The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Woman Working In Objectifying Job Charged With Being Immodest

Posted by Mel Campbell on August 14, 2009

Geez, you really can’t win, can you? You’re working as a “skimpy barmaid”, a job that requires you to wear a cleavage-revealing bodysuit and French knickers. You go up to take a customer’s order, and then he turns out to be an undercover cop arresting you for “being immodestly dressed on licensed premises”.

This is the absurd predicament facing Megan Brooks, who appeared in Fremantle Magistrates Court today after an incident that occurred at her workplace, the Market City Tavern in Canning Vale, WA, last November. Even the presiding magistrate seemed to think it was a rubbish charge, advising that he was probably going to dismiss the case.

“I just felt like I was doing my job and I don’t think that I was immodestly dressed,” Megan said outside the court. “There’s more important things out there (for police) than sort of sneaking around undercover hoping to catch skimpy barmaids wearing not very much clothing.”

I’m not sure what is more startlingly offensive:

  • the fact that it’s possible to face legal charges (and the associated penalties) arising from the moral judgments of an individual law enforcement officer. I wonder if this aspect of the Liquor Licensing Act was originally drafted to prevent prostitutes from looking for business in bars, pubs and clubs;
  • the fact that a woman is facing these charges over clothing that she is required to wear at work;
  • the fact that her body was nonchalantly discussed publicly in court as if it didn’t belong to a thinking, feeling person.

It’s shameful that when even the magistrate agreed that Megan Brooks probably hadn’t done anything wrong and did not have a case to answer, she was still subjected to the this kind of treatment:

The court was told that the accused was wearing black lace French knickers with a buttock exposed, but [her defence lawyer] Mr Dobson wanted to know which buttock was exposed as well as the extent of the exposure. It was also stated that Ms Brooks’ nipples were erect, although Mr Dobson questioned whether that too was criminal conduct.

Luckily, the incident has not put Megan off working in what WA Today calls “the barmaid industry”. (I wonder if this is a separate industry to “the hospitality industry” that I’d always presumed bar staff work in.)

So far I’ve left aside the issue of whether it’s right or wrong to offer people employment on the basis that they wear skimpy or demeaning clothing. On one hand, I don’t want to be judgmental about the existence of “skimpy barmaid” jobs, because people aren’t obliged to work in a job whose requirements they find repugnant. You wouldn’t take a job as a stripper, for instance, if you weren’t prepared to take your clothes off.

But more realistically, many of the uniforms that rob people of their dignity are in low-paying service-industry jobs typically filled by people who don’t have the luxury of many choices. Take Nando’s, for instance, which requires its mostly young staff to wear sexualised slogan T-shirts that imply they agree with and personify sentiments such as: “I make the chicks hot”, “Chicks rule”, “Take me home, I’m basted” or “I’ve done your chick”.

It’s frustratingly hypocritical that our culture so persistently seeks to turn women into sexual objects, and then seeks to punish a woman for acceding to that objectification.


5 Responses to “Woman Working In Objectifying Job Charged With Being Immodest”

  1. DearAudrey said

    What surprises me is that the individual employee is being charged, not the business which enforces a legally questionable uniform. If the uniform is in question it is not the employee that has done wrong by complying with their workplace policy.

  2. Joe Public said

    There is no mention in the WA Today article that she was arrested. The offence she allegedly has committed is punishable by way of infringement not resulting in a criminal conviction. I would guess in this instance Ms Brooks has elected to have the matter heard in Court, her prerogative but now she is liable to get recorded a Criminal Conviction.

    It is very clear on all Liquor Licenses in Western Australia that the licensees, managers and employes are not to be immodestly or indecently dress on licensed premises. As per the policy set out by the Department of Racing Gaming and Liquor(DRGL).

    It goes on to say that see through material, g-strings and nipple stickers are not permitted, thus being immodest..

    The moral judgement is not made by the Police its made by the court and DRGL.
    The standard conditions on each licence specifically targeting licensees, manager and employees NOT prostitutes.

    Until the Magistrate hears the evidence from the under cover Police he cannot make and judgements in relation to case thus the statements he made a breach of due process.

  3. Annarose said

    Dear god, how did that person above me so blindly miss the point of the article?
    You can’t just say “it’s the law” and shrug it off. Laws can be wrong and unfair. I’m fairly sure with the gift of hindsight you don’t see the White Australia Policy as “just the law”.
    The issue is that she was REQUIRED to wear those clothes by her employer, yet it’s her and not them who’s getting punished for her doing so.
    Um. Erect nipples. How about we punish guys every time they accidentally get an erection?

  4. Kat said

    I would completely support and condone undercover work to determine if an employer is exploiting their staff and encouraging or requiring their staff to break the law.

    But to target individual employees is horrifying. It is the management’s responsibility to ensure that their staff are complying before they let them serve.

    Just like it is the business’s responsibility to ensure that they employ overage staff at a bar (or indeed to ensure sales aren’t made to underage patrons).

  5. Leah said

    ‘It was also stated that Ms Brooks’ nipples were erect, although Mr Dobson questioned whether that too was criminal conduct.’

    I can just see myself in court, ‘Well, it was cold your honour, but I guess I can’t deny it, guilty as charged.’

    This whole situation is insane.

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