In case you missed it, Friday (March 8) was International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is an annual observance that celebrates women’s achievements and shines a spotlight on women’s issues globally, in particular equality or the lack thereof. I wasn’t really thinking about that when I first started writing this post, but in hindsight, it seems appropriate to be publishing this today. Consider this my International Women’s Day post, Vegas style.
This past week, I read this article in the Las Vegas Review Journal about three new “women’s restaurants” being planned for the city. On the surface, creating a restaurant from the female point of view doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. It does provide a balance to horribly offensive chains like Twin Peaks and Hooters whose sole appeal seems to be the size of their waitresses’ breasts.
But if you had asked me what needs to happen to make Las Vegas more woman-friendly, I can honestly say that “restaurants catering to women” would not even have made my top 20. And if it did, it would have very different features than SHe Steakhouse, which features smaller portion sizes and lower calorie food selections (yes, let’s turn food into a gender issue, as if there aren’t just as many obese men in this country as there are women), a fashion show runway (because the notion that all women love to shop isn’t a stereotype or anything), and “seductive female dancers”.
Of course you would want to have “seductive female dancers” in your “restaurant for women,” because having female sexuality shoved in our faces is exactly what women have been missing for so long in Las Vegas culture! Oh thank God this restaurant is finally giving us what we want!
This of course, just triggered my brain to think about what I’d really like to see happen in Las Vegas, as a woman. If Las Vegas really wanted to become a more woman-friendly destination, the answer is not creating isolated “women-focused restaurants”. No, to become more woman-friendly, Las Vegas as a whole needs to stop objectifying women. It needs to stop using women’s bodies to sell things.
How many times have I been forced to view media images announcing new restaurants or entertainment venues that, instead of featuring photos of those places, feature women with unnaturally large breasts about to pop out of their too-tight dresses–or worse yet, wearing nothing but a bikini? No matter how inappropriate it might be, the practice continues because the Vegas motto is “sex sells”. But you may notice that their definition of sex is limited to women’s bodies.
I might give Las Vegas a pass if they were selling the fantasy of sex for all sexual preferences, and had half-naked men on display in equal number to half-naked women. It wouldn’t make me comfortable, but at least it would be fair. Lots of women (and gay men) visit Las Vegas, and our money is just as green as anyone else’s. So how come Vegas doesn’t have half-naked male pit dancers and cocktail waiters? How come the porn slappers aren’t advertising “men direct to your room”?
I think we all know the answer to that.
Last month, on Valentine’s Day, there was a piece of performance art on Fremont Street by local activists to draw attention to the objectification of women. The point of the performance was to demonstrate how oversexualization and objectification of women leads to violence against women. I applaud what they were trying to do with this, but I knew even as I read the article it was a complete waste of time in a city like Las Vegas.
Vegas is too busy making money off women’s bodies to pay any attention to how that particular economy damages women. What’s even more disturbing to me is how many young women have bought into this paradigm of using their bodies as a commodity. Instead of getting an education and learning skills and doing good in the world, they’re focused on using their bodies to manipulate men into giving them everything they want. Why else do we see so much botox and plastic surgery (at alarmingly young ages!), women mutilating their bodies to try to fit some ideal image of beauty that was constructed by men–not for our benefit, but for theirs?
Do you know how women dress when we’re hanging out with our girlfriends and there are no men around? We wear comfy clothes and flats without makeup. But add men into the mix, and suddenly, we (heterosexual) women are cramming ourselves into uncomfortable dresses that display too much cleavage and wearing four-inch heels that leave our feet raw and sore at the end of the night–all so that we can appeal to the way men want women to look.
Can women enjoy Las Vegas then?
Yes, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t keep going back. But we need to willfully ignore all the signs that our gender is being treated like pieces of meat in a butcher shop window. Which requires a little hypocrisy, I guess. I have always been treated with respect, even though (or perhaps because) I don’t play those games of using my body to get my way. I pay for my own meals, drinks, and other expenses. I expect to be treated like a human being, and I am. The oversexualization and objectification of women is something I have learned to tolerate in order to enjoy the city, the same as I have to tolerate all the cigarette smoke in the casinos and the drunken idiots staggering down the sidewalk at 10 am. But it’s not always easy.
As you can see, this whole exercise has fanned the flames of my latent feminism. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to tackle the topic in this blog. To answer the question in the title, no, Las Vegas is not woman-friendly. But it could be.
If Las Vegas really wants to become more woman-friendly, here are a few suggestions:
- More women in positions of power, making decisions–not just in government, but also in the casino-resorts and entertainment industry.
- Treat all women with respect as human beings, despite what their bodies look like or how they’re dressed.
- Create an economy that no longer treats women’s bodies as money-making commodities.
- Educate our young men and our young women–in a systematic way–about how oversexualization and objectification of women’s bodies does lead to violence and oppression against women.
- Crack down on violence against women.
- Create a woman-friendly bar and nightclub environment where women don’t have to worry about being slipped date rape drugs.
- Stop using female customers as “lures” to get men to spend money in nightclubs and topless pools.
- Abolish the exploitation of women’s bodies in advertisements and other media.
- Remove any and all pamphlets, tee shirts, and signs announcing “girls direct to your room”.
- Remove giant billboards featuring half naked women.
- No more cocktail waitresses dressed like dominatrixes or sex kittens.
- No more half-naked pit dancers.
I’ve got more suggestions, but this blog post is long enough as it is. Don’t worry, next week I’ll get back to our “regularly scheduled program” here on the blog. I just needed to get this out of my system.