This is what a feminist looks like?

"I don't think these girls are feeling exploited."

By Page Rockwell
Published July 20, 2007 7:30PM (EDT)

Have you heard the one about the feminist titty bar? Well, you have now: The July 23 issue of the New Yorker brings us a profile of Hawaiian Tropic Zone, a bikini-themed restaurant in Times Square, and its owner and CEO, avowed feminist Dennis Riese. Sensing something wrong with this picture? Riese is here to set you straight. Sure, the "girls of the zone" may be "sporting exclusive Nicole Miller-designed fuchsia bikinis and floral sarongs [while they] serve as 'Table Concierges' to attend to patrons' every dining need and star in a nightly beauty pageant to engage the guests." And maybe the light fixtures and salt-and-pepper shakers are shaped like breasts. Riese -- whose company owns a bunch of other restaurant chains, including T.G.I. Friday's and the late Chi-Chi's -- still maintains that the Zone is basically a feminist enterprise. And he's miffed that financial heavyweights like Morgan Stanley no longer allow their employees to entertain clients at the restaurant.

"I'm such a feminist. I love women and believe in them," he tells reporter Louisa Thomas. "Women like sexy. Talk about empowerment and feminism! There's nowhere offering women sexy in the way they would like it to be -- classy sexy!" Later, he elaborates, "Beautiful women use these attributes of theirs to get up in life. I don't think these girls are feeling exploited. If a bunch of guys are coming in and ogling them, it's because they're guys and those are girls! And that's part of our biological nature." I'm guessing Riese would call himself a sex-positive feminist.

The whole thing is pretty much a hoot. (As further evidence of his urge to empower women, Riese cites the restaurant's "feminine colors" and the menu's many diet-friendly options.) But restaurants with scantily clad wait staff are a dime a dozen; what's really funny is that Riese is choosing to beat the feminist drum. I can't decide whether it's a microscopic sign of progress or a sign of the apocalypse. Probably Riese is craftily waving the feminist flag as a cover for the T&A aspect of his enterprise -- or, who knows, maybe he's genuinely falling prey to the misconception that finding the female body erotic, generally being in favor of women existing and/or catering to a female clientele are the same as being a feminist. Either way, it's weird to hear him enthusiastically embracing a touchy term that even Hillary Clinton treats with caution. What's next, Joe Francis in a "This is what a feminist looks like" hoodie? Hugh Hefner on the cover of Bitch? It's like the whole world's turned upside down.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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