Working While Female

A woman’s experience in the workplace

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.

From the moment I hit puberty, I was told to be aware of creepy men. Never be alone with a man, if possible. If it can’t be avoided, take precautions to protect yourself. If you have to be alone in a classroom, leave the door opened. Same with a doctor’s office. If you’re in a car alone with a man, God forbid, share your location with someone trusted. I understand that not every man is creepy and not every man has it out to get me, but how am I supposed to be able to tell the difference? 

In the middle of last year, I switched from working at a clothing boutique to working as a cashier at a restaurant. From winter to spring, I was helping middle aged moms, who called me adorable, pick out sweaters for their teenage daughters. Fast forward to summer and I am now dealing with hangry customers who think I am personally responsible for why their food isn’t ready yet or why we are out of a certain item or why the prices went up. It’s not like grocery prices have risen nationally recently, or anything. 

At this point since I’ve been working at a restaurant, I have been told the most random things by customers. People will tell me how they met their wife, or why they like our food the best, or how much a salad cost in their day and so on and so forth. Sometimes people will angrily mumble things under their breath. Sometimes I will ignore them and sometimes I will ask them to repeat themselves. No one has ever repeated themselves. But the most upsetting thing I have to deal with is creepy men, the thing I have been warned about since I was 10. 

Before I even continue on with this article, I will mention that no woman has ever said anything creepy to me and no woman has ever said anything creepy to the male hosts and cashiers. I’m not saying it has never happened, I am just saying I have never seen it happen.

I thought I had already dealt with the extremity of threatening men. I’ve been told weird things by men at the gas station. I have been cat called more times than I can count, the first time being when I was 11 on the streets of Paris. Many times it was literally while walking my dog down my street. And when I would tell older people I trusted that I felt uncomfortable by such callings, I was told to take it as a compliment. Multiple times.

But when I started working at a restaurant, I was blown away by what I hadn’t known. Men would tell me how beautiful I was, how “blessed” I was with my assets, how lucky they were to have me serve them, how attractive my voice was, etc. One time a man asked me and my coworker if we had experienced the joy of penis yet. When she asked him to explain what he meant, he walked away saying he needed to find his wife. Most men who make me feel incredibly uncomfortable proudly display a wedding ring. 

Some of my older women coworkers are good at handling men like this, in a way that works best for themselves. Some just laugh, some walk away, some say they don’t take it too seriously and consider it a compliment. My favorite is when the college aged girls will ask the men to explain what they just said. Nobody ever does. They either just walk away and call them dumb or ungrateful, or use more crude vocabulary. On occasion, they will attempt to explain what they said and they quickly learn that what they said wasn’t funny or charming and they have made a fool of themselves. 

To date, the worst thing that has been said to me was when I was reading back a man’s order to him when he was coming to pick up and pay. After finishing and asking him if that sounded right, he apologized and said he “wasn’t listening to a thing you said because I was too busy looking at your t***s.” I stared at him quite stunned and then grabbed someone else to finish his order. It made me sick to my stomach to look at him watching me, and see his two daughters, who were no more than six years old, holding his hands. 

I am incredibly lucky to have the world’s best employers and coworkers. The male cashiers will cash out male customers that make any of the girls feel uncomfortable, without asking or even mentioning it. The pizza guys will carry men’s pizzas out of their cars when they request one of the girls to help with a wink. The cooks will tell a customer how disrespectful what they said was. The owners openly discuss how they would refuse service if they were aware of such behavior. After this incident, I told my managers, who are all girls, about what the man said. He was a regular and they had all commented that he had seemed weird in the past. All the servers and cashiers agreed. 

The next time he came in, my manager requested that he not come back. He clearly didn’t take it seriously and came back a handful of times with requests to leave. It is hard to keep track of every customer that enters the restaurant. One time when he came in, my dad and his friends were eating dinner in the bar, something they do together twice a week. I told my dad that the guy who said such a heinous thing had just walked in. Before my dad could even process what I told him, his friend was up and yelling. Telling him off and to not come back to this restaurant. I haven’t seen him since, though I still am anxiously awaiting for him to walk in. I am incredibly thankful that he was told off, but I am equally upset that it took a man for him to listen. 

My managers fight tooth and nail for our safety and comfort, but are often dismissed because they’re women. At night they walk us to our cars or send us with a buddy. In the employee parking lot, there is a patrol car sitting there per the owner’s request. What I am getting at is that this isn’t the restaurant’s fault. They do everything in their power to make it the best work environment for women. They can only do so much. This isn’t an issue with the restaurant industry, or at least my restaurant. I can’t speak for everyone. 

You feel crazy at times. I get paranoid to tell people what a man did, fearing I may be overreacting. Sometimes men just wink or touch my shoulder or something simple yet strange. I feel like I have no proof to defend why I have the right to feel uncomfortable by what a man did. It is exhausting and never ending. 

If I were to guess, I get one blatantly inappropriate comment a night, give or take. I experience way more angry or upset customer comments but they hold far less value. Each comment scares me and sticks with me. I can think of all their faces, still. I know the time of day they said the comment, what day of the week it was, what they ordered or where I sat them, etc. It doesn’t just go away. I can’t just forget about it or take it as a compliment. I wish I could. With each man that walks into the restaurant, I brace myself. At first, I thought I was just looking for men coming by themselves or men who stereotypically looked creepy. I’ve learned fairly quickly that it doesn’t matter the age, marital status, appearance, height, weight, or race of the man, they can still say shockingly vile things. When men procrastinate at the register or mumble when they are speaking to me or make far too intense eye contact, I hold my breath waiting for some comment to ensue. Most of the time it doesn’t and I am sad that I expect it. Sometimes when I think about quitting because of these comments, I remember that this is a universal experience for all women no matter where they work. I can’t just not have a job. I understand that it’s only ‘some men,’ but those ‘some men’ have made me terrified of all men.

Comment using your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail account