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It’s Time for Men in the Hospitality Industry to Treat Women Better

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image from Wingdor Law

Anyone who currently works in, or has previously worked in, the hospitality industry would admit its strongest pull is the environment. There is a duality of childishness and maturity where we weave between food and drink knowledge, levels of service, and also cracking silly jokes or exchanging laughs and banter over things any office job would deem “inappropriate”. The confines of an office are almost always sterile, sanitized, and just vanilla, but life in hospitality feels like a place where at least some of the restrictions are off (depending on where you work, of course) and a place where you can be more of your real self. Your office doesn’t know you went to the How Weird Street Faire last week, they haven’t seen all your tattoos and piercings, or know you do open mics or are an activist, etc. As freeing as the hospitality industry can be that doesn’t mean it is lawless and though the “lines” to cross are often blurry or curved or perforated, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist and this piece is an attempt to help men navigate those lines of discrimination and harassment for the betterment of our craft, the industry, our coworkers, and for ourselves.

“Being a better man” is not an indictment. Women have just recently began having their voices heard and their experiences considered and taken seriously and, with that, us men have been forced to stand before an enormous mirror. Our flaws, faults, and failures have been on full display and, I will admit, it’s difficult to hear how you’ve been a problem whether intentionally and, especially, unintentionally, but “being a better man” is not an indictment. It’s a call to being. This may be the first time you’ve ever been told to be better. This could be the first time you’ve admitted you need to be better. Or, you could be fighting the air right now reading this saying to yourself “not this anti-male shit again!” missing the point completely, but all I ask is for you take a few minutes to consider these real experiences – honestly and with reflection – and see if you feel the same way.

illustration by Shannon Wright 

I surveyed women online and in-person about their experiences in the hospitality industry dealing with sexism, misogyny, and harassment and these are some of the responses:

“The men will see me behind the bar and automatically go to the male bartender to ask questions about beer or whiskey. It’s frustrating. They just assume I don’t know anything.”

“There’s the assumption that if you are a pretty woman that you don’t know anything, or when the men engage you in conversation it’s always sexual or overly complimentary. Like, we can’t discuss other things like anyone else. They talk to the guys about beer and spirits and everything else, but with me it turns sexual.”

“I’ve been on interviews and I could just tell that I wasn’t taken seriously – almost like any experience I could have is inherently fraudulent. “

“I had a night where the manager suggested I go to this group of wealthy men to serve them. That shit felt kinda weird. It was like I was being sold off to make them money.”

“We had a really busy season and my manager commented on me not getting pregnant. WTF?”

“It’s been such a frustrating experience trying to move up in this industry, or even to be inspired. It’s just like the higher up you go, the less women you see. It can be crushing. And, then, when you see a bunch of same kinds of guys, and at times mediocre…don’t get me started.”

A guy comes to her and gives her a big friendly hug and she says, “I know he was trying to squeeze against my tits. He always does that.”

“I went out and got drinks with a bunch of coworkers and then hung out more with a friend of mine (we had hooked up years prior). I got drunk and passed out in the cab and the next morning I wake up naked in his bed. He raped me and everyone took his side and everyone blamed me.”

“This guy had this joke of always unbuttoning my bra through my shirt and one time he did it while I was slammed and I just started crying. He saw my reaction and didn’t do it again.”

“For Christmas, a manager got all the girls thongs from H&M and said ‘it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to it.'”

“I have to deal with so much daily that I just learn to deal with it.”

“I don’t talk to management about it. They don’t do anything. They don’t even take us seriously.”

How to be Better Men in Hospitality

Kitchen work is often looked at as women’s work, but women occupy only about 10% of high-level jobs as a chef. Is that because there is no ambition or talent? No. Regardless of assumptions, a proper chef/somm/head bartender should be able to mentor anyone willing to grow and also give equal opportunities for growth. We’ve seen many talented men, but we’ve also seen many mediocre men ascend to high levels all due to their skin color and/or gender. How does the bar rise higher if we pull from the same shallow pool of perspective? A diverse industry is a stronger one and a more interesting one. There’s a reason why there are so many women-led initiatives and companies and groups. There’s a reason these women are forging space for other women – because they’ve been forced to do so on their own – because there is a problem.

image from MTL Blog

And if reading the experiences above did nothing for you and if all attempts for self-reflection are inhibited by a temper tantrum of delusion, try this:

STOP THE CREEPY SHIT!

All the fucking tickles that she doesn’t want and squeezing hips and fucking massages they never asked for and creepy hugs and wet kisses on the cheek. Don’t hide your creepy actions under the guise of “I’m the friend and nice guy”. That shit is creepy as fuck. I see many men talk about the #metoo movement as some movement of false accusers, which is not the case. I see a lot of people throwing incel tantrums at the fact they can’t be the creeps they used to be. Guys say, “well, man…you can’t say anything anymore.” I ask, why does so much of your conversation with women have to involve being sexual or suggestive? Is there any other way to talk? Maybe it’s not that we can’t say anything anymore, but that you don’t know how to talk in the first place. Do you understand that women receive these harassing and inappropriate comments and sometimes physical contact and just smile and absorb all of that into their spirit? My friend said, “That shit will eat at your soul.” And then, some women have to put on a super tough exterior to not be messed with, but then, of course, they get looked at as being a bitch. For most women, there is no win.

My advice is this: check your old behaviors and thoughts and ideas. If you see an article like this don’t just get mad and dismiss it – actively listen. All of these articles aren’t just nonsense coming from nowhere. It comes from experiences and hurt and pain and frustration. No one is trying to take away your toys. Sometimes we, as men – as people, need to look at ourselves and see if who we are truly being is our best selves. Sometimes we, as men – as people, need to be better, be more aware, more considerate, and sometimes we have to make changes. I’ve seen other men and friends alike mess up. I’ve messed up – and held assumptions and made jokes/comments I thought was funny and weren’t offensive, but there’s something beautiful that happens when you listen to someone and consider their feelings and experiences – you get to improve on yourself as a human. If you do make a mistake and a joke goes too far or you all get drunk after work and you say something out of line, then apologize and accept your wrong and do better. If you see someone being harassed, then speak up and say something. If you assume something about a woman worker or interviewee, then question your biases. If we continue to think this is “just men” or “just the industry”, then nothing will change. Many people love that the hospitality industry is a welcoming place for those needing another chance or those who don’t fit in the cubicle boxes of the corporate 9-5 world, but what it no longer needs to be is a respite and comfortable place for abusers or harassers or for inequality and with a little effort and participation from us men it won’t be. We can change the paradigm, but it will take work, and that work just might be difficult and emotional, but that’s okay.

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Jamal Frederick - Second Hand Scribe

Jamal Frederick - Second Hand Scribe

Born in all the jazz that is Fillmore, San Francisco, Jamal has moved all around the beautiful Bay Area. Currently living in the SF diaspora, the married Jamal raises babies, makes cocktails and writes. He is currently working on multiple projects with the most recent being his San Francisco-centric cocktail book: Souvenir. Follow him online, find him, try his drinks, read his writing and have a good conversation with him, he needs adult company...