In the past week, I have had numerous uncomfortable experiences involving the unwanted and highly inappropriate attention from male customers at work. Previously, I worked on the door at a bar and was pretty much harassed by seedy dudes from start to finish of my shift. I was freshly 18 at the time, and thought maybe this was just ‘one of those things’ that bar work included by nature. It seems, though, that these creeps weasel their way into every imaginable establishment; even small family cafes, like the one I currently waitress at.
Picture this: it’s 32 degrees, I’m working next to an oven, hot plate, grill and sandwich press with no air conditioning and can literally feel my make up melting off my face. I am already uncomfortable AF. Anyway, I’m just going about my job when I approach a table to clear it, and this greasy, massive, old (like I’m talking 50-60) disgusting man leans close to me and asks, “do you look this beautiful everyday?” as I am hovering near him to pick up a plate. Do not be confused – it wasn’t like a cute old Grandpa complimenting me on my work ethic or charm – it was a straight up GREASE BALL practically groping me with his eyes and smirk. First of all, I’m a sweaty gross mess – can you not lean close to my face with your googly creep eyes. Second of all, DON’T. HIT. ON. WOMEN. WHEN. THEY’RE. WORKING.
What else could I do in this situation other than half heartedly laugh and abort mission ASAP? Had I been at a club, or in the street, or anywhere else for that matter, I would have told him what a pig he was. It was so unexpected though, and I just wanted to leave the situation swiftly. Reflecting on it now, I bet this old dude is no stranger to harassing girls 40 years his junior when they’re at work. He knows there’s nothing we can do without putting our jobs at risk, so he’s got free rein. I so wish I had sternly told him how inappropriate he was, but in the heat of the moment I just ran.
Fast forward a few days, and I was presented with the question I have only been asked 5 million times before in my life. I take a man’s food out to him, and he has to ask me, he just HAS to know RIGHT NOW: “uuuh you see… I was just wondering, how tall are you?!” he says, in an obviously sexual tone. Let me be clear: I am tall. I have always been tall. I know I am tall. I have been asked daily since about age 7 exactly how tall I am. I’m harassed about my high heel wearing tendencies every single time I strap on my favourite pumps. I literally need to take a business card around with me informing people that a) I’m 5 foot 11, and b) no I don’t play basketball, and c) I will wear whatever shoes I please, but thanks so much for your interest in my genetics and sporting ability.
This situation gets even more brain-numbingly stupid, though, when after I inform him of my exact heigh, he needs more information. Leering at me, with a creepily flirty (but actually just terrifying) smirk on his face, he asks me “how did you get so tall?”. Oh, I don’t know genius, I got bloody leg surgery! I’m a freak of nature. I’m actually a centaur. Like?!?!? Please, dude, just eat your lunch and leave me alone because I ain’t interested.
The weird thing is though, that I had already taken out a plate of food to this table. So this guy has seen me, noted that I am tall (fabulous observation), discussed with his friend that he’s going to ask about my height (thinking it’s a great convo starter?), watched tall old me coming back over, and then asked me the hard hitting questions he just can’t put his finger on. Once again, there was nothing I could feasibly do at work except for tell this guy that “hahaha, you clever man! I was actually BORN THIS WAY! SoOoOoO CRAZY”.
I am so tired of these stories. So sick of being made to feel uncomfortable at work, and frustrated at hearing all of my girlfriends lament about the same thing. In fact, just a few weeks back a 17 year old girl who I work with (and who was actually 16 at the time) was told by an ollllllllllld male customer that she had beautiful eyes, and that he would “say something else [was beautiful], but she was probably not old enough for that”. If can see the girl you’re hitting on is WAY TOO YOUNG FOR YOU TO HIT ON, why the hell do you go ahead and do it anyway? Why, why, why, do boys and men think that this is appropriate behaviour? The shoe is almost never on the opposite foot, so does it just not occur to them how they might feel should they be objectified or sexualised in/at their place of employment, when they are innocently trying to earn money?hy
This issue is unnervingly prevalent. In fact, Good and Cooper (2014) report that the AHRC Report on customer driven sexual harassment found that up to 215,000 Australian workers may have experienced this. Furthermore, the typical encounter of such harassment is usually experienced by a young worker (more often than not, a young female) serving an older male customer one-on-one in a small shop or hotel bar; behaviours may include lewd comments, staring, touching, sexist language or being repeatedly asked out (Good & Cooper, 2014). Generally, it is expected in customer service/retail/hospitality jobs that staff are always friendly and pleasant – this undeniably extends to brushing off work harassment as a joke, as to not jeopardize your employment. Which, frankly, is bullshit for the young girls who get harassed and feel like they can’t do anything to raise the alarm. There seriously needs to be a shift to change this idea that customers harassing workers is harmless and just some innocent fun, and that employees should just cop it on the chin.
So, this is my plea to every person out there who so much as contemplates chatting people up when they’re working: don’t. If they act interested, there’s a 99% chance it’s feigned, forced and highly uncomfortable for them. Save yourself the embarrassment of being one of those guys, and keep your inappropriate thoughts to yourself, tysm.
Good, L & Cooper, R 2014, ‘Voicing their complaints? The silence of students working in retail and hospitality and sexual harassment from customers’, Labour & Industry, vol. 24, no. 4.