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.