Not on the Menu

While my close analysis of the Laura Ramadei incident referenced sexual harassment by customers it did not overtly cover the topic. Published on the 7th of October The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry reveals that 90% of female restaurant workers have experienced sexual harassment and a plethora of other disturbing statistics. Take heed this study covers sexual harassment from co-workers, management or customers. Customers taking a spot below co-workers for the most number of incidences, but I think it’s also relevant to remember that the interaction with customers is shorter than with co-workers. It is also an American study which focusses on the differences between ‘tipped’ and ‘untipped’ staff. Despite this the study and the chatter surrounding it bears some disturbingly relatable truths for those of us who work in hospitality.

One of these issues is the silence surrounding it; “…this study noted that sexual harassment is “kitchen talk,” a “normalized” part of the work environment and that many restaurant workers are reluctant to publicly acknowledge their experiences with sexual harassment.” The customer is always right is a rhetoric which permeates the hospitality industry. Servers rely so heavily on their customer’s perception of them to maintain their jobs and sexual harassment is one of the horrific ramifications of this.

“Sixty percent of women and transgender workers, and 46% of men reported that sexual harassment was an uncomfortable aspect of work life”

Oh how horrible is th-

“and 60% of transgender, 50% of women and 47% of men reported experiencing ‘scary’ or ‘unwanted’ sexual behaviour.”

That’s even wor-

“40% of transgender, 30% of women and 22% of men reported that being touched inappropriately was a common occurrence in their restaurant”

WHY IS THIS BEING ACCEPTED AS THE NORM WHEN IT SHOULD BE REPORTED TO THE POLICE?!

This behaviour is sickening and the attitude towards it is downright dangerous. This study acknowledges that the statistics are based on people who came forward and so could be a fair bit higher. Silence is only perpetuating the harassment and encouraging it. The culture surrounding sexual harassment is already horrifyingly focused on blaming the victim. Our culture is riddled with words and phrases which normalise and encourage violence towards one another. Normalising the harassment of workers in the hospitality industry contributes to an attitude which silences victims and condones the actions of abusers. If you don’t believe me I turn you to a horrifying example from earlier this year. “Elliot Rodger is a product of this culture. He has thrown this very culture right back in our face, but still we refuse to acknowledge it.”

The study also referred to the restaurant industry as a “sexualized environment”. Personally I don’t see how the restaurant environment is particularly sexy. I mean I suppose that most places require their workers to be dressed neatly and look put together. But how does that apply for people working in fast food. [Note: the only way I am wearing makeup to work next to a 300 degree oven for 8 hours is if I had something beforehand.] In this case the uniquely sexy thing about a server is their need to cater to the customer. People who see unwilling servitude as sexy – well I hope I don’t need to get into why a lack of consent is not sexy.

Finally while I understand this study focusses on women the fact is that there is a disturbing lack of talk about men in the same situation. This is not an issue exclusive to women. I understand how an eighteen year old girl feels when a man in his forties makes a comment about her body. I have no idea how that waiter felt when the 20 something year old women asked for “something big” loud enough for me to hear on the other side of the restaurant. Was he grossed out as well? Or was it the embarrassment that took over? Shame? Fear? Weariness? I know how I feel and the growing awareness surrounding sexual issues has allowed me to hear the voices of many other women such as Laura Ramadei. And yet the boys are quiet. In that silence the assumption of enjoyment is projected onto them. I’m sick of assuming that attention is always desired unless explicitly stated otherwise. Aren’t you?

Male servers I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this one. Also anyone else with a horror story, triumphant tale or opinion feel free to contact me!

TLC

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