I’ve been wanting to post about this subject for a while- and after a long thought process about how exactly to put it out there, I think it’s time. It definitely fits into the “what I’m scared to do” category for the lack of anonymity as well as the potential kickback of opinions. But here it is, in my own words & experiences- and I’m looking forward to hearing what others feel.
It’s nearly impossible lately to go a day without hearing another sordid tale of sexual harassment and misconduct. Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, & most recently Hedley (whom, general opinions aside, I had the pleasure of meeting recently) are just a few of the most recently accused and ostracized. What baffles me the most is that with all the outrage surrounding this controversy, why is no one talking about different sectors of business and employment- namely, the service industry? Keep in mind that I am only able to speak from my own experience (which, to be fair, is extensive) and though I am in no way condoning this behavior, I may have a unique outlook on the issues presented due to it being my chosen career path.
First, for the uninformed, here’s a quick breakdown (high to low)of seniority in the majority of establishments: General Manager, Chef, Managers, Security (if applicable), Bartenders, Servers, Support Staff. This is a male-leadership industry with female-dominated staffing. Think about any restaurant/bar you’ve been to. Chances are, the management (& security, but that’s a different issue) staff is comprised of primarily men, with the majority of servers being women. Note: This is NOT the rule, but it is heavily weighed on one side. Why this pattern exists so prominently is not my concern, though it does provide a foundation for my thoughts.
Ask anyone who’s ever worked in this incestual industry- we will have something to say about sexism or harassment in one way or another. And in my experience, the majority of us discuss it with a flippant, almost humorous attitude. It’s a way of life- so ingrained in our industry that most of us don’t even consider it “harassment.” Yet- that’s precisely what it is. And the general, unspoken rule is “fit in, or fuck off.” In all fairness, I belong quite happily in the former category. I am a joking person by nature- never taking anything or anyone (including myself) too seriously. I enjoy being “one of the guys” and holding my own in the generally mysoginistic banter that resides in every kitchen around the world. However- because I’ve been doing this for so long- I forget that at it’s core, deeply buried under habitual traditions of stress & humor, the service industry is a hotbed of offense & hypocrisy.
Aside from the general attitude that “sex sells” (which it truly does… I mean- I pay my bills in heels & a push up bra), and the constant awareness of being totally replaceable (“are you looking to lose shifts? Lol!”), there is a massive undertone of hypersexuality and blurred boundaries. I have been called names, had my sexual preferences questioned, been touched and spoken to aggressively, and leered at so often (all under the guise of “humor”) that now I see it as strange when it doesn’t happen. And I’m not talking about guests (which is another discussion entirely), I’m talking about peers & superiors alike. Full Disclosure: I participate wholeheartedly in returning this behavior to the boys- I’m simply drawing attention to the fact that this behavior is rampant and accepted all over the place. Between men and women, men and men, and women themselves- the blame is shared across the board.
I have been told that I have to fit through a cardboard cutout of a thin girl to keep my job. I have been the target of overtly sexual innuendos (“gravy? I’ll give you my gravy, baby”). I have been told to hike my skirt up and pull my top down. I have been asked to pick something up that was dropped “accidentally” and then aggressively cat called. All in the interest of “jokes” or “flattery”- and all before lunch. I guarantee that some of you reading this who work in the industry are recalling your own experiences as I recount mine, probably with a sense of humor… and possibly a growing sense of discomfort. Interesting, isn’t it? How our games of slap-ass and sexual overtones are so commonplace that even identifying them as what they are- harassment– is an uncomfortable admission.
I have incredible managers and teammates. I will never say otherwise. I am so fortunate to do the work I do and I truly love it. And like I said before– I play into it every damn day. The purpose of this post is to bring awareness and accountability to what we do, every day. To inform newcomers to this industry that it’s not all money and liquor and free french fries. To point out to veterans & senior staff that this exists and can be overwhelming and scary to some. And to remind everyone that though this behavior is normalized, that doesn’t mean it’s normal (or acceptable).
Know your worth, know your limits, & be confident in your boundaries and actions. Own your shit, and stand up for what you believe in. Someday, instead of being objectified for our bodies, we (as equals in this industry) will be respected for our skills. Until then, I’ve got 2 bras on and a smile for anyone who slides me a free dessert.