I Am Not Your Sweetie

The workplace should be a safe place for all people, of all ages

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of The Shakerite: Women’s Edition that was published virtually in May 2022. Due to a temporary change in the teacher adviser along with COVID-19 restrictions, The Shakerite decided to proceed with our print edition virtually. This is one of ten stories in the edition.

Last summer was the summer of backflips. Anything backward really — backflips, back dives, back jumps, you name it. However, backward motions off the diving board aren’t allowed, per safety precautions, so we quickly assigned one major rule for the summer: no backflips. As a lifeguard, it was a nightmare — I must’ve said, “No backflips off the diving board,” at least a hundred times that summer.

I’m not sure what the big fascination with backflips was. But if you just did a dive, pencil dive, or front flip, watch out…you’re about to get one-upped by a backflip. I think the little boys liked showing off for the girls or vice versa or loved the joy of laughing hysterically after their friend failed and landed in a back flop.  Either way, there’s something about a backflip that makes a little kid crazy. 

About three weeks into the summer the kids had accepted the fact that backflips were a no-go, and began to abide by the rules. Everyone at the pool knew the rule. So when an adult man stepped up to the diving board, walked to the end of the board, turned his back to me and began to bend his knees in preparation to do a backflip, I was shocked and confused. Pre-teen kids could follow the rules but a grown man couldn’t? 

Before he could hurl himself backward off the diving board I made sure to say, “Sir, you cannot do backflips off the diving board, it’s not safe.” He smirked in my direction. “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll be okay, I’ve done this a million times,” he said right before he completely disobeyed me and did a backflip. He surfaced the water with a big grin. “See? I’m fine,” he said.

I was embarrassed. 

I don’t care that he had done it “a million times.” The rules of the pool strictly prohibited back flips, back dives, back jumps, anything backward off the diving board. I, the lifeguard on duty, certified by the Red Cross, specifically told this man not to do a backflip, and he still did. I had no doubt he could do a backflip but keeping people safe and enforcing the rules was my job. He doesn’t get to be excluded from the rules just because he’s an adult or because he’s a man.

His refusal to comply with rules was one thing. The patronizing manner he acted in was another. I am not your sweetie. Why would an older man feel the need to call a younger girl he doesn’t know, “sweetie”? Although my name isn’t displayed on a nametag or my shirt, there are multiple other phrases he could’ve used: miss, lifeguard, ma’am, hell I honestly would’ve preferred if he just asked my name while on the diving board. Anything would’ve been better than sweetie. 

My mom calls me sweetie. For 16 years my mom has called me sweetie, before we hang up the phone, before I go to bed, when I leave the house, literally every day. This man just ruined that name for me in only a matter of seconds. 

My male coworker came to take me down from my guard chair, having watched what had just happened, “You know what they say, the member is always right,” he said. No. The member is not always right, especially not this one. Had I been a male lifeguard, I doubt he would have been as smug as he was and I can guarantee you he wouldn’t have used the word sweetie. 

In a world that has progressed so far, it is disheartening that many men still do not respect and treat women the same way they do their male counterparts.

Going forward with my summer I became a little less confident in my position as a lifeguard. I became shy and quiet and found myself holding back from shouting the rules to kids who weren’t abiding.

I did see that member a couple of times during the rest of the summer. He never really said anything to me, or even ever acknowledged me besides a simple, “Hello” as he walked into the pool area. I’m not sure if he remembered me or was just choosing to ignore me, but I’ll always remember him.

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