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Ordinance Restricting Bikini Baristas On City Council Agenda Again


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By Kelly Rae Mathews

Today Ordinance No. C35258 introduced by City Councilors Mike Fagan and Mike Allen regarding bikini barista stands and standards of public exposure for adult businesses comes before Spokane City Council. Restrictions on the bikini barista stands have been put before City Council before, and have not passed.

The current ordinance is considered a compromise with more restrictive ordinances of the past, but still requires coffee stands featuring servers with privates exposed to have a sign warning potential customers they may be encountering a server who is in not much more than their birthday suit.

This has the potential to draw business away from the coffee stand, some say.

The other important segment of the new proposed ordinance is that coffee stands featuring bikini baristas will not be allowed to be seen inside from a school or park or other public place where impressionable children may be present.

Some of the previous ordinances that did not pass trying to restrict the baristas had to do with health codes and with zoning ordinances regarding “adult” stores being applied to those drive thru convenience coffee spots attracting customers who wanted to enjoy looking at people who aren’t wearing much serving their coffee.

The issue of coffee baristas both locally and throughout the state has gained national attention over the years with news segments, for example, on ABC and an article in Jezebel.

An article in Jezebel, a well-known sex positive online feminist journal came to the conclusion that as much as the writer wished we lived in a world where women and beauty and sex appeal were not commodified, the reality is we do, and as long as there is a demand for services such as bikini baristas and workers feel properly compensated, they can make a decent living.

Indeed, in more than one news piece, such as one by Erika Prins, and televised news segments, the baristas make more than double or triple the usual barista pay, even up to $120 in one hour.

Many people are also fairly surprised to learn the majority of coffee businesses are run and owned by savvy, independent women here in Spokane.

Locally as well, some bloggers and writers who are proactive politically wrote about the issue, at times satirizing the major council member who has taken on the majority of ordinance proposals in order to shut down, censor, or change the bikini barista stands, Mike Fagan.

The ABC news segment, which was fair to the owners of the coffee stands, as well as the baristas working there, also featured the moms who have more than once tried to stop the businesses being able to advertise where children can see them, especially recently in regards to one of the businesses being located near a grade school.

Still, though, the question remains, regarding normalizing of men being without shirts not being indecent but women being without shirts problematic from a feminist point of view. There is no reason why men should be able to take their shirts off and walk all over downtown for instance, some would say, and not be charged with public indecency yet the bikini baristas who are making money off of it and providing a service they are well-paid for are being punished.

Hot Cuppa Joe, a stand featuring shirtless men, gets nowhere near the press as the women. Because it’s normalized and women’s breasts have been sexualized. Well, that’s not the women’s problem. It’s society’s.

The laws as they currently exist regarding nudity and decency in Spokane:

Chapter 10.06 Offenses Against Decency and Morality

Section 10.06.025 Indecent Exposure

  1. A person is guilty of indecent exposure if he intentionally makes any open and obscene exposure of his person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.
  2. Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor unless such person exposes himself to a person under the age of fourteen years in which case indecent exposure is a gross misdemeanor on the first offense and, if such person has previously been convicted under this subsection or of a sex offense as defined in RCW 9.94A.030, then such person is guilty of a class C felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW. (RCW 9A.88.010)
Kelly Rae Mathews
Kelly Rae Mathews
Kelly Rae Mathews grew up in culturally and faith diverse San Diego, Calif. during the 70s and 80s before moving to Spokane in 2004. Growing up in a such a diverse environment with amazing people, led Mathews to be very empathetic and open to the insights of many different faiths, she said. She loves science fiction and this also significantly contributed to and influenced her own journey and understanding of faith and values. She agrees with and takes seriously the Vulcan motto, when it comes to faith and life, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations." Therefore, it is no surprise she has a degree in anthropology as well as English. She has studied the anthropology of religion and is knowledgeable about many faiths. She completed an anthropological research project on poets of the Inland Northwest, interviewing over two dozen poets, their audiences, friends, family members, and local business community who supported the poetry performances. Mathews gave a presentation on How Poets Build Community: Reclaiming Intimacy from the Modern World at the Northwest Anthropological Conference, at the Eastern Washington University Creative Symposium, the Eastern Washington University Women's Center and the Literary Lunch Symposium put on by Reference Librarian and Poet Jonathan Potter at the Riverfront Campus. She was a volunteer minister in San Diego for about 10 years while attending college and working in various editorial positions. Her articles, poems and short stories have appeared in Fickle Muse, The Kolob Canyon Review, Falling Star Magazine, Acorn, The Coyote Express, The Outpost and Southern Utah University News.

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9 years ago

OK, I never thought I would be commenting on a FAVS article about bikini baristas…

Nice job Kelly!
Especially “Because it’s normalized and women’s breasts have been sexualized.”

So many things in life are like TV.

There are a million different channels, with thousands of different subjects and interests, if I don’t like a channel I just don’t watch it. I change channels.

So many issues in life, that should never be issues, should amount to nothing more than changing channels.

If you don’t like something don’t watch it or do it. Pretty easy to exercise that freedom of choice while not infringing upon the freedom of others.

Thanks Kelly

Charlie Byers
Charlie Byers
9 years ago

Great write-up, Kelly. I’m still of two minds on this topic. On one hand, I think it’s silly to put so much thought into what baristas are wearing on the job. On the other hand, I don’t agree with the ‘change the channel’ metaphor Brien used. I lived in Las Vegas for many years, and I’d hate to see Spokane turn into another place where the wall-to-wall visual culture speaks such a single-minded message to women and girls, that they’re just ‘entertainment’. It’s absolutely appropriate for a city council to make rules about zoning, in a wide sense, and I’d love it if there were clear rules about what kinds of advertising these shops could put up in sight of schools or playgrounds.
And, ‘on the third hand’: this is a problem you solve by giving young women *more* choices, not fewer. Trying to legislate the details is a losing game. I hope the council is taking this issue as a reminder that there are lots of educated, driven young people in Spokane who need good jobs.

9 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Byers

Great comment Charlie.

I completely agree that advertising for many adult oriented things should be restricted by zoning. Never permitted in school or playground areas.

I know that the Spokane Valley council at one time passed a moratorium on adult businesses (bookstores, exotic dance clubs) not sure if it is still in effect.

Maybe stricter zoning rules for advertising and moratoriums is the way to go.

Enjoy your week,

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