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Let’s play a quick round of a game I just invented called Is This Perverted and Misogynistic Or Is This Fine, Actually? The subject is an eatery in Manchester called Animaid that describes itself as “the UK’s only maid cafe.” What’s a maid cafe? Well, if you want to read various academic studies dissecting the phenomenon, they’re available on Google – but the quick and dirty version is that they’re cafes that feature waitresses dressed up like maids, in exaggerated uniforms, who interact with customers in character, sometimes calling them “master”. They’ve been around since the 1990s in Japan and were inspired by dating simulation video games. While they initially catered to male nerds (“otaku”, as they’re known in Japan), they have become more mainstream.
Young women performing exaggerated submissiveness? I mean … it kinda screams Perverted and Misogynistic to me. And I’m not the only one getting those vibes. The Animaid cafe caused quite a stir online after a local councillor saw its “no touching” policy displayed in the window and tweeted: “What fresh hell is this in Manchester?” Vigorous discussion ensued and Graham Linehan, once known as the creator of Father Ted and now known for his obsession with transgender people, dubbed it “a Hooters for incels”. Which, credit where it’s due, is a nice turn of phrase. But I’ve always thought the Hooters for incels was just called Hooters.
Anyway, is our game now over? Did Perverted and Misogynistic win? I’m not completely sure. The backlash has been followed by a passionate defence from various quarters arguing that the whole thing is Fine, Actually. The Mirror did an in-depth report into the cafe arguing that, rather than being a den of depravity, “staff say their family-friendly cafe is for anime-lovers to have a safe space to hang out”. Meanwhile, it seems that all publicity is good publicity and business is now booming.
My final verdict? I hate to say this – I know this sort of thing is very unfashionable these days – but I suspect the truth about Animaid isn’t black or white but has some nuance. Terribly inconvenient when that happens.
What fresh misogynist hell is this? Why a new ‘maid’ cafe is causing a ruckus | Arwa Mahdawi
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