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Sep. 25 2009 - 12:17 pm | 16 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Should I be more upset about bikini-clad baristas?

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a Facebook link to a news story about five baristas near her home being arrested for prostitution. Now, prostitution is understandably a controversial topic. But I was surprised at the wave of comments the link set off among other women – and their anger wasn’t directed at what the ladies were being charged with, rather, it was at the proliferation of these “bikini baristas”: Girls who serve coffee, usually at stand-alone, drive-thru locations, in bikinis or lingerie.

These stands have been around for a couple years in the Pacific Northwest – where people take their coffee very seriously. They’ve now sprung up in other locations throughout the country, including Southern California. Perhaps I’ve been out of Oregon and living in Los Angeles for too long, but when I first heard about these stands, I thought them more silly than offensive – and I still do. After all, asking girls to don negligees in a part of the country that rains nine months out of the year is, you have to admit, just a little bit funny. And the fact that people generally drink coffee in the early morning, not late at night, makes it even more absurd.

So, am I missing something here? Certainly the prostitution charges are disturbing – but if you’re only considering the legal bikini coffee shops, am I wrong to not be more outraged by them, as the other women who commented on my friend’s link were? I’ve always considered myself a pretty staunch feminist, so I was surprised that I didn’t share these women’s anger.

But consider this: The women are generally working in separate structures from the people they’re serving, meaning there’s not much chance that a customer could cross the line and try to cop a feel. Since the stands operate as drive-thrus, they’re only spending at most, four or five minutes in front of each car. And they’re serving coffee, not alcohol, so there’s no added threat of men getting drunk and acting overly aggressive (not that men need to be drunk to act that way).

I don’t think it’s a particularly classy career choice, but I’m not sure that these women even rise to the level of Hooters girls. So please, educate me. Should I be more angry about this?

MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES

MIKE SIEGEL / THE SEATTLE TIMES


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  1. collapse expand

    I find this creepy on several levels. People working these jobs aren’t making the big bucks so it might be the best they can do for now…do you really think they volunteered to do this? I find the idea stupid; why should a little T and A be necessary to sell a damn latte?

    I’d rather do almost any job that “allowed” me to keep my chest to myself than strip down in this fashion. Do they get $10 tips tucked into their bustiers like strippers do?

    Yuck.

  2. collapse expand

    Yeah, I kinda think you should be a bit more angry. The guys–I assume its mostly guys–going for a cup-a-joe and hoping for a little cup of jane take their coffee and go back home, to school or the office, or maybe go pick up their kids.

    Do you think they are going to look at you the same way as they would had they gone to a Dunkin Donuts?

    • collapse expand

      On one level, I know you’re right, Todd. But I lived in the Pacific Northwest for 18 years and trust me, there is no shortage of regular coffee shops if these girls wanted to work at one of them. Shouldn’t we be at least a little resigned to the fact that, as much as we might disapprove, some girls like the attention that showing off their bodies brings? As long as they’re in a safe environment, I’m still not convinced that it’s that bad.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Ms. Libby,

    Scantily clad women being used as objects to attract male customers? Gee, I hardly know where to begin. I have been to plenty of street fairs where similarly clad women were giving out free samples of beer, also from a booth. Topless bars have been around for what, 40 years? There is nothing exactly new here is there? Does it perpetuate the objectification of women’s bodies? Probably. Is it at the top of the list problems facing the women today, probably not. Topless bars were quite the rage once but the novelty wore off and it is tough to find one now. Bikini clad barristas will make like a fad and fade too.

  4. collapse expand

    I’m a little torn on this. Upon first read, I actually didn’t think this was a big deal at all. Maybe it’s Southern California infecting my soul (which I think it does), but I was thinking about all the times that there are girls who aren’t fully dressed at beach based businesses or fund raising car washes that I really don’t think twice about. I understand that there’s clearly a difference between working on the beach or at a car wash, two places where it makes sense to be wearing less clothes because of the location and prevalence of water that leaves nothing to a guy’s imagination (but yet, he still manages to do worse inside the confines of his brain), than a coffee shop, but I still didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

    After clicking the links, I can see where the outrage is, at least in the case of Everett, where there was clearly more than coffee being served. Personally, I don’t find anything particularly offensive with the Hooters model of kitschy food service if all that’s going on is some revealing outfits, casual flirting, and horrible pickup lines. However, the girls charging customers to touch them and watch them strip ($80 sounds like a lot to me, random side note) in Everett, two items which I’m pretty sure are not on the menu, turns this situation into a very different one than the coffee shop in Torrance, which seems like it’s just a drive thru coffee shop with girls in bikinis.

    Clearly, there are different levels of decency that everyone can tolerate, but I find the Torrance version to be no more offensive than the shirtless dudes (“Brand Reps”) that stand in front of Abercrombie and Fitch with their bulging muscles and visible underwear. You can say “But they sell clothes, not food!” But if they sell clothes, shouldn’t they wear them? I haven’t been there for a while, but as far as I know they’re not selling models, personal waxing products, or workout tapes. Personally, I don’t enjoy being greeted by these guys when I walk by the store, but I’m sure many women get a kick out of it, and don’t think twice about the guys’ feelings. The girls in these shops were confident enough to sign up for the gig in the first place, knowing what they’re getting into, and while the context is a little different, I don’t think it’s any more offensive than things that we have already become accustomed to seeing. I do think that there is definitely a problem “brewing” (that was good) because their uniforms are clearly not conducive to them handling hot coffee, which is just begging for a lawsuit at the first major spill.

    I think it comes down to the age old proverb, “Look, but don’t touch” that separates outrage from a silly gimmick.

  5. collapse expand

    Much of the female exhibitionism we see nowadays is an unintended byproduct of the women’s liberation movement. It’s women enjoying power over men. Tit for tat, if I may. Most of the exhibitionism seems kinda fun and silly and harmless, not unlike a visit to McDonalds. It also seems unavoidable, male sexuality being what it is, female too, but I wonder what this kind of commodification does to the quality of male-female relationships in the broader picture.
    And then, what happens to women’s identities later in life when they no longer get “the attention (or money) that showing off their body brings”? What happens when men stop looking? And what happens to men when they find their wives are no longer the eye candy they had contracted for.
    Maybe Islam, in the general, has it right in demanding that women dress modestly. And to undress only for someone you’re married to/(in love with). Kinda hard to take a woman seriously who flashes for money masquerading as empowerment. Isn’t this the lie that ho’s tell themselves?

  6. collapse expand

    Bad business, I say. When the LPGA started using the Wilhelmina 7 (a group of LPGA players that also model) to increase interest in the sport, they in effect ensured that they would no longer be known for golf (of course none of the 7 have ever won a golf tourney).

    The companies using bikini baristas are in effect ensuring that they have no real competitive advantage going forward. When the novelty wears off, they’re done. And good riddance.

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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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