How the Internet started a revolution of female whistleblowers

Speaking out about everyday sexism is just a click away.


S.E. Smith

Internet Culture

Published Jul 18, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 10:39 pm CDT

What’s the difference between a hippo and a whale? One’s a marine mammal and the other is a large water-loving beast notorious for being the most deadly animal in Africa, but that’s only if you’re talking biology, not people. When you’re discussing fat people, is a whale someone with gently rippling folds of blubber and a majestic array of baleen? Is a hippo someone short and stout with threatening teeth and a gaping maw? And where do cows fit into this complicated size rubric? Why aren’t plus size retailers the world over using these colorful, descriptive terms in their sizing charts?

Oh, right, because they’re offensive. And they’re frequently hurled as insults at fat women—or women someone decides look fat, regardless as to their actual size. As though being a fat person is a terrible thing. For every shout of “MOOOOO” or “WHALE!,” fat women are reminded that they’re considered disgusting and they should remain at home, wallowing in their own fat folds, not cross the thresholds of their doors and engage with society.

Which brings us, gentle readers, to a mind-numbingly noxious club promoter in Las Vegas, working for Hakkasan in the MGM Grand. He had one simple task: To take a reservation for a bachelorette party who wanted to come to the club to do whatever it is bachelorette parties do in nightclubs. The organizer, a woman who’s experienced after doing this a number of time for her friends, thought it would go smoothly when she reached out to make the reservation and ask to be comped, something many clubs have done in her experience.

What ensued is nothing short of astounding. He proceeded to badger her for photographs of the 15 women attending, including access to their Instagram and Twitter accounts, insisting the club wouldn’t take the reservation unless it got an idea of the caliber of ladies attending. Only, what he specifically said was: “We’re not gonna give comped tables they are with [sic] 850 a bottle total…To random girls…The club will be filled with hippos…That’s not what Hakkasan is about…Be prepare [sic] to show pics to any Hakkasan promoter or host…We don’t comp anything ugly.”

If you think this is bad, he was badgering the poor woman after she said “no thanks” and made it clear she was no longer interested, for which you can hardly blame her, given that he’d just demanded that she provide pictures of the party members to prove they weren’t “hippos.”

“Hot girls will send me pics with the snap of their fingers,” he said, suggesting she had something to hide. “If you don’t know them,” he said, referencing the fact that she was putting together the party for a group of people that included women she hadn’t met, “how do you know they’re not whales or hippos?” Because this is the first thought in every party planner’s mind: Will there be large mammals in the group? Because how do you accommodate a whale in a nightclub? A really big aquarium?

But don’t blame the messenger, the man (identified as “Peter”) tried to say. He included a screepcap of company policy for another nightclub owned by his employer, where information on reserving tables shows that men have to spend at least $4,000 on bottle service—but they don’t have to provide pictures to prove they’re attractive enough to enter the room. Women, meanwhile, don’t just have to provide pictures of themselves; they have to offer up a group photo to the Promoter Gods, as though all the women of a bachelorette party all live in the same region and can easily get together for a picture to reserve their table at some trashy nightclub that won’t let them through the door if they’re not size four or below.

He goes on to say: “If you still wanna checks [sic] out Hakkasan. You can come in through our all girls walk in, if the girls are scary looking. And you can ditch the whales once you get inside to get seated at a table.”

Peter seemed very pleased by this solution to the pressing problem of whether there might be fat women in the party, but the party planner was less impressed. So she took to the Internet.

Something has changed in recent years, courtesy of the power not just of social media but of sites that solicit stories from readers. There’s a huge market for tales of discrimination, and text conversations like this are no longer as frustrating, humiliating, and infuriating as they once were, because it’s much easier to hit back. No doubt she was planning on screencapping the conversation and posting it even as it was occurring, because this guy was even more obviously sleazy and gross than the average club promoter (who isn’t exactly a paragon of respectable behavior).

We all know that club promoters push for a specific “look” in their clubs, and that look primarily includes young, slender, conventionally attractive women, preferably scantily-clad. Those who don’t fit the mold aren’t welcomed, whether at the door or in party planning or in any other setting; members of a NAAFA convention who try to get seats in a nightclub are going to have a tough time. It’s gross and disgusting—and it needs to stop.

This is one of the ways to stop it, because the Internet has made it extremely easy to publicly name and shame people like this. Instead of trying to escalate through Hakkasan’s management, or complaining to a few friends, this woman was able to take her raw story directly to the Internet, embarrassing Hakkasan and forcing the club to respond.

“This type of attitude and communication is totally unacceptable,” Hakkasan said in a statement about the incident. The statement includes the usual platitudes about how it doesn’t want to treat anyone this way but it can’t control every single interaction between staff and customers, and it also adds that Peter has since been terminated. He likely wouldn’t have been, though, if it had been one woman complaining to management. She would have been written off as whiny and irritating, and they might have tried to mollify her with a comped table or other benefits, and that would have been the end of it.

Not so in the Internet era, where women can empower themselves by fighting back when they’re treated like this, instead of having to silently accept it. Suddenly, people who want to make the choice of verbally abusing their female customers have to face much more serious consequences than they did in the past. They, and their employers, can’t escape public judgment

The fat-hating attitudes of nightclub promoters everywhere aren’t going to change overnight because of one incident, but over time, a shift is going to happen. 

Photo via PM Cheung/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 18, 2014, 10:27 am CDT