Editor’s Note: Yesterday, we ran a story about a new startup called ManServants, which facilitates the rental of “hot men” for $125. As most of the commenters note, the service is incredibly sexist and has no place in a society striving for gender equality.
To examine my thoughts towards the service I took the original post and swapped every instance of a gendered noun. “Man” became “woman.” “Guy” became “girl.” “ManServants” became “WomanServants.” Names were changed. And the entire story become obviously sexist and obscene. Why is it okay one way and not the other? Well, it’s not. Man or woman, we all have a right to be treated as subjects, not objects.
A 6’2″, sandy blond lady wearing a tailored suit and tie gently bows to greet and seat me. “Hello, I am Ginger and I will be your woman servant this afternoon,” she says. Her gentle, hypnotic voice wraps around me. I suddenly realize I’ve been seated and proceed to accidentally knock my sunglasses off the table. Ginger quickly picks them up and then takes out a hand fan to cool me off in the hot afternoon sun. “Fetch me some water?” I ask, getting my bearings. “As you wish,” Ginger replies with a slight smirk.
I’m out on the patio at The Grove in San Francisco’s SoMa with the two young men who started WomanServants, a newly launched startup that lets you hire good-looking young women to do your bidding. Ginger is now holding an umbrella above our heads to shade us as we chat.
The scene seems to have made an impression on a woman sitting a few tables down. “Excuse me, what is this?” she asks, pointing to Ginger. “Is she for real?” The women giggle and say she is. The woman then asks if Ginger is for hire. They tell her that she will do whatever you want, within reason, for $125 per hour. The woman grins, writes down the name of their startup and trots off.
The idea started back when co-founders Joseph Wai Lin and Daniel Khajah were working at advertising agency AKQA. “We hired women to act as bodyguards for our bosses as a joke,” Khajah tells me. “One lady was actually a female stripper but we wanted her to just pretend she was fending them off from the paparazzi. We told her we didn’t want her to take her clothes off. She was so confused,” he laughs. They did this a couple of times with female bodyguards and then started hiring females for their friends’ parties. Their friends loved it so much, and the founders realized they were onto something. WomanServants was born.
Each lady they hire must be extremely pretty and at least six feet tall. Oh, and you get to name them. They asked me what I wanted to name my lady before our meeting. I chose Ginger for silliness but now think I maybe should have named her Kate Upton. That’s a favorite among WomanServants customers.
The women do things like serenade you with Disney songs, rub your feet, take Instagrams of you and your friends, throw doves out when you arrive, fill up your glass of champagne, or act as a general bodyguard against pretend paparazzi. “Some men even want to be proposed to over and over in public,” says Wai Lin. Men have fantasies about the opposite gender just like women do. Though he also adds that women hire the women servants, too. A couple hired a whole flock of them to stand there and look pretty during a gay wedding a couple of weeks back.
WomanServants released a pretty hilarious video that went viral in July to gear up for the launch.
“In the beginning,” the video’s voiceover says in a British accent, “there were strippers. Women’s idea of a pleasurable pastime… but men, who’s idea of sexy is this?” A female stripper thrusts herself on top of a very uncomfortable-looking birthday boy.
The video was so over-the-top when it first came out that I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t until my friend’s little sister actually told me she’d answered a Craigslist ad to try out to be a WomanServant that I realized the startup was an actual thing.
“Isn’t this kind of objectifying women?” I ask the founders. It seemed ironic that I was asking this right in front of Ginger, as if she weren’t there. Ginger fanned on. “Ugh, there are all sorts of services that objectify men like strippers and that topless servant service. It’s time men had something, too. There’s too much for women and no one really thinks about what men want,” Wai Lin points out.
He adds that female strippers are not really the same for women as male strippers. He says female strippers are more of a joke and, according to her, a lot of other men don’t want a female shoving her junk in their faces. They want to be catered to and pampered. The founders are both quick to add that, lest anyone gets the wrong idea on what this is, no sex is involved here, either. “It’s not about domination of the girl but adoration of the guy,” Khajah points out. “The woman is not a slave but a subject to the king,” he says.
But surely someone might get the wrong idea? I press them to tell me if the women are ever hired to perform sexual acts. “Absolutely not,” says Khajah, waving his hands. He says the women are trained to deal with aggressive customers who have the wrong idea, too. “Like if someone says ‘I wanna bang you’ the lady pulls out a toy gun with a flag that says ‘bang,’” he tells me.
You are also not allowed to know the real identity of the female servant. I try to ask Ginger what she does outside of holding umbrellas up in the sun. She looks ready to say something but is quickly shut down by Khajah. “No, no, she can’t tell you,” he says, shaking his head. He tells me this is the equivalent of emotional stripping for the girl. “Men can sometimes get hung up on one of our girls so we have to protect the female,” Wai Lin chimes in.
Khajah rolls his eyes, “We all know that guy, we’ll call him Matt, that just doesn’t get it. This is about catering to you and it’s a fantasy so it blows the fantasy if you know the real them.” None of the girls are allowed to be alone with a customer and all sessions must end before six hours to help customers avoid getting attached. The girls get dressing lessons and tips on how to cater to the men, as well.
The founders are busy expanding their business beyond the borders of San Francisco. They’re also in the middle of raising a seed round of funding and building an iOS app akin to Tinder. Soon you’ll be able to go through and order a woman servant to your liking with just the touch of a button on your phone. There are currently 12 women on staff and the co-founders are looking for more to join. Mai Lin, Khajah and their office manager Frank Pariseau will be at The Annex Studios in SF this Saturday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m. to hold tryouts for any women interested in signing up. Women who look like Kate Upton or Alison Brie from “Community” and know Disney songs are in particularly high demand. “No boobs pics, please,” says Khajah. “We don’t want to have to walk you through the hall of shame,” he laughs. Apparently this has been a problem with some women trying out from a Craigslist ad in the past.
Ginger helps me up as I leave our meeting. She then comments on my good taste in leather shoes. They’re new. Did she really just notice my shoes? I’m still not sure if that was a real compliment or all part of the service.
Editor’s note: Again, the preceding story was just a parody.