“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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