Washington and New York. At least, that's what a quick gander at the world top 50 suggests. Until our iron chef Susur Lee moved to NY, his restaurant was Toronto's highest-rated. We were served by a woman there - I wonder how his place in NY is staffed.

Incidentally, there’s a broader point here about how discrimination may continue even when formal barriers are eliminated and there is no conscious effort to maintain informal ones.

The broader point is just that you can't legislate culture, isn't it? Gender discrimination was cultural before it was institutional, and changing the latter is the easy part.

Jun Okumura said...

Michael, my guess is that Toronto ranks somewhere between New York and Washington. Washington has a rather poor reputation as far as wining and dining goes. It’s almost impossible to treat government officials. I’m not sure how Congressmen and their staff are bound by ethical rules, but I assume that they are more easily impressed than traders, brokers, fund managers and other high-flying people in the New York. Having lived in Brasilia and traveled to Rio and São Paulo in a previous incarnation, I have further reason to believe that in a reasonably functional economy, it is the private sector—not the government—that supports a vibrant culinary culture.

And yes, you can put it that way. There are so many issues historical, cultural, legal, moral and otherwise here that there must be libraries full of books on this subject, gender and otherwise.

Janne Morén said...

The point of "like hires like" is very well established of course.

Another just possible part reason might be competitiveness. Today, men are more competitive on average than women (a cultural thing, not genetic, and I'm living proof of its opposite), and these kind of waiter jobs do sound rather competitive to get and to keep.

Overall, and without disparaging the waiting profession, you don't normally go into the field if you're aggressive about your career, so I would expect this broader cultural difference to assert itself much more strongly than in the field of law where everyone, male or female, is aggressively competitive almost by default.

Jun Okumura said...

Maybe. But to give another example, the medical profession is a difficult, highly competitive profession to get into, yet according to this statistic, almost as many women (7,922) as men (8,217) graduated from U.S. medical schools in 2007. Is it because medicine attracts people who are “aggressive about [their] career”? If so, as a general rule, shouldn’t all high-paying, high-prestige jobs that do not require heroic heavy lifting attract a relatively gender-neutral group of aspirants? CPAs? Security analysts? Fund managers? In fact, I’m sure that in the U.S. at least, you’ll see a very uneven gender distribution from occupation to occupation that makes it very difficult to separate any effects of “differences in aggressiveness” from those of the more visible, historical/cultural explanations.

And what about the other end of the spectrum, the occupations where “you don't normally go into the field if you're aggressive about your career”? You’ll find more men cleaning latrines in New York than you do in Tokyo. In fact, one of the things about Japan that startle gaijin is going into a public toilet and having a woman come in and start cleaning the place. Note that the male attendants in New York are predominantly minority members. Are blacks and Hispanics less aggressive than whites (and Asians)?

Aggressiveness may be a factor. But it’s surely at most only one of the many character traits that determine the level of success at an occupation that requires interpersonal skills. Massively uneven gender (or race for that matter) distribution up and down a specific area of job hierarchy is most likely attributable to cultural/historical reasons that have little to do with any specific psychological difference between the sexes. In fact, my guess is that much of what has traditionally been seen as a feminine lack of aggressiveness should be attributable to cultural and historical forces.