Ms. Opinionated: How Can I Combat Sexism in My Service Industry Job?
I am a server at a chain steakhouse restaurant. I'm wondering what kind of advice or suggestions you might have regarding sexist comments that customers make. I've heard it all: getting back to my woman's work in the kitchen, being thanked for being some thing pretty to look at, inappropriate comments about a 'time of the month.' Obviously, calling them out on it would not be acceptable and would probably get me fired (and not to mention a bad tip). I feel guilty when I just laugh it off with a huge smile on my face. Is there any other polite way to handle this without making me feel like I'm just reinforcing bad female stereotypes?
In case you're unable to read this comic, here's the same advice in writing:
I’m so sorry you have to deal with any of this, especially when you’re just trying to do your job. At the tender age of 19, I got a job at a coffeeshop. This seemed luxurious after years of slinging Subway, Pizza Hut, and phone surveys. My coffeeshop was right down the street from a facility that housed men who hadn’t seen a woman in a long, long time. Ours was the only place they were permitted to visit and we lady baristas were their target practice. I dodged poorly aimed requests for dates.
“Hi, can I help you?” “I bet you can, sweetheart.”
“Can I take you for a drive in two weeks?”
“Do you like to dance?” “Sure.” “Do you ever dance barefoot?” “Oh.”
I avoided uncomfortable questions and swallowed down irritations as men commented on every stitch of clothing I owned.
“That’s my favorite dress on you.” “I’ll burn it.”
As I tried to pull the one million shots needed for their giant, iced mocha depth-charge drink requests.
“Hey, can you make that a breve, honey?” “Sure. Barf.”
I should mention one female customer who inquired, “Does someone have her grumpy pants on today?” (which made me feel murderous, but I abstained, as one does.)
Anyway, Outback, I couldn’t afford to lose that job or tips any more than you can. So I staged a casual revenge. On April Fools Day of the year 2000, I served decaf to every customer I disliked. The men commenting on my body? Decaf. The assholes who never tipped? Decaf. The fucking “Irish Cream Latte Guy” who couldn’t force himself to thank me, even if it killed him? Irish cream decaf. Decaf Americanos, decaf quad mocha depth charges. It felt good. It was the little thing that helped me get through the day and the nugget of memory gold I could revisit when April 2nd rolled around.
I recommend revenge. Not revenge that will injure your customers or get you fired, but some way to entertain yourself, pass the time, and feel some sense of minor justice. I couldn’t change the people being a-holes, but I could change my perception and how I responded to their antics.
A few more ideas, as told to me by two of my experts:
1) A-Hole tagging. When Natalie was a waitress, she would gift bad tables with something called “The Hate Kustard.” Hate Kustard = ketchup bottle with mustard lid on top. “It was a signifier to all the staff that those people suck.”
2) Turn it into art. Keep a secret blog (change details to preserve your anonymity) or diary that you update whenever a customer is foul or sexist towards you. The worse the behavior, the funnier or more interesting the entry will be and the more delighted you may be to see your most unruly clients.
3) Comebacks. Service wizard and feminist genius Matilda gets this a lot and recommends responding in a way that highlights the fact that you are at work, attempting to provide a service in exchange for money. You are not a volunteer target for their shenanigans. “Haw, women’s work!” “I take pride in my work, and in serving you. By the way, did you know there are male waitresses? They’re called waiters, I heard they’re all over.”
Good luck, Outback! I hope you dose all the jerks with decaf.
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