I never thought I’d see the day where Paesano was at the centre of any other debate than “is this pizza just great or is it unspeakably great?” Now, I find myself defending the popular Glasgow establishment for a reason that has nothing to do with their food.
A fellow Glasgow Guardian contributor recently wrote a views piece entitled “Paesano Pizza – you don’t pepper-own us”, where she takes issue with the chain’s dessert menu. A full-bosomed pin-up-model-slash-waitress throws her left knee lasciviously in the air, revealing a pair of thigh highs, while carrying a foamy milkshake on her tray. The writer feels that this is “a practical example of what a sexist menu looks like”. I disagree. As we work our way towards gender equality, being and becoming aware of casual sexism and stereotyping remains crucial. Pointing out this particular pin-up model was not.
“Happy New Year everyone – it’s already 2019 and we are still fighting the same old crap we were at the time when pin-up models were actually a thing.” Thus ends Piergiacomi’s piece. And I must ask: if these illustrations are not “a thing” anymore, then why should we take such deep offence at an antiquated cultural symbol? The fact is that pin-up models in contemporary usage are emblems steeped deep in nostalgia. In their almost satirical hyper-sexualisation, they are so far removed from our own political climate that, today, they can hardly be used as an effective example of women’s objectification. If anything, we could only laugh at so blatant and unapologetic an example of the male gaze. But it gets more complicated than that.
We cannot ignore the fact that, in the context in which they emerged, pin-up models were actually markers of sexual liberation in the public sphere. They stood in stark contrast to an image of the submissive and coy housewife, whose desire seemed to consist of the keeping of a tidy house, the rearing of her children, and her husband’s satisfaction. Of course, even at the time there was debate about whether so-called “cheesecake pictures” were emancipating or objectifying. However, many women did recognise that, even though the pin-up was popularised by men, this was a vital chance to become more open and unapologetic about their own sexuality. As modern feminists, we understand better than ever the need to seize control over their own bodies and desires – and as ridiculous as it may seem at first glance, the pin-up model represents a significant step in this direction.
Coming back to the topic at hand: Paesano’s used a pin-up model on their dessert menu. We can argue about whether this type of image was, in fact, sexist at the time it was popularised. And even if we came to the conclusion that it was, it is ridiculous to assume that a single pin-up model is “setting unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies and ‘feminine’ behaviours”, as the writer of the original article put it. I should say that Paesano’s – intended or unintended – pun on “tart” does come across as a bit tasteless. Although I took no offence at it, that is something in Piergiacomi’s piece I can agree with. As for her frustration with the pin-up model, I think it is hugely misguided. If Paesano had pictures of pin-up girls all over the walls, maybe I’d be willing to start a conversation. If the waitresses were actually requested to follow this line of dress and behaviour, I’d certainly be angry. But considering everything I have just mentioned a singular use of a satirical and outdated art form is surely no great cause for concern.
I am painfully aware that feminist thinking is sometimes perceived as being so oversaturated with debate and anger that it has lost its appeal for some altogether. I agree that we cannot stop fighting for equality, no matter how many times we are insulted for doing it. A continuing awareness of the ways in which women are stereotyped and oppressed is supremely important. But going out of our way to point out unhelpful examples like this one might take away from our feminist momentum rather than adding to its positive force.