Blog 8: “Would you like a side with that?”

Written by Leigh, Edited by A Wordless Blogger

I am a waitress. It’s not my dream job, but most days it’s fine enough. There are days when I really don’t like it but today was not one of those days. Actually, today was pretty good. There was just this one table that soured the mood, somewhat.

At lunchtime a table of five men joined us in the restaurant. One man in particular was a bit of a pain, being rude and demanding, but honestly none of the comments he made were what pissed me off. I guess you could say that it’s part of the job.

What did get up my back was the tiny little phrase he made right at the beginning of the meal. In response to my question whether anyone on the table would like a side dish with their meal he said “Well actually, I was thinking of having you on the side.”

I did a double take. You what now?

I do not get paid enough to listen to whatever you are insinuating.

First off, what do you even mean? I know what the answer to that question would be. Something along the lines of, “I don’t mean anything, I’m just having a laugh!” or “It was just a compliment, relax”. I know because I’ve heard that answer many times before. I’ve been told that it’s my fault for misunderstanding. It’s clever, I suppose, because there’s a play on words between the side dish, like fries and a bed partner? Someone who serves to titillate and to be provocative.

Is it really necessary to clarify my role here? I wait on you, and if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. However, I am not here for you to sexualize me. Really, that should go without saying.

I am glad that I work in a place where I feel safe, so I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by his comments, but the idea that a man who must be near enough twice my age, can somehow phrase the idea between the two of us in a way that leaves no room for my consent… it’s scary.

I don’t want you to have me on the side. It is not a compliment. I am not gratified to find that I am somehow attractive to you. There is no way that what you’re saying to me right now is in any way beneficiary to my self-esteem.

Or is that not the point? Perhaps I’m just meant to stand there, play the prop, so that you can get your own kicks from your little joke. And since it’s ‘just a joke’ and not some major crime (like the one the you’re so subtly implying), there is no reason for me to be upset? You didn’t touch me so I suppose it’s ok then?

How have we come to the point where such thing can somehow be normalized? That all the shitty stuff that isn’t as bad as the things that – could have happened – is somehow not a problem anymore? It’s little things like this, these derogatory comments, are the things that lead to these very serious crimes. It’s the first step.

While writing this piece, I had to stop myself from typing phrases like ‘it was just-‘, and ‘no big deal’, because what happened to me wasn’t particularly newsworthy or out of the ordinary. It’s probably not even the most offensive thing someone’s said to me this week.

But that’s what’s wrong with it in the first place, isn’t it? Apparently this man’s four companions didn’t have a problem with it, since they didn’t say anything or react in any way. Were they cringing inside? Were they wishing they had just that little bit more courage to be able to say to their friend, “dude, that’s not cool, you shouldn’t be saying things like that,”?

I’m sure there are many people who would say that I’m overreacting, that I’m making something out of nothing, that I’m the one causing the problems. And you know what? I’m okay with it if I am.

Hell, be upset. Be horrified. I know that he’s just an asshole who’s ‘not worth getting upset about’, but you know what? Assholes don’t stop being assholes until something makes them. People will say that I should worry about the big problems before we worry about the little ones but maybe it’s these little things that slip through our fingers that start to add up, piece by piece, that make these big problems. I think we should start at the beginning: zero tolerance for bullshit. Force people to think before they speak. And to have some respect, dammit.

I am angry because today a man said inappropriate things to me and it was no big deal. This is my invitation to you to be angry, too.

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10 thoughts on “Blog 8: “Would you like a side with that?”

  1. You raise an important point: In the corporate world there can be severe penalties for sexual harassment (cause that’s what this is) in the workplace to protect employees against their colleagues and superiors. But as far as I know there’s no such protection for people in the food service industry when they are harassed by customers. In the restaurant industry customers can get away with behaviour that would lead to serious disciplinary action in the workplace. Why do we tolerate this particular double-standard? How do we change it?

    • This is a good point, but the restaurant industry isn’t the only place where being sexualized is “o-kay”. I worked retail for years and I’ve had my fair share of very weird/awkward gestures all the way down to a guy blatantly complimenting my “ass-sets” as I was showing him towards our footwear department.
      Unfortunately, I had to suck it up, but I also played the game just as hard. (I would later share the stupidity of the customers actions with my coworkers, it makes for interesting conversation on slower days.) If it meant that I can convince you [the customer] to spend more money than you intended on spending I have then succeeded in not only making you feel like an idiot but I’ve also just maximized the potential for a quarter-end bonus (win-win?)
      Now I didn’t just say I was acting like some kind of predator, and I obviously have my limits, I accepted the phone numbers and the “compliments” but I never called them back or (unless warranted) complimented them in return. I did however manage to get a lot of these guys coming back to buy more clothes – for themselves, their mother, etc.. I didn’t force them, but their excuse was “I just wanted to see you,” and my reply is: “What can I help you find today?”

      • I guess that’s one way of looking at it. What upsets me is the powerlessness of the situation. Should a customer really go too far or genuinely make you uncomfortable, you have no recourse whatever. You can report harassment by a co-worker, but not by a customer. It’s not as if the store is going to ban him (even though that would be the right thing to do as far as I’m concerned.)

      • I was watching a documentary by BBC last night, and a camera crew was following a young lady in her mid-twenties as she visited friends and family in India. She was also there to try to figure out or piece together why harassment, rapes and molestation was occurring so frequently to young women. It was offensive because some of the interviewed men would say a woman “deserved” it, yet she did absolutely nothing. There was a lot happening to try to prevent these events from occurring, but not enough yet. It’s teaching young boys and throughout their adulthood to know how to treat a woman: sister, mother, grandmother. “Training” generations of men on the equality between them and women. It’s a difficult thing to grasp, but countries like in Europe or North America, women have an upper hand. We can maim and shame men of their actions, even if we [as women] don’t think so.
        You’re only powerless if you let it be that way. Some people won’t consider retaliating because they are worried about the mighty dollar (not claiming that’s what the OP was doing), but I’ve seen it all too often. If a person felt extremely uncomfortable than they could do a number of things:
        1. Tell the customer that they didn’t appreciate the comment.
        2. If the customer doesn’t stop than you tell your supervisor or manager.
        3. Ask the customer to leave.
        All these points are merely based on the posting and are useful in a general case. Nothing to tell the poster that how they handled the situation is right or wrong. These are just thoughts, but our action is what makes us stronger not only as a person but as a population. [this post went off topic somewhere, I’ll work on that…]

      • I like “maim and shame”. Will definitely make me think twice.

        The problem comes when someone (man or woman) don’t have the confidence to confront the harasser and there are no structures in place. Even if the structures are there it doesn’t always help.

        I read a guest post on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, earlier this week about a writer who was harassed by an editor at a conference recently. She took the steps to make a formal complaint and then found out there had been several previous problems with that editor before, but no one was willing to lay a formal complaint, so his employers had no grounds for disciplinary action.

        Why had no one made a formal complaint before? One can only guess that his previous “victims” did not believe the system will protect them. Chances of taking action is even less if there is no system to start with.

        You mention educating boys. Not just must men be educated that this behaviour is wrong, but women must also be educated that they have the right to stand up to it (because many still believe they don’t). In the developing world it’s worse, as you mention. South Africa does not differ much from India in that respect.

        [Leigh, this is your post, so you’re welcome to call a halt to the debate (or jump in) should you so choose 😉 ]

      • You’re definitely right about the part about people, particularly women, for not having the right amount of confidence – I suppose in my case I just had too much of it 😉
        Unfortunately, there is that terrible mentality that a person would not feel like they’re being fully protected if a complaint were to be made. There’s also the back-of-the-mind thoughts like: “Is this something really worth raising awareness over?” Even if it is, they tell themselves that there was no real harm done and there’s no reason to make a big deal out of. That’s where this whole thing can make prosecution difficult, and then people wonder why there aren’t more people being put to the judge for these indecent actions.
        You may be right, I thought I mentioned ‘men’ in the thought of educating male society in India on their responsibilities towards women and girls but either way, yes, all MEN (young and old) regardless of where they’re from should be properly educated on how to treat people of the opposite sex.
        In regards to the women of India (that I’ve learned through this BBC report) the whole activism of reaching out to women to help give them the strength to say something without feeling like they must remain the victim is all fairly new. The creation of new laws and programs is a new concept. There have always been people willing to play the activism role to help protect women, but when it came to police.. that’s new. Women in general however, need to “grow a set”.
        That’s being facetious, however it’s slightly true. Women have been molded into this “must-be-innocent-don’t-start-trouble” thing, and then we [women] suffer later in life. We generally wind up leading unhealthy lives; misrepresented, unfulfilled, deluded (what ever other adjective of unhappiness a person can think of) because we have this whole thing in our head that if we play the victim card we could potentially be bringing down some society. This is kind of going into a Feminism rant.. so I’ll save that for a later date 😉

      • In the end it comes down to education. In the modern world and the developing world, men and women must be educated, preferably from childhood, that they have rights, that they should stand up for their rights, and that they should respect the rights of others and stand up for the rights of others. If we do this right, in a few generations we might no longer need laws and structures to deal with these issues.

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