Objectifying Java Divas

I first came across Java Divas on Pursuit of Harpyness a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. Basically, this new coffee shop has set itself apart from the competition by being sexist. Its staff of all young, attractive girls, dress in skimpy outfits, ranging from bikinis to slut-o-ween get ups to sell lattes and Mexican hot chocolates (perhaps with a whipped cream crown?).

Now, any good little feminist’s brain would have started beeping and flashing and making all sorts of racket with the “objectivism! objectivism!” warning. So of course mine did, and I posted a discussion about it on the Feminist Atheist group over at Atheist Nexus wondering if anyone else also thought the women that worked there were being objectified.

A few intelligent and interesting comments have come up, but there have been two exasperating responses that basically went “Pshah. Those women choose to work there so more power to them!”

To which I roll my eyes and quietly seethe because this business about “choice” is bull crap. The problem isn’t whether to choose or not to choose to work at a job that required you to bare your navel, but that our society promotes the commodification of women. Consider:

1) Economics: confusing “choice” with ultimatum

All jobs are not equal. To use paying for school (whether it’s law school or an average four-year university) as an example: how many options do students have to pay for their education? Work for tips at a diner? As a telemarketer? Work in retail? These hardly seem like viable options when you can make twice or triple that amount of money by removing your clothes, regardless of whether you want to or not.

Further, when one of the few jobs you can find (especially in today’s economy) requires you to remove your clothes (whether it’s at Java Divas or a strip club, or becoming a prostitute or anything else) taking that job isn’t a “choice” but an ultimatum. If you don’t like it, how easy is it to say “I quit” if it’s one of the few jobs you can get?

It’s certainly revealing of how screwed up our society is that to make a large enough wage to pay for an education or just your daily living expenses you are required to objectify yourself. Which brings me to point two:

2) This isn’t even about a woman’s “choice,” it’s about heterosexual male desire

The women at Java Divas conform to a specific body type, as do the majority of women in pornography and strip clubs. Where are the overweight women? What about women with disabilities? Women of color? These venues remove a woman’s agency and promote the buying and selling of a certain standard of “beauty.” Her character, her personality, her intelligence are irrelevant.

That a stripper, for example, can make more money to pay for school than at another job further shows that if you want to get money, you gotta look and act a certain way. How does this promote choice? It doesn’t it takes away choice, especially for other women who do not look and act that way. She can’t get a job at Java Divas if she’s a little overweight because who would want to look at her in a bikini anyway?

What’s more, women (and men) who are considered attractive make more money than plain-looking women and men- and that’s in “normal” jobs where revealing clothes are not required. Places like Java Divas is a more extreme example of rewarding women who sexually appeal to men.

So there’s my rebuttal to the “yeah choice!” clamorers. Thought I’d also ask what you thought of the divas. Are they being objectified?


7 thoughts on “Objectifying Java Divas

  1. Addressing your first point, the viability of one choice is not made invalid by the availability of another choice. People do work through law school waiting tables, thus it is clearly a viable option, one taken quite frequently by all those who would not be paid large sums of money to take off their clothes, and one also taken by many who could receive a large sum but consider the idea objectionable or unpleasant.

    The problem you seem to be posing is that some options are not as pleasant as others, that the high pay might make a person unwilling to quit, but the only reason a person would not quit is if the job on the whole was better then the next best alternative. Their choice is not abrogated by the fact that one alternative was personally deemed superior to others.

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  3. Hello, there. Sorry for the tardy response and thanks for your comment.

    The problem I wanted to address in this post wasn’t the validity of a woman’s “choice” but the fact that American culture is subsumed in sex- especially (though by no means only) sex that appeals to heterosexual men. I explained this in the second point which you can’t divorce from the first.

    Here’s the reason why: American culture deems it acceptable, if it doesn’t outright encourage, the exchange of money for sex. Whether it’s in advertising, in a coffee shop, a club, or where ever.

    Paying a women for looking and/or behaving in an alluring, sexy way encourages people to treat a woman as a sex object. Further, this makes her indistinguishable from another woman because they’re all looking and behaving in the same way. Her intelligence, her character, and her entire agency as a person- things that make a person different from one another, are irrelevant.

    Sometimes the only available means of financially supporting yourself is by commodifying yourself (like being told you have to dress and act “hot”). The fact that this is accepted, this is the problem. Not the very relative pleasantness between jobs.

    • Paying a women for looking and/or behaving in an alluring, sexy way encourages people to treat a woman as a sex object. Further, this makes her indistinguishable from another woman because they’re all looking and behaving in the same way. Her intelligence, her character, and her entire agency as a person- things that make a person different from one another, are irrelevant.

      See my problem is I have difficulty separating that from any job. If you work in any coffee shop people aren’t looking at your intelligence/character/agency as an individual. They are looking at you as a person who gets them coffee. You are indistinguishable from anyone else who gets them coffee.

      If this moves from a sort of benign neglect to hostility then I’d agree there is a problem, but I do not think that is inherent in any way. But most jobs do not involve acknowledging all of the things that make you a person.

      The fact that this is accepted, this is the problem

      But why? If it were not acceptable then the person would have no way of supporting themselves. If the person genuinely has no way to support themselves other than to take a job at a place like java divas isn’t the problem their lack of alternatives, not the issue of their one option? Shouldn’t the story be about the economic conditions not about the people who are fortunate enough to have an alternative?

      Because if things truly are so dire that these women are forced to accept this job, what of all the people who would not be paid large sums of money for walking around in a bikini? They would be in even worse straits.

      Although I agree with you, in regular business, the practice of paying more attractive people more money is unacceptable.

      • But most jobs do not involve acknowledging all of the things that make you a person.

        Maybe not, but most other jobs don’t require you to act as a vehicle for another’s sexual desires.

        I dunno know what else to say here because it seems you’ve completely missed my point. That the problem with objectification, as I tried to explain, isn’t about money or choices. Even if every woman working in a job that somehow objectified her got paid millions of dollars, this would still be a problem. Because in our (American) culture women are so often treated and expected to act like a tool to serve another man’s sexual desires. Not her own sexual desires, but another’s sexual desires.

  4. I am a recovering Java Diva with a few things to say. What follows is a repost of a Note I published on Facebook. Given that my face is everywhere associated with JD, and will continue to be despite my being fired yesterday, I feel that this is my opportunity to speak out:

    “I’ve never been fired before. It feels really awkward, like unresolved. I wish I had moved on organizing my own exit strategy when I had the opportunity to leave with a bit more grace.

    My biggest regret is that when I started, I thought I would be working for a mom and pop establishment with a pro-sex feminist morality and an emphasis on tongue-in-cheek sexuality and pin-up playfulness. In reality, the prevailing attitude among patrons evokes a crassness reminiscent of a Hooters atmosphere, some of the less imaginative “costumes” include a bra and booty shorts (sorry, I know I’m a costume snob!), and the woman owner is present only in the press, and so for all intents and purposes I was working for the Man, her husband. With a name like “McMillion”, how could I have been so duped? Everything about him screams capitalist, heteronormative hegemony. In a place of business where female bodies are openly commodified, submitting and reporting to a father figure fond of scolding one minute and then flirting the next is a recipe for degradation. I knew all this and continued working there anyway, because the money was good and I could express my agency in my creative costume choices and have some fun feeling attractive. But when the male management expressed dislike for my costume choices, preferring that I “conform at least to some degree to the preconceived notions that customers have when they drive up to the coffeeshop”, as in, “Fantasy Tuesday means boudoir fantasy”, not MY fantasy (or something fantastical and flamboyant like a fairy or a Leprachaun), that’s when I knew I had to leave. Don’t think you can take away the one thing that made entertaining boring, leering men worth it and expect me to happily do my job. I am a creative female with a love of costumes and performativity. I am not a fembot with a duty to entertain only on the terms of Mr. Bill McMillion. So that’s why I thank you for firing me. Maybe you thought I’d post this on your FB Group, which is why you blocked me. It’s probably a good thing you did.

    But yeah, sorry I left the window unlocked. Too bad I wasn’t fired for something more scandalous than that.”

    I felt that this was relevant to the discussion in this blog. Feel free to respond, if any posters on this topic are still around.


    • Whoa! I certainly didn’t expect to see you here, too!

      Again, thanks for taking the time to share your story. I posted these comments over at AN, so you needn’t cross-post. I just wanted to throw these out there as Things to Think About:

      Where’s the line between what is objectification and what is not?

      For example, is there anything JD could have done to retain a playful, pro-sex vibe instead of becoming another place that promotes the commodification of women?

      These days, is it even possible to run a business that doesn’t peddle sex, but retains a kinda playful, pro-sex vibe that doesn’t devolve into another venue that objectifies women?

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