Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The things you'll never understand.

This got too long to post on facebook. It was a response to this post: "Today I had to explain to a 60 year old man why he was banned from the pub."

I wish the managers at my workplace "Got it" like this guy does. Last time I was harassed to tears by a pair of men, called a bitch and told that I, a four-year veteran of this place and smarter than 3/4 of the men here, didn't know how to do my job, the manager on duty waved it off and served them unquestioningly and with a friendliness that hurt me more deeply than the name-calling. Like I didn't matter. Like I wasn't worthy of respect. Like saving our company's reputation for "great customer service" was worth more than my humanity.

(they were stealing, too, which made it worse.)

He waved off my upset as if I were being oversensitive. He made their anger worth more than mine. And I don't think it ever crossed his mind that he was doing something harmful; he was just "solving the problem" by appeasing the customer. The fact that the customer had just verbally attacked one of his employees never seemed to matter. The fact that their sexist remarks and the hundreds of others I have endured are among the reasons I think about walking out every day doesn't impact daily store operations. Harassment isn't seen as an issue in our store even after one of our female employees was literally stalked and threatened by a customer. He showed up at her home after being told his advances were unwelcome. He touched other women inappropriately and repeatedly. He never opened his mouth without an off-color remark coming out and the men in our store laughed and joked with him and greeted him with smiles every time he came in even as his sustained harassment was discussed openly by the women they work with. They offered lame excuses for his behavior and discounted the stories when it came out that he had prior convictions for assault. And it took months, a sustained campaign by several women, and a police report for our store to ban the offending contractor "because he brings a lot of business in and we don't want to act rashly".

Women in the service industry allow people to attack us verbally, touch us in unwelcome ways, leer and make suggestive comments on a daily basis. We do this because the other option is to defend ourselves and lose our jobs, to become unemployable over something so small as our claim to self-respect. We ask our managers to watch and listen and stop this behavior and most of them refuse. Some declare that it's "corporate policy" not to remove customers for such "minor" behavioral issues. Some claim the company will lose much-needed business if we stand up for ourselves. Some tell us that they are just not comfortable with that fight. Many tell us we are not allowed to defend ourselves, lest we offend somebody or put ourselves in physical danger. But it's okay to be harassed constantly, because that's not physically dangerous - just dangerous to our sense of well-being and self-respect and obviously those don't matter.

So many managers (both male and female) aren't comfortable standing up for their employees, but I'm not comfortable with men putting their hands on my arms, shoulders, and back in ways that imply ownership, leaning too far into my space, or whispering "You have very pretty skin" while their wife browses just out of hearing distance. I do not welcome the stares when I bend to pick up a box or pallet, or the disrespectful "chivalry" of men who won't let me lift it because I'm "just a girl".

It would be nice if I didn't have to tell the men in my life all of this. It'd be nice if the harassment (which is mild in comparison to others' experiences) never happened because little boys were raised to respect everybody, not just to see women as foreign objects. But this kind of sexism and harassment is deeply embedded. Most guys don't even realize it, and if they do their first response is "I'm not like that!" even as they continue to defend the awful behavior of their friends and coworkers.

I have a sense of humor and a little self-worth. I know some of my own strengths and don't have to hear from someone else that I am a good worker or smart or pretty. I laugh at jokes about female drivers even as I run heavy equipment. I don't flinch when people jokingly tell me to stand aside and "let the men do it" (Why would I? You want to do my job? Sure, I'll get paid to stand around and watch you!). I am also struggling daily with the kind of depression and anxiety that leads so many people to suicide, and harassment doesn't help. So yes, I can function around sexism every day. But it's not good for me. It's not good for anybody.

And because it's such a damn tiring fight and I'm not out to hate all men or make the entire world a "safe space", I let a lot slide. I know most of the time, you guys don't mean anything by jokes about my driving and that if I fire one back you won't think anything of it, either. My personal line in the sand is drawn at disrespect, especially the kind of casual disrespect that damages women professionally - the offhand comments about "that time of the month" and the discounting of women's experiences and stories. The kind that says "You need work on conflict resolution" to me when I nervously stand my ground in front of an angry customer but pats my male manager on the back when he folds like wet paper in front of that same customer and calls it "making the customer happy". That attitude hurts more than all the harassment, because it's that casual discounting of my existence as a human being with the same goals, dreams, and rich inner life as you that leads to the kind of harassment that so many women
deal with.

We are not foreign creatures. We are not sex objects. We are people. We deserve respect.