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Feminspire | July 10, 2014

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The Customer Isn't Right When They're Sexually Harassing You

The Customer Isn’t Right When They’re Sexually Harassing You

| On 28, Jun 2013

“We can’t go out this way?” The first man wondered aloud to his friend, both of whom could not be much younger than my own father.

“Not sure,” the second man responded, looking right at me. “Looks like they’ve got some type of sexy security guard blocking it.”

Before I could snap back in response, another customer joined the conversation and made a joke about how the men may have been talking about how sexy he was, and they all had a good laugh.

“The question is,” said the first man still in earshot, “Did she find it funny?”

No, actually. I didn’t find it funny at all.

These men were laughing at my expense, at a comment made about my appearance. I work two jobs, both in customer service. No, I’m not “some type of sexy” anything; and since when does tearing tickets at a movie theater have anything to do with sex appeal?

I am not against polite compliments; it’s nice to give and receive them, so long as you are not expecting anything in return for saying something nice to me. I’ve had people tell me I was pretty and leave it at that, and I was very flattered. But there is a difference between telling me I am pretty, and making a remark about my appearance that involves “sex”.

This was not the first or last time anyone has commented on my looks while I was simply doing my job. Unfortunately, I can speak for the majority of women when I say that. While on the job, I’ve had customers step back and give me the “Damn, girl!” and lick their lips while looking at me.

That isn’t flattering when I walk down the street, so why would it be flattering in the workplace? I’ve had customers ask what I was doing after work, I’ve had them pressure me for my number after I have politely declined, and my favorite? A man asked me, “Have you ever had a baby?”

That last one, taken out of context, sounds like it was just about my body, but it wasn’t (but I’ve gotten plenty of body comments, too). He was asking more about my sexual history and the state of my vagina, and couldn’t figure out why I was so offended afterward.

As if people in customer service don’t get treated poorly as is, it seems women are often targets of sexual harassment. Yet whenever I have tried to defend myself, what am I? Rude, a bitch, or a bad employee that just needs to “accept it like a lady”.

When I have brought up the abuse, what am I often told?

It was a compliment.

No, it wasn’t.

Older men sometimes don’t know when to draw the line.

They should learn, because it sure as hell isn’t my job to teach them.

Well, were you being really nice? Maybe they thought you were flirting?

Oh, you mean was I smiling and being welcoming as part of my customer service job? Why yes, I probably was. But my smile doesn’t mean I want anything from them except their movie ticket (and come on, if I wasn’t smiling, I would get flak for that as well – we can’t win). Working in a customer service job flips some switch in the brain of harassers that lets them think they can say whatever they want to me, because they are “paying” me. So naturally, $9.27 an hour is enough to accept abuse.

I know I shouldn’t have to say it, but although I am in a customer service job, it is not my job to put up with harassment. Do not touch me, or comment on my body, or say anything disrespectful, or ask about my sex life. It is none of your business. Period.

As women, we are already told we need to act a certain way. Always be smiling, cheerful, pretty; after all, what are we made of? Sugar, spice and everything nice. And this, apparently, should carry over into our work life. If we stand up for ourselves or defend ourselves or don’t smile at the “compliment” that customers give us, then we’re seen as the bad employees. Well, enough with this! We can take steps now to prevent the sexual harassment of employees. Don’t let your employers shrug it off or give it the “It comes with the territory” type of dismissal. Sorry, but no; when you come into my workplace, I am not the entertainment.

While there is much talk about sexual harassment from fellow co-workers, rarely do we talk about harassment from customers. Just because we are women on the job does not mean we should have to take that kind of treatment from anyone. We don’t get paid to be harassed. My presence and being out in a public space doesn’t warrant any type of harassing behavior, from anyone.

Written by Laila Corbeau
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  • molly

    This is so true, I experienced it myself when I worked retail and in the restaurant business a few years ago. At the time I just thought it was par for the course despite making me uncomfortable, but looking back it really was unacceptable — especially considering I had to complain to my managers a few times when customers got too disgusting or creepy… who never did anything to stop the customers.

    The worst was an old man who came up and stared at my low-cut blouse while I was working at a smoothie shop. I asked if I could help him, he leaned in and said he didn’t want anything but a closer look, he was “enjoying the view”. Needless to say, I felt shamed enough to never wear that shirt again.

    • June

      Your not smart.

      • Jaycey Rae

        Speaking of being smart- I think you mean “You’re.” Moron.

      • snagglekiss


      • courtney

        *You’re. You’re an idiot.

  • YT

    I work in retail, and I wanted opinions on some of my own experiences. Some of my coworkers, females and males, have made an effort to assist customers they found attractive in the hopes that they would be flirted with. Personally I feel the same way about being flirted with whether I’m on the job or not; I’m still the same “me” regardless of what I am doing. I also would not want a prospective partner to be intimidated away from flirting with me just because I’m at work. From that perspective, do you believe there is an appropriate way for a customer to show a romantic interest in an employee? Is there an appropriate way for an employee to show a romantic interest in a customer?

    • Anon

      How about…. treating them like a human being? Demonstrating respect? Pressuring a stranger for their number, staring down their shirt, or commenting on their body is harassment, whether that person is at work or not.

      • Deidre

        What about treating men like human beings instead of treating them like Jesus as if they deserve to be persecuted

        • courtney

          Oh Deidre – COME ON!! Enough with this apologist shit for males! No one is advocating persecution of males because they are males – just asking to be treated as equal beings. Those males who DO act in the ways outlined here DESERVE to be called out.

  • concerned sister

    I’m researching strategies because my younger sister has recently been sharing similar stories of workplace harassment. She is getting unwanted attention at her regular restaurant job, but also recently started a small business. After hard work she built up a good customer base(for her cleaning business) and is now not sure how to respond to harassment dealing so closely with clients and being her own boss. At a restaurant she can go to a supervisor, but with her cleaning business she knows the harassers wife/family, that client knows her other clients so a complaint seems impossible to not be awkward and not effect her other client relationships if taken badly. Does anyone have advice on handling unwanted attention when you are your own small business, where a sour relationship could effect a good portion of your clients/reputation?

  • katie

    I worked a summer job, full time, in a pub and it was horrendous. Granted, it was only about 10% of customers who were disgusting. The worst thing I had said to me was that my dead grandfather masturbates over me while I shower. I’ve also had a customer tell me I’d make a good stripper. There was no formal uniform at work so I would usually wear t-shirts and jeans. I had quite large breasts (a E cup) and sometimes cleavage would show but always a minimal amount. I had a customer outright ask me my cup size and then when I was offended say, “Well, you’re putting them out there.” He was also surprised when I wouldn’t serve him his next drink.
    Worst of all is when people don’t bother to acknowledge that fact I have a name but try and get my attention by saying, “Oi, big-titted barmaid.”
    It took my threatening to leave and take my manager to court for ignoring all my complains of sexual harassment from staff to get an apology from him.
    It makes me really sad that women of all ages are treated like objects by customers. I go home to a mum and dad, I’m not this sexy siren of a woman they think I am. Even having a boyfriend doesn’t put them off. I’ve cried and gotten angry over it so many times and I don’t see it ended any time soon.

    • Emily

      Your not bright either, a dim light going out.

      • Jaycey Rae

        When you insult someone’s intelligence, you should use proper spelling and grammar- so you don’t come off sounding like a asshole AND an idiot. So, next time, use “you’re.”

      • snagglekiss


      • Courtney

        wtf?? Emily what’s your problem? If you are going to insult someone’s intelligence, at least spell the words correctly.

  • Martin

    Everyone on here will be in hell when they dead because they are passing judgement on what others are doing. The employee isnt always right. You make me glad Im not a woman. Those who force others against their will to apologize and jail them for the imaginary crime of sexual socalled pestering are on their way to hell. It’s a self-destructive habit to practice judging men for staring at your bosom,cleavage,rear. Men are treated like whipping posts by sorry excuses for women like you all the times in stores,malls,etc. All of you have something to apologize for and repent. Its disgusting how many of you cant keep your commentst o yourselves but got to air your dirty laundry. We can never have peace in our world,as long as we have conceited,inconsiderate, morons like you bearing false witness against over something trivial they say about your bosom,cleavage, or rear. God is angry at women who don’t respect men when they whistle at them,compliment them,stare at them. I’m sorry for calling you something you are not, a harasser. Calling compliments “hassling” is harassment of men.

    • ….

      Are you motherfucking kidding me? Is this a joke? Are you being serious? “Oh my god the womenz are being because they don’t appreciate it when I dehumanize them! God is going to murder them!” Fuck your god, you prick.

    • Jaycey Rae

      fail troll is fail.

    • Mirror

      “Those who force others against their will to apologize and jail them for
      the imaginary crime of sexual socalled pestering are on their way to

      “All of you have something to apologize for and repent.”

      * * *

      “Those who force others against their will to apologize and jail them for
      the imaginary crime of sexual socalled pestering are on their way to

      “ts disgusting how many of you cant keep your commentst o yourselves”

      * * *

      “We can never have peace in our world,as long as we have conceited,inconsiderate, morons like you . . . ”

      “Everyone on here will be in hell when they dead because they are passing judgement on what others are doing.”

    • Alceste

      “Everyone on here will be in hell when they dead because they are passing judgement on what others are doing.”

      Well, gee, I guess that includes YOU for judging everyone on here, doesn’t it? Also, since when is being told that I’m highly rape-able just a ‘compliment’ on the street? I’m guessing you need to get one of those Sexual Harassment in the Workplace seminars again, since you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about, ya big ol’ Red Pill troll.

  • Inlustris

    I also work in customer service, at a small local airport, where there are private plane operations. Last week I was told that I shouldn’t have any problem getting enough hours to earn a private pilot license, because I was a girl. Apparently, I am supposed to use my body to get what I want and those customers WANTED me too.

    I just felt disgusted after talking to them. They didn’t ask about who I was as a person, but they had no problem discussing what I should be willing to do with my body to get “what I want”.

  • Stupid Enfield barista

    I had to be a dimwitted wiseguy who had the nerve to unremorsefully insult a young man who complimented my cleavage. The customer should be right but Im a disgrace to women everywheres because I havet he nerve to lie to myself and others by insinuating that compliments somehow has to be what pathetic women today say is “harassment”? Thinking a comment is “hassling” no matter what?

    • courtney

      I don’t think you could ever use the word ‘wise’ in relation to yourself on any level. Your comment makes zero sense. Idiot.