Catalogue of a Bar-maid

You couldn't make this crap up.

‘Oi love, you wanna fuck?’

There has been a lot of attention given to misogyny and sexual abuse in the media over the past few months, precipitated by the horrific revelations about Jimmy Saville and the subsequent investigations into a ‘culture of abuse’ that existed in the 60s and 70s. The implication is that such a culture no longer exists- it is confined to the past, because to identify it in the present would be to confront some harsh and disturbing realities about the way men treat women, and also about the way women have been encouraged to treat other women.

 

Amongst the disturbing and sickening revelations were allegations of endemic abuse of female staff at the BBC, and news that an inquiry would be launched into this ‘culture of abuse’. Disclosures of molestation, groping, sexual threats towards female staff by men in authority were shocking, but sadly not surprising. I am grateful to and proud of those women who spoke out about their experiences, because the louder we are the harder it is to ignore us. What does worry me is the notion that such behaviours and attitudes were confined to the BBC, an impression not helped by the glee with which certain Daily Mail type newspapers reported the BBC’s troubles. As I said before, this abuse culture is not confined to the past and nor is it confined to the BBC. Sexual mistreatment of female staff is endemic in many industries and institutions. I’m defining sexual mistreatment quite broadly, because the problem extends beyond actions of abuse to the responses to it; ignoring complaints about sexual harassment by staff, arguments that it’s ‘part of the job’ to be groped and verbally abused and genuine disregard for the right to dignity at work. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked what the company’s policy is on sexual harassment of staff only to be told ‘there isn’t one’- to me that is wilful sexual mistreatment of a large proportion of the workforce, and it’s done for profit. I’m writing to Head Office about this, and I will post the letter I send plus any replies on the blog, but it will include requests for better training for managers to deal with this, signs in the pubs saying that this behaviour will not be tolerated and a commitment from senior employees to act on our complaints not just ignore us.  If this kind of behaviour, from both managers and customers, is confronted and not tolerated, it could start a snowball of change. It seems to me that bars are almost the front-line in confronting misogyny and abuse of women, because men seem to think that bar-staff are ‘fair game’ in a way that they don’t think about women in shops or High-Street banks. I’ve never heard a female supermarket employee be told to smile more, or that she’d be smiling if she ‘got fucked hard tonight’.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about what causes people to behave in this way, and there have been a couple of articles in the press this week that pretty much sum up what I’ve been thinking. First, this article by Christina Patterson appeared in the Independent yesterday http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/yes-page-3-is-bad-for-women-but-so-are-the-photos-in-ok-magazine-8492193.html and today Hadley Freeman follows on in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/12/murdoch-page-3-sexism-media. Both of these focus on Page 3 as a regressive and misogynistic aspect of the British media, but I particularly liked Christina Patterson’s suggestion that the commodification of women’s bodies has gone beyond selling tits and sex to men and onto selling perfection-by-proxy to other women. I would agree that both are equally harmful when it comes to battling sexism in the street and in the workplace, because it has created an environment in which women’s bodies exist to be judged, commented upon and objectified. It has created a norm that it’s fine to assess a woman’s body and report to her what that assessment is. It means that a man can walk past me in the street and call me a ‘fucking whore bitch’ for ignoring him when he shouts ‘oi love, you wanna fuck?’ or that a man can stop me in the street and shout ‘FIT’ so close to my face that his spit lands on my cheek. It means that my managers at work tell me to put up and shut up when customers comment on my body, or even grope me.

I’m fed up of being an object, a pawn in a man’s ploy to enrich himself at the expense of my welfare, and the welfare of the thousands of other women who work for him. The culture of abuse goes hand in hand with capitalism; objectification is synonymous with commodification. Sex sells, and it’s costing women dearly.

 

 

Just a note to say there’s now a Twitter account for you to share your experiences of misogyny whilst at work. @BarmaidTimes.

‘fat stupid ugly lesbian cunt’.

‘You’re a fat cunt. A stupid cunt. An ugly cunt. Lesbian cunt. You look like Jimmy Saville. You fucking bitch. Fucking lesbian cunt.’

A redacted version of the abuse I faced from one customer this weekend. And what had I done to ‘deserve’ it? Merely refused him a drink. Not only had he had too much, but when I had been collecting glasses outside he had asked me to give him a blow job. So I exercised pretty much the only power I have in my workplace and refused the bastard the drink he felt he was entitled to. He was with a friend, who, once his disgusting amoeba of a companion had been ejected by security, then profusely apologised on his behalf. He said nothing whilst I was being verbally battered, he was only apologising so he could have a few more jaegerbombs. I refused him. There were people standing around him who said and did nothing, they just carried on drinking their champagne. My manager, who was at the next till, could not have failed to overhear and said and did nothing. He should have defended his staff, instead he put his head down and carried on serving.

The lack of support from management is disgusting. If that were my staff, that guy would have been out of the pub before he could put the t on cunt. He certainly would not have been allowed to stand there for 5 minutes screaming abuse at my staff before that staff member had to get security.

No doubt that particular customer would have kicked off no matter who had refused to serve him, and I admit that his demand for oral sex had more to do with my refusal than his drunkenness and I was completely justified in doing so, but the terms of abuse he chose say a lot about his view of women. First, that insulting my appearance would cause maximum damage (it didn’t- I may not be Marilyn Monroe but I’m not hideous); secondly that ‘lesbian’ is an insult (it’s not really, is it. Pathetic. Although, not the only time asking customers to leave has resulted in that term being flung around as an insult. I’m too tired to theorise on why that is, but perhaps refusing them the drink through which they define their masculinity somehow threatens them and therefore they see my refusal as a rejection of their masculinity and hence I must be a lesbian because how else would I be immune to their manliness. Just putting that out there.).

Not the only dickhead I dealt with this weekend. ‘I’ll have a courvoisier and a Skyfall’. Ok, so what’s a Skyfall? Is it a martini, shaken not stirred? (not that we even have a cocktail shaker in this pub…) Is it a cocktail based on Skyy vodka? Nope. I ask the customer what he means by ‘Skyfall’. It’s….Heineken. I ask why he didn’t just say that. His mate says ‘cheer up’. Like they have the right to control how I feel because they’re spending less than ten quid in a shitty little chain pub. I told them I didn’t feel like cheering up, and was that all they wanted to drink. He tells me he doesn’t want to be served by me, because I’m not fufilling his expectation of the cheerful, fake-smile plastered, ‘oh wonderful customer let me worship and your feet and give you a massage with that crap pint’ bar worker. I told him that I didn’t want to serve him anyway. Then, as I walked away, I heard him say something that sounded like ‘I bet your boyfriend slaps you’. There was no way I was letting that one go, so I asked him to repeat himself. He refused several times until claiming that he said ‘I bet your boyfriend’s happy’. I don’t believe him. And even if he did say that, my relationships have nothing to do with him. And if he said what I think he said…he’s a scumbag bastard.

Even without the domestic abuse comment, this guy was a grade A wanker. I don’t understand why customers seem to think that you’re a robot who does not tire, does not get stressed and who thinks that all their stupid little comments are hilarious rather than inconvenient. Saturday was pandemonium, and he came in 8 hours into my 11 hour shift. I’d done 13 hours the day before and had 6 hours sleep before coming back into work. Next time you see a tired, stressed out bar worker don’t ask them to smile. Buy them a drink, that’ll cheer them up.

This post was a bit of a whinge, but that’s basically what blogs are for. I’m just fed up of having to deal with wankers like this all the time, and I don’t think people realise how prevalent this kind of behaviour is. We might work behind a bar, but we’re human beings, so treat us like one.

The kick-off

This is my first, and may be my only, post. In this blog I aim to catalogue the sheer volume of bullshit that I, and others in similar jobs, have to put up with on a daily basis so some distant man can get richer and richer off my labour. **TRIGGER WARNING** This post contains details of sexual harassment and graphic language.

I used to think that misogyny couldn’t possibly be as widespread and ingrained as people told me it is until I started working in a bar in central London. I have worked there for a year and I or my female co-workers have experienced some form of sexual harassment, misogynistic behaviour or just plain rudeness from customers on almost every shift and I’m beginning to tire of it. First, a selective catalogue followed by my attempt to explain the reasons for this kind of behaviour.

Several weeks ago a female co-worker told me that as she was collecting glasses a man spanked her. She ignored it the first time, but when he did it again she asked him to stop. His response was ‘but I’ve been giving you tips’.  When a similar thing happened to me and I challenged the customer his response was ‘but you have a nice ass’, as if this ‘compliment’ legitimated his actions just as the ‘financial reward’ my colleague received legitimated the other man’s actions.

Last week, I overheard a man making comments about another member of staff, saying that he would enjoy seeing her lipstick on his penis. She heard him too and rightly told him that his comments were disgusting. Cue a barrage of verbal abuse. Similarly, when asking for money for drinks a customer who seemed to think that five quid (yes, five quid) was too much for two drinks said to my friend ‘and I should be getting a shag too for that price’. They asked for more drinks, and I refused them service explaining that their comments were totally inappropriate and sickening and that they should learn some respect. They too kicked off, calling me a ‘bitch’ for reminding them that they had essentially told my friend that they expected sexual favours as part of their bar bill. ‘Oh, it was only a joke’ they said. ‘Ha ha’, I said.’ Now get out.’ They didn’t go quietly.

That brings us to this week, when two nights in a row I have experienced some disgusting behaviour and consternation from the perpetrators when I tell them that their behaviour is inappropriate and downright wrong. First, the man who thought he could stare at my chest and comment on my underwear. Second, the man who thought his ‘I’ve got something hard for you to work on’ innuendo to my 20 year old friend (who is far too polite to answer back) was ‘just a bit of banter’. Banter between friends, between lovers maybe but not between you and a girl you’ve just met who is young enough to be your daughter. I explained this to them, and a woman in the group piped up ‘oh, it’s only a joke. Get over it.’ I replied that this kind of casual attitude to what is essentiall y sexual harassment is not appropriate, and that my job is to serve drinks not to listen to innuendo and sexually inappropriate comments from customers. The group seemed to think that this was part of the job ‘because you’re a bar-maid’ and that if I didn’t like my job I should get another one. This particular incident really upset me because I am very unhappy in my job and part of the reason is that I am expected to laugh along with customers when they make comments that amount to wanting to have sex with me. It’s the expectation that the customer (who has all the power in this relationship) is allowed to do or say what they want because they’re parting with cash and that my sexuality and my body can be brought into the transaction.

This brings me on to my explanation of why I think this sort of behaviour is so ingrained. Rudeness to staff in customer service industries is sickeningly common, as if standing behind a till dehumanizes you. However, with bar work there is an overtly sexual element that I never experienced in the other customer service roles I’ve had. For me, this lack of respect stems from some mythical notion of the perpetually available bar-maid who is flirtatious and a tease and will appreciate your comments about your pubic hair in her teeth or the size of her breasts or won’t mind when you spank and grope because, hey!, she’s a ‘slut’ really.[1] For some reason that is unfathomable to me, some men think that they can speak however they want to a woman, that sexual remarks are ‘compliments’ and that women’s bodies exist to be critiqued like a car. And when you explain that this is not the case, you receive abuse and threatening remarks. There is only one manager on my team who will back me up on this sort of thing, the rest tell me to ignore it and just get on with my job. For the company I work for, profit is more important than the safety and comfort of its employees because we are disposable. I also think there’s a class element to this too: if you work behind a bar you are obviously on a low wage and, for some reason, this means you must have a poor education. This is yet another reason for people to treat bar staff like something they wiped off the bottom of their shoe- you’re poor and you’re thick, so I’m going to assert my wealth and my superior intellect. As an experiment, I told one particularly rude customer that I am a Cambridge graduate studying for a Masters. His attitude towards me changed completely because he too had gone to Cambridge. I was part of the ‘club’ and that meant that I now deserved to be treated like a human being. Well done Cambridge for letting that particular slime-ball in.

I don’t know what the solution to this kind of thing is- it’s widespread and culturally ingrained. But what I do know is that I will continue to challenge this kind of behaviour and maybe next time perpetrators will think before they act. Maybe.


[1] This is not a judgement on promiscuity, but rather a judgement on those who presume that promiscuous behaviour (whether actual or perceived) down-grades a person’s worth. It’s essentially the first step towards the ‘she was asking for it’ rape apology.